When he was taken with the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, Andrew Luck was projected to the be the best new player the league had seen in years, with the potential to be one of the all-time greats. In just his third season, the quarterback, along with the Indianapolis Colts, are looking to cement themselves among the NFL’s elite.
Through nine games, Luck is one of the top MVP candidates and the 6-3 Colts are competing to get a first-round bye in the playoffs. In Week 11, Luck and Indianapolis can prove that they belong in the conversation as one of the Super Bowl favorites, with a win over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.”
New England took hold of the No.1 seed in the AFC with a win over Denver in Week 9, improving their record to 7-2. The Patriots didn't play last week, and are 10-4 under Bill Belichick, following a regular-season bye.
After getting his first ever postseason win, Luck couldn’t get by New England in last year’s playoffs. He was intercepted four times in a 43-22 loss in the divisional round.
The betting public seems to think the Colts are now on the same level as the Patriots. Indianapolis is favored by three points at home, after the point spread was initially set at 2.5 points. A three-point line indicates the two teams are even on a neutral field.
Indianapolis has looked as good as any NFL team, at times, winning four games by at least 16 points. They have beaten winning teams, getting victories over the Bengals and Ravens, but they’ve done most of their damage against the weak part of their schedule.
The Colts have not fared well against first-place teams and offensive juggernauts. Indianapolis is 0-3 against the Broncos, Eagles and Steelers, allowing an average of 37.3 points per game. The Patriots don’t take a backseat to any of those teams, and can score with anyone in the league.
New England’s 31.2 points per game only ranks behind Denver (31.8 ppg) and Indianapolis (32.2 ppg). They are scoring more than 40 points per game during their five-game winning streak.
Luck leads the league’s top scoring offense and has thrown for more yards than any other quarterback, but Brady is playing even better. The former No.1 pick has thrown nine interceptions and completed 63.6 percent of his passes. Brady has a higher completion rate and has been picked off three times, including just once in the last five games. During the Patriots’ winning streak, the two-time MVP has thrown for 18 scores, averaging 320 passing yards per contest.
There’s little reason to believe Brady won’t continue his success against the Colts, especially with a healthy Rob Gronkowski, who might be the best offensive weapon in all of football. The tight end was targeted 19 times in the last two games, catching all but one of those passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns.
The Patriots, however, could find a way to limit Luck’s effectiveness. New England’s pass defense continues to get better, and contained Peyton Manning in the team’s last game.
In Week 9, Manning threw for two touchdowns, tying his season low. His 80.9 passer rating was his worst of the year, and not close to the 112.0 rating he’s averaging in 2014. Manning also completed less than 60 percent of his passes for the first time since Nov. 24 of last year.
Brady vs. Luck has yielded the highest over/under of the week, and an even higher total than Brady vs. Manning, at 57.5 points. The final score of the last two games for both New England and Indianapolis have averaged nearly 72 total points.
PREDICTION: New England over Indianapolis, 34-30