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AFC Championship breakdown

New England at Indianapolis -- Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET

Posted: Sunday January 14, 2007 11:45PM; Updated: Sunday January 14, 2007 11:45PM
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Peyton Manning has thrown for 647 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games against the Patriots.
Peyton Manning has thrown for 647 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games against the Patriots.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI
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It just makes sense that the Colts and Patriots would meet in the AFC Championship Game. Indy-New England has become the premiere rivalry of the 21st century, although it hasn't been an even one. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has done little in the last two games to shed his label as a postseason underachiever and no one gives him more trouble than the Pats. Meanwhile, New England quarterback Tom Brady is coming off another miraculous performance in the divisional playoffs and now stands 12-1 all-time in the postseason, including 6-1 away from Foxboro.

Matchup History

Indianapolis has actually won its last two games over New England, after dropping the six previous contests. The Colts beat the Pats 27-20 in Week 9 and topped them in 2005. But New England knocked Indy out of the 2003 and 2004 playoffs.

The rivalry has had all sorts of twists off the field. Indy complained that the New England defense manhandled its receivers in the 2003 playoffs, which helped bring about rule changes to help the passing game. This offseason, the Colts signed kicker Adam Vinatieri away from the Patriots. Then before their game this season, New England made a request to the NFL office to ensure its employees' safety, referring to an earlier incident in which Indianapolis president Bill Polian allegedly assaulted a Jets employee.

Key Matchup

ADAM VINATIERI vs. STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI

Vinatieri was the Colts' entire offense in their 15-6 win over the Ravens. And Gostkowski hit the game-winner and a 50-yarder for the Pats in their 24-21 win over the Chargers. They are 14-for-14 combined in the playoffs so far, and this one is in a dome, so don't expect too many missed kicks. It seems almost too perfect, but you know these kickers will go a long way in determining the AFC champion.

Patriots X Factor

LAURENCE MARONEY

Maroney disappeared against San Diego because the Pats were in the shotgun most of the game. But don't forget about the shifty rookie out of Minnesota. The Pats often ignore one aspect of their offense and then come back to it in a big way the following week. Maroney rushed for 63 yards on 13 carries against Indy early in the season.

Colts X Factor

DOMINIC RHODES

The veteran back has given Indy a huge burst of energy off the bench. He ran for 56 yards on 14 carries against the Ravens - an impressive number against that defense. While starter Joesph Addai will still get more carries, Indy needs Rhodes to get out in space and make plays against New England.

Coaching Edge

Bill Belichick may go down as the greatest postseason coach in NFL history. Tony Dungy has been a great regular-season coach in both Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, but hasn't been able to win the big game. The confidence Belichick gives his team has to give the Pats an edge.

Prediction

Who would have ever guessed the Colts' defense would lead them to two straight playoff wins? Maybe this is a different team and they're ready to get the Patriots' monkey off their back? I doubt it. New England is 8-1 on the road this year and Manning has just looked too shaky to play the kind of perfect game Indianapolis will need to win. Patriots 27, Colts 20

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