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Thursday Night Football: Are the Patriots Getting Back on Track?

When you have won 14 of the last 15 AFC East titles, a 1-2 start is a bit auspicious. But the New England Patriots did exactly that prior to a Week 4 waxing of the Miami Dolphins, setting off some warning bells.

Despite only being 2-2, the Pats sit at number four in our power rankings, and they will face the Indianapolis Colts, who rank in the bottom five of those same rankings.

In a weak AFC East where they trail the Dolphins by a game, can New England hold serve at home? Or can Andrew Luck and company repeat last week's offensive performance and move to 2-2-1?

Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

When Tom Brady is ranked as fantasy's QB19, it feels like your world may be falling in. It's been a rough go for the Patriots' offensive attack.

A closer peek at numberFire's advanced metrics shows that Brady has been a little bit better than those fantasy ranks, especially last week. Covering all of 2018, Brady checks in at 14th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.16), and in terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in positive NEP -- Brady hasn't been so hot (21st) with a mark of 46.10%.

Last week, however, Brady showed signs of picking things up. In a dismantling of the Dolphins, Brady ranked sixth in Passing NEP per drop back (0.42) in throwing for 274 yards and 3 scores. With mainstay Julian Edelman returning this week, Brady could be on the rise.

For Luck, last week was a breakout performance, as he tossed for 464 yards and 4 scores. Given that high passing volume, which required 62 drop backs, Luck only ranked 11th in Passing NEP per drop back in Week 4 (0.27). For the year, Luck ranks 20th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.07), and in terms of Passing Success Rate, he is slightly better at 15th (48.21%).

Unfortunately for Luck, in the second half of that contest, one of his leading wide receivers left due to an injury, and T.Y. Hilton will miss this week's contest due to a hamstring injury. When Hilton has missed time, the numbers have been a bit scary for Luck and the Colts' offense, as shown by the RotoViz Game Splits App, dating back to 2012 when Hilton entered the league:

In looking at Average Intended Air Yards (IAY) -- the average air yards a passer throws on all attempts -- Brady holds a decided edge as well, posting a mark of 8.0 IAY, while Luck is one of the worst in the league at 6.4 IAY.

With pretty average play so far this year by both quarterbacks, how do the running games stack up?

Running Back Play

Let's start with the Pats backfield, as that one seems to be more clearly defined.

Peeking in at last week, Sony Michel was the clear workhorse in the running game. Michel toted the rock 25 times for 112 yards for a score. Unfortunately, Michel hasn't been the most efficient runner this season. Among running backs with 20 carries or more (47), Michel clocks in 26th in Rushing NEP per attempt with a mark of -0.06.

From a pass catching perspective, that work has all gone to James White. He has three receiving scores on the season, and in half-PPR leagues, White ranks as fantasy's RB7 this year thanks to 22 catches already.

The Colts backfield is a bit of a disaster. If we look at last week, Jordan Wilkins led the team in carries with eight. On the season, Wilkins hasn't been the most efficient runner, checking in 31st in Rushing NEP per attempt (-0.11). Nyheim Hines caught two touchdowns out of the backfield last week, so look for him to become more involved in the offense with Marlon Mack missing this week's tilt.

With both offenses still working their way into form, can these defenses wreak havoc tonight?

Defensive Matchup

The offense may be rough for Indy right now, but their defense is definitely in a better spot than New England's at this point.

The Colts' defense has been strong this year, ranking eighth overall in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. They have been fantastic both against the pass (9th) and the run (10th).

In looking at Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which measures sacks plus intentional grounding penalties, the Colts have been fantastic, ranking third (10.0%) with 17 sacks to their name.

The New England defense, meanwhile, has been really bad, ranking 19th overall by numberFire's metrics, 19th against the pass and 14th against the run. Their pass rush has been virtually non-existent, ranking 29th in Adjusted Sack Rate with six sacks (4.5%).

However, New England has been solid in getting the ball back to Brady, as they rank seventh in yards allowed per drive (29.10), while Indy slides a bit back at 22nd (35.00).

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