After the Patriots beat the Steelers 39-26 in Pittsburgh, they are home to face the Indianapolis Colts. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory. 

WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on CBS at 4:15 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

GAME NOTES: The Colts are 6-3 and coming off a 23-17 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.  The Colts have many injuries on both sides of the ball coming into this match-up, and as usual their offense centers around how far Peyton Manning will be able to take them. As we know, as long as Manning has the ball in his hand, the Colts are dangerous to win the game no matter who he has at the receiver position. 

On defense, the Colts are pretty strong against the pass, ranking 10th in the NFL. Their weakness is stopping the run where they are ranked 29th in the league. The players to watch on defense have to be their two defensive ends. Robert Mathis has 7.5 sacks and Dwight Freeney has 6 sacks this season. They will be key players for the Colts on Sunday to get after Tom Brady.

On offense, the key to this unit begins and ends with Manning. He has already thrown for 2663 yards, along with 16 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He still has Reggie Wayne to count on at wide receiver. Dallas Clark is out for the season, but Jacob Tamme has done a tremendous job in his place at tight end. The big question for the Colts will be at running back. They have several backs that are banged up. Their biggest threat has to be Joseph Addai. He has already ran for 406 yards this season. He is questionable to play in this game.       

Regardless of the injuries for the Colts going into the game, they are always a dangerous team as long as #18 is under center. However, I do like the Patriots chances in this game – which fortunately will be played at home at Gillette Stadium.

Here are my “five keys” which  I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.

1. The Patriots need to play from ahead early in this game.  Many experts are saying that the Patriots should run the ball against the Colts. I feel they need to come out throwing, and get up early on the Colts which will allow them to dictate the pace of the game. The running game could then be used to close the game out in the second half.  In the end it would be a balanced attack, but either way – you don’t want to play from behind against Manning.

2. Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer need to have exceptional games of protecting the quarterback. These two tackles have the responsibility of stopping Mathis and Freeney. If they do their job well, Brady should be able to carve up the Colts secondary.

3. The Patriots tight ends need to take advantage of the middle of the Colts defense. Linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session are both listed as questionable for this game. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski could find space in the middle of this defense, and that could make their role in the passing game extremely important on Sunday. 

4. The Patriots need to contain Jacob Tamme. Now, it might be strange to list this player as a key, but he is a very capable tight end. Manning will still depend on his tight end to make important receptions, and if history is any indication I still believe he will be targeted by Manning to make first down catches and extend drives. I would think either Patrick Chung or Gary Guyton will have the assignment of shutting down the tight end.

5. The Patriots need to play the “bend don’t break defense” to perfection against Manning.  Manning should be able to move his offense down the field against the Patriots defense between the 20 yard lines. The Patriots defense needs to tighten in the redzone and force Adam Vinatieri on the field. If the defense can accomplish this goal, the Patriots could be on their way to a victory.

 I have to say I feel confident about this game on Sunday. I think it will be a shootout. I feel Brady will have an easy time carving up this banged up defense, and I also think the Patriots defense can do enough against Manning to force a few field goals. In the end I am predicting a 31-20 Patriots victory.

What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.