Franchise QBs in Playoffs: Luck, Manning, Brady, Rodgers & Wilson

Well, Andrew Luck got over a hump on Sunday, when he beat his predecessor. Peyton Manning’s future will shift into focus after the Super Bowl and the aftermath, so in about a month’s time. Of course, if you watch sports TV this week, the coverage will be all about it. Then it will cool after the conference championship games are played, only to put Manning back in the spotlight, but he can make a quick decision unlike Brett Favre and his retirement watch. It was a convincing victory for the traveling Indianapolis Colts, leaving a very uncanny vibe at Mile High Stadium.

Clearly, the Denver Broncos were the superior team on paper, especially when you glance at the statistics this past season. They didn’t get the job done, not even close, and were completely defeated by the Colts at home after a bye week. I have been skeptical of the coaching staff in Denver, especially the head coach and coordinators. Offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, has been rumored to draw interest from other teams for his first head-coaching position. To this day, dating back to their success since Mike McCoy became head coach for the rival San Diego Chargers, I just didn’t see Gase as much of a reason for the offense’s success. Coaches coach and players play, so discounting Manning’s ownership of the offense for a second, something was definitely off in the second half of the season.

Perhaps Manning and his supporting cast were too banged up, mainly Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, but it was easy to see the overuse of the ground game despite their ability to string together wins in the regular season. The exposure comes to the forefront in playoff football, but the skittles were dropping on the path well before that, and they still couldn’t find answers after two weeks to prepare for the Colts. I get that the carousel in the backfield forced the offense to adapt throughout the season, but C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman each injected life after Montee Ball struggled on the ground. Julius Thomas recovered for the playoff game and produced, but his teammates didn’t show up. Thomas was sorely missed for six weeks, especially his presence in the red zone, where he was leading the league in receiving touchdowns with the dozen scores he finished 2014 with. It didn’t help that Wes Welker’s best days are behind him, but they had plenty of ammunition and for consecutive postseasons, I point the bulk of the blame at the coaches.

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were explosive all year, but the bump & run coverage by Vontae Davis and Greg Toler threw them off all game long. Manning was challenged to throw the ball downfield and simply lost the battle to his former team. I don’t buy for one second that Manning is done physically, the talent and IQ are still there. The arm may not be the same, but this is still an elite QB in today’s game. The Colts moved on from Manning after neck surgery, landing Luck with the top pick a few years back. Indy knew how to defend him, and Luck took a huge step in the quarterback ladder.

The only thing that bothers me about Luck, is the fact that he gets careless with the ball and people want to crown him for having his best regular season. You know how it is, you have to win games in January and eventually capture that ring. Luck is a stud already, with more untapped potential, and would be a top-3 pick if the NFL were going to re-drafted every current player. He handled business against the Cincinnati Bengals as his team was favored to do, then won at Denver when the Colts were expected to lose by a touchdown.

The credit should go to the entire team as a whole, as they won in every aspect. If the Colts fall to the New England Patriots next Sunday, in Foxboro where Tom Brady went 7-1, it should still be considered a positive season. Luck and company took down one hall of fame quarterback in his own backyard, it remains to be seen, but I doubt they accomplish that in consecutive weeks. With that said, we should all be excited that Luck has arrived, and to watch him go toe-to-toe with Brady and Bill Belichick, arguably the best head coach and defensive guru. There is reason to worry about the Pats’ defense, but I do recall the Baltimore Ravens always playing them tough. I’m not sure how the Colts are still putting up more points than opponents, because they are very one-dimensional with only one dependable receiver at this point.

On the contrary, it’s not like the Pats have stars all over the field themselves. They find ways to get production on the ground, to move the chains with only one matchup-proof target in Rob Gronkowsi, and they mix things up on D to keep opponents under 20 points on average. Indy hasn’t been too shabby in their respect, I mean, they just put the clamps on Denver with only 13 points allowed. The playoff woes continue to haunt Manning for whatever reasons, but I guess the guy has earned some amount of slack after a Super Bowl appearance last year. Brady has been a different story, although New England hasn’t won the big game since Spy Gate. The Colts got man-handled by the Patriots in the regular season, all signs are pointing toward a more competitive outcome. I got the Patriots flexing in this one and reaching the SB.

Legacies are running wild this postseason, even over in the NFC, in another rematch between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. Another must-watch duel between an established superstar and a rising star looking to leave his imprint. Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are both champions, but Rodgers has shouldered the load for years with an MVP on his resume. Wilson has been as efficient as they come, with the back-breaking ability to scramble for the most yards at his position, but there’s plenty more to prove for a guy about to see his second contract in this league. Wilson does have one hell of a defense, the best in fact, and his matchup will be easier in front of the 12th Man. Green Bay has their defensive highs at home, Seattle is virtually unbeatable on home turf. Wilson has these big games one week, but sometimes he lays an egg and struggles through the air to finish under 200 yards.

It’s great to see the best QBs in the game take their teams deep into the playoff picture. There aren’t too many top signal callers that weren’t in the hunt before getting eliminated. Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco have all hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Tony Romo reached the divisional round. Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have yet to find postseason success, but most people would rank them from average to above average starters. This increases the value of the nation’s best quarterbacks at the college level, so this year Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota should be picked high. Luck has already moved up the ranks with a couple playoff wins in this tournament, you bet that he’s hungry to join the remaining guys at his position with championship gear and hardware. The other three are greedy for more and they should be, because before we know it, Brady will have the type of offseason that questions his future, like the one Manning is set to have. As for this weekend, the most possessed QB is the one I prefer to lead the way, that being the Brady Bunch. The best team to me is be the Seahawks, the defending champions have had my vote to repeat as champions.