By Michael Parente
Depending on how Wild Card Weekend unfolds, the New England Patriots might have to face Andrew Luck (above) or Andy Dalton, two of the NFL's great young quarterbacks, in their playoff opener.
Before they face the real Peyton Manning in a potential conference championship game, the New England Patriots might first have to get past the new Peyton Manning. Exactly who that is depends on your preference.
Take a quick look at these quarterback comparisons through two and three full seasons of NFL service:
Player A through two seasons:
8,196 passing yards, 682 completions, 1,197 attempts, 46 touchdowns, 27 interceptions, 57.0 completion percentage, 22-10-0 W-L-T record
Player B through two seasons:
7,847 passing yards, 657 completions, 1,108 attempts, 52 touchdowns, 43 interceptions, 59.3 completion percentage, 16-16-0 W-L-T record
Player A through three seasons:
11,363 passing yards, 992 completions, 1,630 attempts, 80 touchdowns, 49 interceptions, 60.9 completion percentage, 30-18-0 W-L-T record
Player B through three seasons:
12,287 passing yards, 1,014 completions, 1,679 attempts, 85 touchdowns, 58 interceptions, 60.4 completion percentage, 26-22-0 W-L-T record
Player A through two seasons is Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Player A through three seasons is Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton. Player B in both comparisons is Peyton Manning.
Aside from the fact he literally replaced Manning in Indianapolis two years ago and, like Manning, was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Luck is slightly more comparable to Manning than Dalton is at this point, especially considering Luck has thrown for more yards, completed more passes, won more games and thrown fewer interceptions than Manning did in his first two seasons with the Colts in 1998 and 1999.
This is one of those strange seasons in which the No. 3 seed isn’t necessarily the toughest matchup in the divisional round. The Bengals, Chiefs and Colts all finished with identical 11-5 records. The Bengals got there by finishing 8-0 at home while winning only three times on the road. The splits were alarming; Cincinnati averaged more than 37 points per game at home and just a shade over 19 points per game on the road. The Colts (5) and Chiefs (6) combined for 11 road wins during the regular season. On paper, the Chiefs appear to be a tougher match-up for the Patriots. They’ve proven they can win on the road, plus they have the personnel in running back Jamaal Charles to attack the weakness in New England’s run defense, particularly off tackle, where the Patriots have been susceptible in recent weeks.
There’s also something about Kansas City’s offensive attack that screams “ultra conservative.” Andy Reid will try to control the clock by running the football without taking any chances in the passing game. The Patriots would rather have Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith try to beat them, which is not so much a knock on Smith, but more of a compliment to Charles, who finished third in the NFL in rushing with 1,287 yards.
If we’ve learned anything through the years, it’s that a conservative game plan won’t beat the Patriots in the postseason. With their entire careers still ahead of them, guys like Dalton and Luck have nothing to lose, which is why they might be the most dangerous adversaries for New England in next weekend’s divisional round. Who’s to say either Luck or Dalton can’t drop 240 with three touchdowns like Joe Flacco did in last year’s AFC title game? We know Smith won’t do it. Remember when the Saints came to Foxboro in October and tried to get cute in the fourth quarter by running the ball three times with a chance to ice the game? That seems more like something the Chiefs would try to do in a close playoff game, not the Colts or Bengals.
Next weekend will be interesting depending on who survives Wild Card Weekend. If you enjoy great theater, root for the Colts or Bengals. A showdown with one of the NFL’s great young gunslingers before the potential main event in two weeks would be the ultimate playoff appetizer.
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