Let’s get to the point. New England is not a great team.
Neither are the Colts.
But in a year when the NFL is devoid of great teams, everyone still standing is a Super Bowl contender — including New England and the Colts.
Saturday’s divisional playoff isn’t about the teams.
It’s about Tom Brady and Andrew Luck.
Not exactly breaking news, to be sure. But the degree to which the AFC rivals rely on the exploits of their respective quarterbacks can’t be understated.
Without Brady, the Patriots aren’t 12-4. Probably 4-12.
Without Luck, the Colts aren’t 12-5. Maybe 3-13.
Although the teams have that in common with regard to quarterback dependency, in terms of the quarterbacks themselves, the differences are striking.
Brady is 36. He’s in his14th season. A three-time Super Bowl champion, he’s a two-time MVP whose legacy as an all-time great was sealed before Luck was even out of high school.
Canton is his retirement destination.
He’s 24. He’s in his second season. A Pro Bowler last year, he is in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a fledgling career that has greatness written all over it.
Written, but not yet achieved.
Those are the differences. Yet the teams they lead have similarities, at least circumstantially.
Free agency, injuries and felonies have placed an even heavier burden on Brady than normal.
Former favorite target Wes Welker now catches passes from Peyton Manning. Free agent acquisition Danny Amendola has been in and out all season with injuries. All-world tight end Ron Gronkowski started the season hurt and is now out for the season after playing in only a handful of games. Near-all-world tight end Aaron Hernandez has been in jail since summer on a murder charge.
Toss in an unstable backfield and a weak defense, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that New England not only finished 12-4, but earned a division title and a first round bye.
That’s what Brady means to the Patriots.
But as far as supporting casts go, Luck has had even worse luck than Brady, as if that were possible.
You know the story.
A league-high 15 players are on injured reserve, including offensive starters Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Dwayne Allen and, of course, Reggie Wayne. Big-money free agent wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey has been a total bust. Running back Trent Richardson, at the cost of a first-round draft pick, has been a near-bust. And the offensive line hasn’t a paragon of pass protection.
Toss in a shaky defense that gave up 38 points against Kansas City, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that Indianapolis not only finished 11-5, but earned a division title and a first-round win against the Chiefs.
That’s what Luck means to the Colts.
Here’s something else.
Statistically, Brady and Luck are virtually identical, with the glaring exception of a single category that set Luck apart — not only from Brady, but from most NFL peers.
In the regular season, Brady threw for 25 touchdowns, had 11 interceptions and completed 60.5 percent of his attempts for a passer rating of 87.3. Luck threw 23 touchdowns, had nine picks and completed 60.2 percent of his attempts for a passer rating of 87.0.
With their arms, they were almost dead-even. With their legs, it wasn’t even close.
And it might be the deciding edge in the playoffs.
In the regular-season, Luck rushed for 377 yards and four touchdowns. Brady’s totals were 18 yards and 0 scores.
As Colts fans have witnessed for two seasons, when Luck can’t make it happen in the air, he can do it on the ground. It’s why the Colts are in the playoffs for the second time in two years, and it’s why they can’t be written off in frigid Foxborough.
Brady still works magic in New England, but the Colts have Luck on their side.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Rick Morwick is the sports editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.