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AFC Divisional Playoffs: 5 Key Matchups For Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots

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Five Key Matchups - Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

As the NFL’s divisional playoff round kicks off this weekend, one particular matchup is going to look all too familiar to football fans nationwide. One of the most heated rivalries of the last decade will add another installment to the history books.

That’s right, it’s time once again for the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots to face off in the playoffs. This Saturday’s prime-time showdown will actually be the fourth time these two teams have met in the postseason since 2003, and despite the lack of a regular-season game this year, it will extend the streak of meetings of the two clubs to 11 years.

Granted, most of the cast isn’t what it was in those previous years. Gone are the likes of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Wes Welker. Tom Brady is still the leader for New England, but now his foil will be the young superstar Andrew Luck. While the younger signal caller hasn’t been a part of this rivalry yet, he certainly understands just how big this game is for both teams.

Although the spotlight shines on the quarterbacks, this game is about much, much more than just Brady vs. Luck. There are several intriguing matchups that will play key roles in determining who goes on to play for the AFC championship, and who just ends up going home. As any coach will tell you, it’s about winning in all three phases of the game, and with both teams battling injuries and obvious flaws, that’s never been more important than this week.

As we prepare for another big week of NFL postseason action, read on to see which key matchups will decide this huge divisional contest.

Brandon Raper is a golf writer and NFL contributor for "Like" him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @Brandon__Raper, and join him on Google+.

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5) Robert Mathis vs. Logan Mankins, Patriots O-Line

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Robert Mathis, one of the last remaining Colts from the 2006 team that last met the Patriots in the playoffs, led the league in sacks, with 19.5, and also forced eight fumbles on the year. Tom Brady has been beaten up a bit at times this season, sacked 40 times – 13 more than he was all of last season. The Wild Card here is Mankins, who's been battling an ankle injury, but has yet to miss any game time. Brady is a killer when he has time in the pocket, but if the Colts can get in his face and make him hurry some throws, they’ll have a good chance at some three-and-outs. If they can’t, the Patriots could make it a very long day for Indianapolis.

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4) T.Y. Hilton vs. Aqib Talib

Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

Individually, this should be the most interesting matchup to watch. T.Y. Hilton has been relied on to step into Reggie Wayne’s place as the Colts’ No. 1 option at receiver, and while he had plenty of inconsistency throughout the season, he finished with over 1,000 yards and five scores. With Talib likely back this weekend, Hilton absolutely must be at his best. If he falters, the Colts lose their deep threat, which is really the only thing keeping a poor rushing attack going.

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3) Bill Belichick vs. Chuck Pagano

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No pads and helmets here, but the way these two coaches matchup is as interesting as any on-field battle. Both of these coaches have led their teams through some major personnel losses just to get to this position. They also go back to Pagano's time as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator, so they know each other well. The chess match these two play as the game develops will be amazing.

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2) Colts Secondary vs. Tom Brady

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After getting eviscerated and making Alex Smith look like the second coming of Joe Montana, the Colts need to turn things around in a big way if they have any hope of playing in the AFC Championship game. No offense to Smith, but Tom Brady is on a different level completely. Even without Rob Gronkowski, he's found ways to win games the Patriots could have easily lost all year. If the Colts spot Brady a huge lead like they gave the Chiefs, he’ll step on their throats.

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1) Andrew Luck vs. Patriots Secondary

Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

This one isn’t so much about how important Luck is to the Colts’ chances, and make no mistake, he’s the unquestioned leader for Indianapolis. But after a three-interception outing nearly sank the Colts on Wild Card weekend, he must forget all of that and focus on keeping the offense moving and leaving Brady on the sidelines. The only way this game goes the Colts' way is for Luck to play one of the best games of his young career.