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What matters: Big playoff implications on the line in this one. The Colts have been the surprise team of the year, and the winner Sunday will have the inside track on catching the Ravens and the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The Patriots can't afford to let this one get away. With December dates against Houston and San Francisco, New England needs to clean up everywhere else to at least have a shot at earning a playoff bye.

Who matters: It will be present vs. future when QB Tom Brady and Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck take the field Sunday. That storyline should be easy enough to follow, but more important from New England's perspective is how the revamped secondary performs against Luck. This game should provide a first look at newly acquired cornerbackAqib Talib, and provide a barometer on how things will look moving forward.

Key matchup: It's tough to say who will be lining up against Colts WR Reggie Wayne since it's unclear if Devin McCourty will be at safety or if Talib will even be on the field, but whoever draws that assignment needs to negate Wayne. If he can be erased, everything else will be much easier. … Indianapolis defensive ends Dwight Freeney andRobert Mathis can still get after the quarterback, so it will be up to tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer to protect Brady.

Injuries of note: G Logan Mankins (ankle/calf) hasn't practiced this week since injuring his ankle last Sunday against the Bills. … WR Wes Welker's lingering ankle injury kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday. … G Dan Connolly (back) has also been unable to get on the field. … WR Deion Branch suffered a hamstring injury during Wednesday's practice.

Inside stuff: The Patriots' top two receivers have had some issues with holding onto the ball this year. Welker has dropped eight passes and Brandon Lloyd has let five get away from him. According to numbers compiled by, the two have had a combined 128 catchable passes thrown to them, meaning that more than 10 percent have hit their hands and then the turf.

Connections: Colts K Adam Vinatieri kicked for the Patriots from 1996-2005. … Colts S Sergio Brown played for New England from 2010-2011. … Colts DB Darius Butler played for New England from 2009-10. … Patriots coach Bill Belichick held his job in the NFL in 1975 for the Baltimore Colts.

Stat you should know: Vollmer and Solder have allowed three combined sacks this season.

Looking ahead: The Dolphins and Jets are next. The table is set for the Patriots to go on a bit of a run.

Nick Underhill covers the Patriots for Follow him on Twitter @CBSPats or @Nick_Underhill.