By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff

The annual mid-season throw-down is upon us once again. This game has big implications for postseason home field advantage and first round byes. Patriot fans are excited to see if this year’s Patriots are for real, but are understandably nervous to go up against the hated (and undefeated) Colts. It should be a fun game, as always. Below are the top 5 matchups for this week’s Sunday night game as I see them.

1. Patriot Safeties vs. Dallas Clark

dallas-clarkDallas Clark is a formidable opponent who is in the midst of a career year.  He can lineup as a wide-out or on the line. More importantly, he has a knack for finding defensive soft spots and has soft hands, sort of like a bigger version of Wes Welker. Yikes! Don’t despair, however,as the Patriots shut down Tony Gonzalez with their safeties earlier this season and if they do it again, it will be a glorious night for Patriots fans.

2. Indy’s Wide Receivers vs. Patriots Corners

It looks like the league is figuring out how to exploit the Patriots defensive weaknesses. Quick short passes to the sidelines. This is exactly what Chad Henne and Kyle Orton were able to do and what Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan didn’t try to. The Patriot corners are talented but young, and seem to prefer to give big cushions rather then concede the long ball. Look for our corners to try to manhandle Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon.

3. Patriots Red Zone Offense vs. Colts Defense

The Patriots are playing their best football to date, but have yet to hit on all cylinders. As evidenced by last weeks 4 field goal attempts 3 of which were from the red zone and 1 just 2 yards outside, the Patriots need to get the ball across the end zone. If they can’t, Manning will make them pay dearly.

4. Pats Slot Receivers and Tight Ends vs. Colts Safeties

Bob Sanders is injured, which certainly makes it easier to roam the middle of the field for Pats skilled position players. If Baker, Watson, and Welker are able to exploit Indy’s depleted secondary, it will open up the running game and set up long clock eating drives that will win the field position battle.

5. Colts Running Game vs. Patriot Linebackers

Everyone knows that a big part of Peyton Manning game is the play action pass. It makes the safeties and linebackers step up and leave the secondary exposed. In order for this to be successful, the Colts need to establish a running game. If Guyton and Mayo are able to plug up the A and B gaps then it will free up the safeties to work on Clark and Wayne.