FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The 6-3 Indianapolis Colts have a comfortable lead in the AFC South, which is one of just two divisions in the NFL that has three teams with losing records (the NFC South has four).
But the Colts' goals are obviously higher than just winning the division, and they measure up with some of the NFL's best teams. For example, no team averages more points per game (32.2).
Another thing that stands out is how they often play from ahead, a result of outscoring foes 67-13 in the first quarter this season. The 13 points allowed in the opening quarter is a league-low total.
The Colts are led by quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 who is a star in the making. His smarts were evident last week against the Giants, when he hurried the offense to the line after what looked like an incomplete pass, speeding up the process for New York to consider a challenge; the Giants ultimately didn't challenge and Luck promptly fired a touchdown pass. Luck is also dangerous with his feet, but also has been careless at times with his arm (nine interceptions).
Defensively, the Colts employ a Ravens-type system -- a 3-4 alignment with some multiple principles and a heavy diet of blitzes. On special teams, they played aggressively against the Giants last week, dictating terms.
For more of the Colts, who, like the Patriots, are coming off their bye entering Sunday's game between the teams at Lucas Oil Stadium, below is our weekly primer.
Head coach: Chuck Pagano (third year)
Offensive coordinator: Pep Hamilton
Defensive coordinator: Greg Manusky
Special teams: Tom McMahon
General manager: Ryan Grigson
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE (NON-LUCK EDITION)
1. WR TY Hilton. A 2012 third-round draft-choice out of Florida International, the 5-foot-9, 178-pound Hilton is a big-play threat, as evidenced by his 16.7-yard average per catch. He had slipped in the 2012 draft because of an injury in the pre-draft process, which combined with playing a lower level of competition created a bit of an uncertain picture at the time. There's nothing uncertain about him now.
2. RB Ahmad Bradshaw. The former New York Giant (2007-12) had his first season with the Colts cut short by injury last year, but is healthy again and looks like he's found some of the old spark. The 5-foot-10, 217-pound Bradshaw is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and is a dual threat as a receiver (34 receptions).
3. TEs Coby Fleener/Dwayne Allen. The Colts used high draft choices on both players in 2012 -- a second-round pick on Fleener, a third-round pick on Allen -- and they are a big part of the passing attack. Fleener (6-6, 251) strikes us more as a big receiver, while Allen (6-3, 265) is a bit more of a combination type.
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
1. LB D'Qwell Jackson. The longtime Cleveland Brown (2006-13) is in his first season with the Colts and he's started every game. He sort of reminds us of longtime Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett --a highly productive player who appears to run the show.
2. CB Vontae Davis. The former Miami Dolphin (2009-11) is now in his third season with the Colts and is a shutdown-caliber cover man with good ball skills (14 passes defended this season). He often draws the opponent's top threat.
3. OLB Jonathan Newsome. A fifth-round draft choice out of Ball State, the rookie jumped off the tape from Monday's victory over the Giants with some explosiveness as a pass rusher. We didn't know much about the 6-foot-3, 251-pound Newsome before that game.
Extra points: The Colts have Boston College bookends on the offensive line with Anthony Castonzo (left tackle) and Gosder Cherilus (right tackle). … Former Patriots Darius Butler (slot cornerback) and Sergio Brown (starting safety after LaRon Landry’s suspension) play key roles on defense. … Kicker Adam Vinatieri hasn’t missed a field-goal attempt this season (20 of 20). … Punter Pat McAfee handles kickoff duties. … Veteran receiver Reggie Wayne rebuffed the Patriots’ free-agent pursuit in 2012 to re-sign with Indianapolis. A first-round pick from 2001, the 35-year-old is the longest tenured Colt and is still a difference-maker (eight starts, 42 catches). … Defensive tackle Arthur Jones, the brother of Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, has been limited this season with an ankle injury (three games played). … The Colts have been without top pass-rusher Robert Mathis all season (Achilles). … Former Patriots guard Donald Thomas was lost for the season in training camp (torn quad). … Griff Whalen had their version of the butt fumble on a punt return last Monday against the Giants, but fortunately for him, he recovered the loose football after running into a teammate. He’s the Colts’ primary returner. … Veteran Matt Hasselbeck, a 39-year-old now in his 16th NFL season, is the No. 2 quarterback. … ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells has all the bases covered.