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Sunday Night Football Preview: AFC Supremacy

Can Andrew Luck punctuate an already stellar season?

Beginning in Week 12, NBC will activate its right to "flex" the game of their choosing into the prime time slot. If they had that right this week, I think this Sunday Night's clash would be the their choice for "game of the week" anyways.

The AFC East leading New England Patriots will travel to Indianapolis to tangle with the AFC South leading Colts in what many assume to be a monster shootout. Both squads are fresh off a Week 10 bye, and in the three weeks leading up to the break, each team was flexing their offensive muscles, averaging over 33 points per game.

Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck is currently the second-ranked signal-caller in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP), numberFire's metric for showing how many points an individual player adds to his team each game. Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady - who is no stranger to NEP success, with two of the ten best Passing NEP seasons this century - currently ranks sixth in Passing NEP, just 10 weeks removed from opening the season as the lowest-ranked quarterback.

The offenses will be on full display in prime time, but what has gotten each team to this moment has been the success of their respective defenses.

Your run of the mill NFL fan probably associates some level of defensive success to the New England Patriots, but nobody ever assumes that Indianapolis brings the toughest defense to town. Both units are in the top half of the league in Defensive NEP, with the strength of each unit coming against the pass, where they are each in the top 11 in Adjusted Defensive Pass NEP per play, which factors in strength of schedule.

In a game with the highest projected total of Week 11, the running game could actually be the deciding factor, as both defensive units are bottom 10 against the run. The Patriots backfield has been a revolving door since losing Stevan Ridley for the season, and Indianapolis continues to feed the rock to struggling third-year back Trent Richardson, who has the 10th-lowest Rushing NEP among rushers with 100 or more carries - despite the presence of Ahmad Bradshaw and his fourth-highest Total NEP among backs.

Tonight's contest will likely leave fans' heads spinning, but before watching, let's dive into what could easily be a game of the year candidate and break it down via our advanced metrics.

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