FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A lot has changed for the New England Patriots since the last time they faced the Indianapolis Colts, delivering a 45-7 beatdown on them in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.
The following are some changes based on some notable performances from Patriots players against the Colts last season:
Cameron Fleming isn’t on the active roster: The Patriots used then-rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as an eligible receiver/sixth offensive lineman on 28 snaps in the AFC title game. Fleming’s power up front helped pave the way for the running game, but unless there is a transaction this week, that won’t happen again because Fleming is on the practice squad now.
Jonas Gray is no longer on the roster either: Gray had run for 201 yards against the Colts in the regular season, but he was a surprise cut at the end of 2015 training camp and ultimately landed in Miami. Gray had been quiet in the AFC title game, with four carries for 4 yards, giving way to LeGarrette Blount (30 carries, 148 yards, 3 TDs).
Brandon LaFell not in the lineup: The Patriots’ starting outside receiver, who played 70 of 78 snaps in the AFC title game, currently remains on the physically unable to perform list. He isn’t eligible to start practicing until next week, so Keshawn Martin – acquired in a trade from the Texans on Sept. 17 – has most recently filled that role.
Dion Lewis has replaced Shane Vereen as top passing back: Vereen was a vital cog in the offense, playing 52.9 percent of the offensive snaps (30 against Indianapolis in the AFC title game), and Lewis has taken over that role in impressive fashion. The Colts have a little background with him, as he was signed Sept. 9 last year and then waived Sept. 16 when the team needed the roster spot.
Malcolm Butler is playing the Darrelle Revis role: Revis had an interception in the AFC Championship but has since signed with the Jets in free agency. So the Patriots have turned to Butler, the hero of the Super Bowl, as their No. 1 corner. Like Revis, he has been tapped to sometimes shadow the opponent’s top receiver (e.g. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in Week 1).
James Develin is on injured reserve: The hard-nosed fullback played 17 snaps in the AFC Championship, as the Patriots used two-back sets more than the norm. But that probably won’t be a big part of the plan Sunday because Develin – who had played a season-high 30 snaps against the Colts in the regular season -- was placed on season-ending injured reserve after breaking his leg in the preseason.
Kyle Arrington is no longer matching up on TY Hilton: Arrington, who served as the Patriots’ No. 3 cornerback in 2014, was excellent in checking Hilton in the AFC title game. But Arrington was released in the offseason and signed with Baltimore, so Bill Belichick will have to try something different.
Nate Solder’s availability to catch a pass is in question: Remember the left tackle rumbling 16 yards for a touchdown on a tackle-eligible play in the AFC Championship? The Patriots might have to scrap that from their plans this week, as Solder left Sunday’s win with a right elbow injury. That puts his availability in question.
Michael Hoomanawanui won’t be ruled ineligible. In a twist to what they executed the week before with Shane Vereen as an ineligible receiver against the Ravens, the Patriots tried the same thing with Hoomanwanui against the Colts on three snaps. If they try it again Sunday, it won’t be with Hoomanawanui, who was traded to the Saints last week.