The Indianapolis Colts are going to win the Super Bowl if they can beat the New England Patriots on the road this Sunday. If not, the Patriots are destined to be NFL champs. And if not them, it will definitely be the San Diego Chargers.
There are some pretty wacky stats being thrown around when it comes to predicting the Super Bowl victor among the eight remaining playoff teams. If a meaningless coincidence like the Philadelphia Eagles first home opponent can lead to a forecast of the San Diego Chargers as NFL champs, we might as well throw out another: The winner of the past three Colts-Patriots playoff meetings has gone on to win the Super Bowl.
So congrats, Indianapolis/ New England/ San Diego. The Vince Lombardi Trophy is already yours.
These facts are great as trivia nuggets but as tools for analysis, they’re worthless. The last time the Indianapolis Colts faced the New England Patriots in the playoffs, Peyton Manning was throwing passes Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss was still a member of the Oakland Raiders. The only three active players still on either roster since that last playoff meeting are Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, and Robert Mathis.
In other words, it’s a whole new ballgame, especially with Andrew Luck behind center for the Colts. In just 34 career games, including the postseason, Luck has eight fourth quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives, according to Pro Football Reference. Aaron Rodgers’ splits on those statistics: six and 10.
Time and time again, the second-year quarterback has brought his team back from the brink of defeat, and Luck’s performance against the Kansas City Chiefs last week was the best of his career. Imagine the psychological fortitude required to overpower a 38-10 deficit against the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense in points per game, particularly when you bookended halftime with a pair of ugly interceptions. Much has been said about Luck’s athleticism, accuracy, and intelligence, but he truly shines in his capacity to forget mistakes or the score and take over the game one drive at a time.
Which is great, because he’ll be going up against Tom Brady, the only quarterback to have more fourth-quarter comebacks this season and one of the masters of what we’ll call “competitive amnesia.” Impressive as it was, Luck had nearly all of the second half to erase his team’s 28-point deficit. In Week 6, with 1:13 left in the fourth quarter, Brady overcame a four-point deficit and an interception on his previous drive to lead the Patriots to a game-winning touchdown over the New Orleans Saints. Depending on your point of view, it may have been only been his second or third most impressive comeback of the season.
The similarities between the two quarterbacks don't end there. In addition to their late-game magic, both Brady and Luck have lead their team to the second-round of the playoffs with below-average receiving corps that have been decimated by injury. Their team's defenses gave up almost exactly the same number of points in the regular season (336 for the Colts, 338 for the Patriots). And Brady and Luck's passer ratings were a surprisingly mediocre 15th and 16th, respectively: 87.3 to 86.5.
These numbers portend a fantastic divisional round game between the Patriots and the Colts -- scheduled for Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. EST -- because not only will both quarterbacks fight until the final whistle, but their teams appear evenly matched. With a little luck (pun intended), we may even get a rematch of the classic 2006 AFC Championship game, in which Peyton Manning -- the NFL’s all time leader in fourth-quarter comebacks -- rallied his team from a 21-3 hole to advance to the Super Bowl.
We all know how that turned out for the Colts; just see the first paragraph of this story.