Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Usually cast as a regular-season AFC title tilt, typically a game with bearing on home-field advantage for the postseason, Sunday night's Patriots-Colts game lacks the luster of matchups from the last five years.
"It's obviously not two undefeated teams," said Peyton Manning.
Tom Brady is missing and Manning isn't chasing any records or lighting up any scoreboards.
The 5-2 Patriots have done good work reinventing themselves without the injured Brady. The 3-4 Colts are struggling to get back to the sort of ball that's made them such a dangerous team in the Manning era.
It's still featured on NBC Sunday night and there is still plenty of intrigue. But 8-6 is the worst combined record the two teams have had heading into the annual matchup in this six-year drama.
If it takes a 10-6 record to get a wild card berth, the Colts can only afford two more losses, and they still have road games at Pittsburgh, San Diego, Cleveland and Jacksonville, plus a regular-season finale against Tennessee at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Patriots ran away with a weak AFC East last year with their undefeated regular season, but are now in a major battle with Buffalo and the Jets.
The Colts have conceded they won't win a sixth consecutive division title. The Patriots still have a chance to do it. After Indy they play three division games in a row -- Buffalo, the Jets and at Miami -- before a home game against one of the AFC's best teams, Pittsburgh.
But first, a new version of Patriots-Colts.
"This is definitely different, but both teams, I think, have great confidence in themselves and they have great leadership," Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark told New England reporters. "I feel both teams aren't really kind of panicking [or] hitting the panic button yet. I think the leadership -- that's really going to help jell the teams and really get through this tough time for both teams.
"And I think both teams are definitely going through some adversity they're not used to facing, but I think everyone is approaching it the right way. This is definitely a different situation for us and we're definitely looking forward to the challenge."