Key for the Patriots today will be:
Continued strength from the O-line: Toward the end of his interview with D&C this week, Tom Brady was funny in that slow-talkin' surfer-dude way he has sometimes, talking about Logan Mankins and his rage at Steelers defenders Mankins (and others on the O-line) felt were roughing up the QB. "If I was going to get in a fight, not that if I would do that, but Logan would be someone that I would want right next to me. You know, Logan, he doesn't care, he's gonna kick somebody's ass."
Mankins v. Steelers is, I have to say, Yosemite-Sam comical when seen without dialogue, in replay (briefly at about 0:32 here, and 0:37 here). His tussle with Troy Polamalu after Mankins felt Polamalu hit Brady and twisted his head around (clearly visible at 6:37 here) would become a bigger scuffle after the play between some of the Patriots' O-line and defenders.
But today, the role of Mankins, along with the rest of the offensive line, will be dead serious, in stopping the pass rush from two of the most feared defensive ends in the league, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Secondary Stamina: The Patriots defense generally held the line against the Steelers, although they were not always effective at keeping Ben Roethlisberger from making plays outside the pocket last week. And they remain, of course, young, and prone to making young mistakes.
So I worry about the matchup of Peyton Manning and his receiving corps, especially Reggie Wayne, against the Patriots' DBs (even if Manning has been a "horse of another color" recently). I really do.
Especially since the Colts' style of hurry-up offense can, if allowed to find a rhythm, make these matchups prolonged. Bill Belichick pointed this out on Patriots All Access (Great football show or greatest football show?) about how the Colts' offensive style can prevent a defense from making substitutions: "And then, you're on the goal line in your dime package, and you don't want to be, but there was no time...
The Bigger Picture: It's time for the Pats to get back on top; they're one-fer in their last 6 games against Indianapolis. I'm sure no one knows this better than the guys in the home locker room at Gillette right now.
For fans, the perennial "who's the better team" pot-stirring is appearing on the pregame shows and around the Web in advance of today's matchup. For me, there's still no question as to who's the team of the last decade, as well as who has always been the better team in this rivalry overall.
Right now, the question is whether or not that team can win today.