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Live blog: Tom Brady, Patriots take on Andrew Luck, Colts in AFC title game

01.18.15 at 12:07 pm ET
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Live Blog Patriots vs. Colts, AFC Championship
 

Andrew Luck, Colts will have to overcome past trends to upset Patriots in AFC championship

01.18.15 at 7:00 am ET
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Andrew Luck will have to overcome past trends if he wants to beat the Patriots. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Andrew Luck will have to overcome past trends if he wants to beat the Patriots. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Andrew Luck is one of the best up-and-coming young quarterbacks in the NFL. After being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft, Luck as been as advertised, throwing for 12,957 yards and 86 touchdowns in his three seasons in the league.

But, Sunday will be his first AFC championship game appearance, and the game will be outside at Gillette Stadium — away from his home indoor confines of Lucas Oil Stadium — which may be an issue for Luck and the Colts team come Sunday night.

In Luck’s three years (including five postseason games) he is 680-for-1148 passing, with 62 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in games played indoors, with a 24-8 record. This compared to games outdoors, where he is 503-for-838 passing with 33 touchdowns and 25 interceptions, with a 12-9 record.

The biggest thing that stands out is his touchdown-to-interception ratio indoors compared to outdoors. He has a 2.21 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home, but in games outdoors that number goes down to 1.18.

Turning the ball over, which Luck does a great deal of (16 interceptions this year, 43 for his career), could come back to hurt the Colts on Sunday night. The Patriots finished the regular-season tied for second in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-12, including 25 takeaways. They also finished with 13 giveaways, tied for the fewest in the league.

Indianapolis turned the ball over 31 times as a team, which tied for the third-most in the NFL. The Colts cannot afford to turn the ball over against the Patriots.

In 18 games this year, the Colts won the turnover battle only five times and in the postseason since 1970, the Patriots are 18-1 when winning turnover battle.

Since Luck came into the league, the Colts as a team have not done well away from Lucas Oil Stadium when playing against good teams. In the last three seasons (including the playoffs), on the road against teams that finished the season with records .500 or better, the Colts had a record of just 2-11, which includes last week’s win in Denver.

In 10 of those 13 games, the Colts have allowed 24 points or more, and in seven of those 13 games they allowed a remarkable 40 points or more. In those 13 games they have been outscored 441-258.

This also plays into the Patriots’ hands as they are a perfect 11-0 this season when scoring 23 points or more, and in the Bill Belichick era (since 2000) including the postseason, when scoring 23 points or more they are 158-12.

Lastly, knowing this is Luck’s first AFC championship game, Belichick is 3-0 in AFC title games against quarterbacks playing in their first AFC championship game.

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Andrew Luck, Bill Belichick,

Report: Colts OT Xavier Nixon misses team flight to New England, won’t play in AFC title game

01.17.15 at 8:03 pm ET
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It’s been a rough week off the field for the Colts leading up to Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Patriots.

Earlier in the week, backup linebacker Josh McNary was charged with rape and then later placed on the Commissioner’s exempt list and taken off the 53-man roster. On Saturday, it was reported running back Trent Richardson didn’t travel with the team due to personal reasons, and now the latest.

According to Stephen Holder of the Indy Star, backup offensive tackle Xavier Nixon missed the team’s flight on Saturday and will not play in Sunday’s AFC championship game.

The Patriots are playing in their fourth straight AFC title game, while this is the Colts’ first appearance since 2010.

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Xavier Nixon,

Tom Brady takes to Facebook to let people know he’s ready for AFC championship game

01.17.15 at 7:00 pm ET
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Tom Brady is fired up for the AFC title game Sunday — he posted this to Facebook on Saturday evening.

Read More: Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Tom Brady,

Rainy conditions set for Sunday’s AFC championship game

01.17.15 at 6:56 pm ET
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According to our friends at Fox 25,the temperatures are going to be in the 40s with a serious chance of rain for a good bulk of Sunday’s AFC title game at Gillette.

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots,

Patriots sign DL Joe Vellano from practice squad, release TE Steve Maneri

01.17.15 at 4:59 pm ET
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A day before the AFC championship game, the Patriots have made a roster move.

The team has signed defensive lineman Joe Vellano to the 53-man roster and to make room they have released tight end Steve Maneri. Maneri played one game with the team after being re-signed Dec. 17, while Vellano played in the first four games of the season before being released and then re-signed to the practice squad.

Here’s a portion of the press release from the team:

Vellano, 26, originally joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Maryland in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 300-pounder has played in 21 games with eight starts for the Patriots and registered 54 total tackles and three sacks. He played in the first five games in 2014 and had six total tackles and one sack before he was released on Oct. 7 and signed to the practice squad on Oct. 8.

Maneri, 26, was signed to the Patriots on Dec. 17, 2014 and saw his only action in the season-finale against Buffalo on Dec. 28. He spent the 2010 season on the New England practice squad, went to training camp with the Patriots in 2011 and was in camp with the team again this past summer. Maneri was signed by the Patriots on Aug. 10, 2014, and released on Aug. 30. The 6-foot-7, 280-pounder, has also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs (2011-12) and the Chicago Bears (2013). Maneri spent part of the 2014 offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was originally signed as a rookie free agent by the Houston Texans out of Temple in 2010 but was released and claimed off waivers by the Patriots prior to the start of the regular season. He has played in 24 NFL games with 10 starts and has registered six receptions for 52 yards. A tight end in college, Houston signed Maneri and converted him to an offensive lineman. He began his career with the Patriots as an offensive lineman as well. Last season, Maneri played in four games with one start for Chicago before being released by the Bears on Oct. 21, 2013.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Joe Vellano, Steve Maneri,

Scouting Report: What you have to know about Colts-Patriots

01.17.15 at 3:52 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Andrew Luck will meet for the fourth time in their careers on Sunday. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and Andrew Luck will meet for the fourth time in their careers on Sunday. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Here’s what you have to know when it comes to Sunday’s Colts-Patriots AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium:

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

This is easily the most winnable matchup for New England. The Patriots were able to rush for a season-high 246 yards as a team in the Nov. 16 win over the Colts in Indianapolis, and while New England isn’t overwhelming when it comes to the ground game and the Colts have a slightly improved run defense, the Patriots would appear to have enough options against Indy, which has struggled to stop the run all season. With the return of defensive lineman Arthur Jones, the Indy run defense is a little better — the Colts finished the year 18th in the league in run defense, having given up an average of 113.4 rushing yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry, 23rd in the league. However, following the 246 yards they allowed on the ground against the Patriots in Week 11, the Colts allowed more than 140 yards rushing in a game just once the rest of the way. (Hey, small victories. Right?) In the divisional playoff win over the Broncos, Indy allowed 88 rushing yards, just the first time since November when it held an opponent under 100 yards rushing. While most of that was because of a collective brainfart on the part of the Broncos — who simply chose to keep flinging it deep instead of pounding the ball against Indy — the game did represent the third-straight contest where there was improvement in the total run yards allowed by the Colts.

When it comes to the Patriots, there’s a question as to personnel, as well as how New England might operate behind an incomplete offensive line that will be without center Bryan Stork. (The Patriots also have the option of stacking that offensive line, like they did the first time around, with an extra lineman — in November, it was Cameron Fleming with more than 30 snaps — in hopes of adding more beef up front when they do run the ball.) But regardless of whether it’s LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray or Brandon Bolden (we’re going to leave out Shane Vereen and James White because they’re really third-down options and not between-the-tackles types), the Patriots will have plenty of opportunities on the ground. From this viewpoint, Blount, who has 314 rushing yards in three career games against Indy — including 166 in last year’s divisional playoff against the Colts — is the choice as the No. 1 back on Sunday night. That’s not to say Gray won’t get his touches, but the bulk of the carries will almost certainly be assigned to Blount.

“The numbers speak for themselves, and if we don’t get that fixed and they’re able to run the ball the way that they’ve run it the last couple meetings, then we’re going to have a long, hard day,” Colts Chuck Pagano said this week when asked about the matchup. “But having said that, I think our guys are playing with a tremendous amount of confidence right now. Talking about it is one thing, but we’ve got to go up there and we’ve got to do the job and stop the run.”

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

In the first game between the two teams, quarterback Tom Brady actually struggled in the early going, and threw one of his worst balls of the season just before the half when he was picked off by Indy safety Mike Adams (who had two picks in that contest). The quarterback was 10-for-19 for 84 yards and a two picks in the first two quarters against Indy for a spiffy quarterback rating of 24.8. He was able to rebound nicely in the second half (9-for-11 for 173 yards and two touchdowns) on the way to the 42-20 win. On Sunday, it’ll likely be somewhere in between, but when he does throw, expect him to look for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was utilized primarily as a blocker in the first game, but still managed four catches on five targets for 71 yards and a touchdown.

Two reasons why Gronkowski will be the primary target in the passing game: one, the Colts are almost as bad as the Patriots when it comes to defending good tight ends. (Football Outsiders has the Colts at 27th when it comes to defending tight ends. Meanwhile, the Patriots are 30th.) His relatively mild stat line in November was more about him working as a blocker than anything else. And two, Gronkowski remains an offensive option for which there is no singular counterpoint. When they go man, the Colts will likely counter with one of two options in Vontae Davis, their No. 1 corner, or LaRon Landry, a safety who has come on as of late and played well in coverage. But individually, neither even begin to approach what Indy will have to deal with if the Patriots decide to unleash Gronkowski in the passing game.

“He is just bigger, stronger and faster than anybody you put out there against him,” former Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said of Gronkowski this week. “It means you cannot guard him man-to-man. If you put one guy on him, he is going to shred you. The only way to stop him is to put two guys on him. Down in the red zone, it’s lights out. I don’t understand when I’m watching and they only put one guy on him. You’re just asking for trouble — silly almost — especially with Tom Brady throwing him the ball.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots,

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