As has already been the case, Saturday nightís AFC divisional playoff showdown between the Patriots and Colts will be viewed ad nauseam as veteran Tom Brady against up-and-comer Andrew Luck, and itís easy to understand why.
Oneís a three-time Super Bowl winner destined for the Hall of Fame, and the other is a second-year star and former first overall selection whoís already proven to be the elite of the NFLís next class of greats.
Itís for that very reason, however, that the team to advance at the end of play in Foxborough will be the one with the better club, not simply the superior quarterback.
The two are basically interchangeable.
During the regular season, Brady threw for 4,343 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, while completing 60.5 percent of his passes for an 87.3 rating. Luck had nearly identical totals of 23 TDís, 9 picks, a 60.2 completion percentage, and an 87 passer rating, but tossed for just 3,822 yards.
The Patriots, as I outlined earlier this week, are seven-point favorites for a number of reasons.
Better coaching, superior runners, a higher-caliber variety of pass-catchers, and a better-rounded defense all reside in New England. The ideal of the two quarterbacks as well, yes, but the divide isnít as stark as it once was when you consider that Brady is 36 and was pretty average throughout much of this year, while Luck is 24 and has already engineered 11 career game-winning drives, including the second most impressive in league history (28 points) last weekend.
Add to that, Brady has been very human in the postseason for nearly the last decade. After starting his playoff career in 2001 with 10 straight wins, 14 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a few Duck Boat parades, the face of the Pats is 7-7 since 2005 with, 28 TDís, 19 picks, and two Super Bowl losses.
Now, thatís being hard on Brady. Heís obviously one of the best of all-time at his sportís most important position, but the point is simply that he may not be the sole difference-maker in a game where the Patriots should be prioritizing the run and standing relatively firm defensively. Whatever Brady does, Luck should have the acumen to achieve if he were the one wearing the Flying Elvis logo.
This isnít the case in all of the Gillette Stadium held permutations we could have witnessed this weekend.
But if Bradyís a Colt and Luckís a Patriot? Iím still taking New England. The Pats are simply stronger in nearly every other area. It doesnít always come down to the play of the quarterback, especially when there isn't a substantial drop-off.
Sure, Luck may this weekend be the kid who got thumped 59-24 by the Patriots last season, or the one who dropped a 24-9 decision in his first career playoff game to the Ravens to end his 2012 campaign, or even the shaky three interception throwing sophomore who eventually rallied his troops against the Chiefs last Saturday.
Odds are, though, that would have more to do with Luckís inferior offensive line, limited receiving options, or lack of balance with Indyís running game before landing squarely on his shoulders for making mistakes.
Players and coaches on both teams have spent the week discussing what makes each signal-caller so impressive. Thereís Bradyís competitiveness, work ethic, and intensity, not to mention his ability to read a situation and stay level-headed. And donít forget Luckís athleticism, improvement, mobility, intelligence, and adeptness with the deep ball. Itís been a love-fest.
Bradyís the old guard, and Luckís the new. Itís rare that New Englandís edge isnít based chiefly around the man under center but, this time, it wonít be. Both quarterbacks have enjoyed an irregularly consistent flair for the dramatic this season Ė Brady with five comeback wins and Luck with four Ė and each is equally frightening when his teamís within reach and driving downfield late in a game.
At that point, itís about the weapons. The Patriots have more, and Luck would likely find them just like Brady.
Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman
The author is solely responsible for the content.
About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
Send Adam Kaufman an email.