Before betting on this Sunday's AFC Championship game in Foxboro, this handicapper looks at the QBs to see who has the distinct betting edge between New England's Tom Brady & Indianapolis' Andrew Luck.
Both Star QBs Fairly Even in Values to Their Respective Teams in This One
Comparing Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck and New England Patriots QB at first seems like a mismatch when hearing the last names but one thing’s for sure: If you were to take Luck and Brady both off of their respective teams, the Colts and the Patriots would both be in a world of trouble. And so it is in 2015 in the QB-driven National Football League where losing a Carson Palmer can hamstring a season or having a prolific guy behind center like Luck can get you a game away from the Super Bowl. Outside of possibly the goalies in hockey and the goalkeepers in soccer, no position is more important to its sport than QB is to football. And both Indianapolis and New England know how fortunate they are to have these two future Hall of Famers. The Colts traded their own living legend to make way for Luck and nobody in their right minds could say that wasn’t a brilliant move.
Luck and Brady both sort of have similar proclivities in how they generate offense, although the Colts have evolved into almost an Arena-like football team and rank #1 in Passing (305.9 ypg) in the NFL. Both Luck and Brady have their downfield, almost no-name WRs they love getting the ball to first and foremost in TY Hilton, Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks (Colts) and Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola (Patriots). Luck and Brady also love throwing the football to their RBs too, but where these two really find love is at the TE position. The Patriots Rob Gronkowski is one of the most clutch players in the NFL and the Colts and Luck may have the best TE duo in professional football with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.
On Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium in possibly rainy or maybe even snowy Foxboro when these two gunslingers meet in the AFC Championship Game (CBS, 6:40 p.m. ET/3:40 p.m. PT), so lets take a look at how they match up in some different areas and try to determine in one team will have some massive edge at the position although I think we know the answer to that one going in. No. With both their track records, these are two elite QBs who try to minimize the number of mistakes they make and are good at improvising and making incredibly smart last-second decisions. Whoever loses this game, it probably won’t be because their QB was on a level or two below the opponents or because he made way too many mistakes or poor decisions. With Peyton the Elder aging and showing signs of such for the Denver Broncos over the last half of the season, it’s safe to say that the two best AFC QBs are meeting in the AFC Championship Game and both are responsible for getting their teams here and both are worthy of an MVP award this season.
Physical, Running Ability
Brady is 37 while Luck is 25 so beauty is in the eye of the beholder as to whether it’s good to be young and rubbery with much less postseason experience or to be older and a bit more vulnerable to get hurt but have the wisdom of so many past experiences in this situation. Brady stands 6-foot-4 inches, 224 pounds while Luck is 6-foot-4 inches, 240 pounds, so, Luck is a little thicker than the Patriots QB. Brady has a strong arm, but Luck’s is a little bit stronger so slight edge to the Colts signal caller there. And although you could probably measure both QBs 40-yard dash times with a sun dial, Luck (4.67) holds the edge over the sloth-like Brady (5.28) in terms of speed. Despite their similar builds and almost similar arms, the fact that Luck is younger and able to take more violent hits and much faster than Brady and able to escape those hits makes me give the slight edge to the Stanford grad.
Brady knows how to get his team to the Super Bowl and has experience doing so and bringing home the proverbial bacon three times (2001, 2003, 2004) and being named the game’s MVP twice. Third-year man Luck’s postseason numbers are incredible, but New England earned to #1 seed in the conference to have the homefield advantage for a game like this and with the fans and familiar locker room and all, as well as the expectations to even get to that Super Bowl, are in Brady’s corner. The Patriots are always in the playoffs and at 37, Michigan grad Brady definitely will hold the wisdom advantage in this game.
Brady has always been known for being able to perform under playoff pressure but Luck was tied for the most TDs (7) while under duress in the NFL this season and he was an impressive 8-for-13 in that role (duress) with a TD (Hakeem Nicks) last weekend in the Colts upset of the Broncos in Denver. Luck is very similar to Brady and as he was in college at Stanford, his decision-making skills after the ball has been snapped are unparalleled. But, no edge to either in this regard although Luck’s ability to at least run makes him more valuable than Brady in situation where space is seen.
Luck had 380 completions, for a mind-blowing 4,761 yards and 40 TDs in regular season while Brady threw for 373 completions, 4,109 yards and 33 TDs. Luck’s QBR this season was 96.5 but 86.6 for his career (12,957 Passing yards, 86 TDs) while Brady’s was 97.4 this season and sits at a sizzling 95.9 (53,258 Passing yards, 392 TDs). These are two great QBs and because one has played much more than the other doesn’t translate to his personal stats or QBR doesn’t mean he deserves to get the checkmark in the Edge column. Luck is very good and it won’t be long before Peyton Manning and Brady and Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are all gone and Luck and Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson take the titles of the NFL’s best QBs.
The Colts have had a number of injury problems on its Offensive Line this season, and have used 11 different OL combinations. Not good. LT Anthony Castonzo (6-7, 311 pounds), rookie LG Jack Mewhort (6-6, 308), C Khaled Holmes (6-3, 309), RG Joe Reitz (6-7, 325) and RT Gosder Cherilus (6-7, 316) are Indianapolis’s starters and having 6-7 tackles bracketing the Colts line makes them look intimidating until you see that the Patriots Ts—both 6-foot-8—are just a little bigger. Smaller than a Sequoia, but still bigger, brother. LT Nate Solder (6-8, 320), Dan Connolly (6-4, 305), C Bryan Stork (6-4, 310), RG Ryan Wendell (6-2, 3000) and RT Sebastian Vollmer (6-8, 320) provide Brady a healthier, more talented and dependable OL and one used to playing much more as a unit than the Colts.
Turn your heads kids. This may get ugly. Since Mr. Luck arrived in Naptown back in 2012, Indianapolis has played three times and Brady has taught the kid a thing or two in all three games as the Patriots went 3-0 SU and 3-0 ATS in those three thrashings which add up to a combined score of 144-66. Mercy. The first meeting was in the regular season in Luck’s rookie season at the RCA Dome and New England rolled 59-24 as 10-point favorites; the second meeting came last season (2013/14) in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs where the Patriots won 43-22 as 7-point chalks; and then this season in Indianapolis in Week 11, Brady and New England pounded the host Colts, 42-20 as rare 3-point underdogs in the Hoosier State. So, 59, 43 and a low of 42 points. Please come out from underneath that kitchen table 'Under' bettors. It’s OK.
The Hot Factor
Luck’s 1,703 Passing yards in his fairly fresh Playoff career is the most by any NFL player in their first five postseason games and the way the Colts (16-6-1 ATS L23) QB has looked this entire season as well as in playoff wins at home to Cincinnati and on the road at Denver means he is no doubt the hottest QB in this game and probably the hottest of all four virtual superstars left in this postseason.
Brady is allegedly called “Tom Terrific” or “California Cool” by the good folks at Wikipedia but I’m not buying it. He has no solid nickname. Luck has like a built-in nickname in his last name, but his teammate Matt Hasselbeck is said to have nicknamed him “Wolverine” because of his funky neck beard. Early on, teammates were allegedly calling Luck “Meal Ticket” because if he didn’t perform they didn’t eat. So, two decent nicknames are better than two dorky ones. Tom Terrific and California Cool sound like cartoon characters for god’s sake. At least Wolverine sounds mean and nicknames derived from neck beards can’t be denied. It’s in the Constitution.
Brady and the Patriots are just 9-8 ATS this season while Luck and the Colts are an impressive 12-5-1 ATS. Brady is 68-48-5 ATS at Home, including last weekend’s non-cover in the win over the Ravens and Brady is a very respectable 96-79-4 as a Favorite since joining the NFL. Luck is 15-12 ATS Away (6-3 ATS this season) and 13-9 ATS as an Underdog—a role Indianapolis has only been in three times this season including last week and in the season opener vs. Denver—in his three years in the league. Edge to Luck this season, but equal edge to Brady for his wonderful lifetime body of work and fantastic home ATS mark which has helped New England to an incredible home winning streak in the playoffs. The guy is a legend. Keep this in mind when placing your NFL picks.
Skill Position Weapons
As mentioned, Luck has TY Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks as his main WR targets while Brady has Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. A small edge to New England because Edelman and Amendola are sort of small (5’10 and 5’11 respectively) and dependable and makes themselves hard to find on pass routes and both are very capable of pulling off another trick play like they did last weekend against Baltimore in probably the most important play of the game when former college QB Edelman (Kent State) took a pass from Brady behind the line of scrimmage and then tossed to Amendola for the key TD. The Colts RBs are used by Luck quite often (Trent Richardson, Daniel Herron) as safety valves or for screes or other routes while Shane Vereen (52 catches) is Brady’s favorite receiver from the Patriots backfield. As far as the TE position, New England has the best of all skill position and clutch guys in Gronkowski but the Colts and Luck may have the best TE duo in professional football with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Both are loaded at all the skill spots and thrive on clutch TE play, but with Gronkowski, Edelman, LaFell, Vereen and Amendola, I feel the hosts have the cumulative edge here, albeit minimal. Waterbugs win championships. At least divisional ones.
*Slight* Edge: Brady
Free AFC Championship Picks: Patriots -6½ (Pinnacle Sportsboook)