Tom Brady is the worst quarterback remaining in the NFL playoffs.
Well, at least that’s the conclusion of the Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer, who uses a very sophisticated system of data and empirical analysis states his opinion in ranking the QB’s based on arm strength, accuracy, mobility, pocket presence, and intangibles (Brady, who has won more Super Bowls than the rest of the candidates combined, finished fifth in that category). When Iyer added up the totals, Brady finished with 15 points, four behind Philip Rivers (!?!?!) and Colin Kaepernick. In first place, of course, was Peyton Manning, along with Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.
Regardless of that stupidity, Saturday night really comes down to this: Are the New England Patriots paper tigers, or a beast ready to pounce?
When the Colts arrive for their divisional playoff showdown at Gillette Stadium, it will be the first time the Patriots will have faced a team that finished the NFL season above .500 since they beat the Denver Broncos way back on Nov. 24. The Broncos, in fact, are one of only two above .500 teams New England managed to beat all season, the New Orleans Saints being the other.
In fact, in winning the AFC East and securing a first-round bye, New England plowed through a schedule that was a sub-par 97-109 combined. Of teams that finished over .500, the Patriots beat only the Broncos and the Saints, and it took a wild comeback and a last-second miracle to accomplish those feats.
Are the Patriots destined for greatness, or will the ridiculous rash of injuries finally catch up to them?
The Patriots haven’t lost their first playoff game since the “Foot Bowl” against the Jets in 2010. The next two years, they scored a combined 86 points the next two seasons against the Broncos and Texans, respectively. Based on what the Colts allowed the Chiefs to do last weekend – without Jamaal Charles – don’t doubt that a similar offensive output isn’t likely again on Saturday.
Whether or not the Colts can match the same output….well, that’s a little murkier. After all, the Patriots will be facing one of the best three quarterbacks remaining with some schlub behind center for them.
Globe staff: Four out of five pick New England (Patriots by 7 ½).
Indy Star staff: Two out of three pick the Patriots.
ESPN.com staff: Eight out of 13 pick the Patriots.
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 27, Colts 17. “The Patriots in the Belichick-Brady era have been almost a sure-thing in the AFC divisional round when they earn one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye, going 6-1 in that situation, with only an upset loss to the Jets in 2010 marring their record. They've won those games by an average of almost 14 points. And don't forget, it was the Patriots' memorable and controversial "Snow Game" comeback overtime victory against Oakland in the 2001 AFC divisional round that launched the whole New England dynasty. Tuck rule, anyone? But the Colts should be riding high on the emotion of last week's miracle win over Kansas City and will put up a four-quarter fight in Foxboro, which is expecting mild temperatures and maybe some rain Saturday night. The Patriots defense won't be giving up any 28-point leads, so Indy's best shot is to keep it close throughout and give Andrew Luck the chance to find out if his fourth-quarter magic is better than Brady's fourth-quarter magic.”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 31, Colts 27. “This is the new kid in Andrew Luck trying to get past the decorated veteran in Tom Brady. I look for both of them to have success here. The Patriots finished 26th in third-down defense and the Colts were 20th in total defense. Quarterbacks like these two love those numbers. The Colts are riding high after rallying from 28 down to beat the Chiefs, but I look for Bill Belichick to come up with something to take away T.Y. Hilton, who had a big day last week. In the end, the veteran with the rings will outduel the young kid trying to get one.”
CBS Sports.com staff: Seven out of eight pick the Colts (New England by 7 ½).
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 27, Colts 23. “Saturday's prime-time game is the only Divisional Round duel in which the teams did not also meet in the regular season. A few numbers for you here: Tom Brady has QB’d 17 career playoff wins, the most ever. (Joe Montana had 16.) Bill Belichick has coached 18 postseason wins. (Only Tom Landry with 20 and Don Shula with 19 had more.) And New England is 8-0 at home this season and 14-4 overall in the postseason at home. Now you expect a dome team such as Indy to teeth-chatter into Brady’s igloo and win? I don’t think so, friend. You can extoll Andrew Luck’s clutchness all you want and marvel over his 28-point comeback over Cincy last week. He’s still a babe in deep winter facing a QB who’s as historically clutch as anybody presently taking snaps. The point spread feels too big; Colts are 11-6 against the spread and Luck is 14-2 in games decided by seven or fewer. But Pats should ride a daunting venue to victory as long as their to-do list prominently includes blocking Robert Mathis and covering T.Y. Hilton.”
USA Today staff: Five out of seven pick the Pats.
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com: Colts 23, Patriots 20. “It’s hard to call the Patriots overachievers with Bill Belichick as the head coach and Tom Brady as the quarterback. But even with two of the best ever at their respective jobs, the Patriots have major flaws. And the Colts bring a dangerous nothing-to-lose mentality to Gillette Stadium, along with a head coach who has four years of experience with the true New England nemesis in the AFC — the Ravens. Look for Chuck Pagano to contain the New England offense just enough to give Andrew Luck and company a chance to outscore the home team. If Luck can beat Tom Brady in their first ever postseason meeting, all those Colts fans who still wear Peyton Manning jerseys may have to buy some royal blue tape and turn the 8 into a 2.”
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 24, Colts 14. “Indianapolis is a team on the rise, a franchise that I see making the playoffs consistently for as long as Andrew Luck is the quarterback, which is probably a dozen or so more years. Kind of like the Patriots have been for as long asTom Brady has been the quarterback. If the Colts could win a playoff game in New England, it would feel like an AFC changing of the guard, but I don’t think the Colts are quite ready for that. Indianapolis doesn’t have a good enough defense to keep New England’s offense in check, and Bill Belichick’s defensive schemes will force Andrew Luck into some big mistakes.”
Peter Schrager, Foxsports.com: Patriots 34, Colts 24. “No Vince Wilfork. No Jerrod Mayo. And now, no Brandon Spikes. The Patriots’ top three defensive players are out for Sunday’s game and no one seems to be blinking an eye. What’s new? Consider that the Patriots have lost Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon Lloyd, and Wilfork, Mayo, and Spikes—and you can make the argument that this is the best coaching job Bill Belichick’s ever done. Will he win Coach of the Year? Absolutely not, which is an even greater testament to the job he’s done. The bar’s been set so high, that expectations are not lowered, despite the roster turnover and injury loss. Andrew Luck is a special player, but it’s not his time yet. The guy to watch? LeGarrette Blount—the quiet MVP of this Patriots offense down the stretch.”
Vinnie (Brady is the worst quarterback remaining in the playoffs) Iyer, Sporting News: Colts 31, Patriots 30. “The Colts are an all-or-nothing type playoff team, and that was on display full tilt against Kansas City. They can look awful in one half, great in another, and that goes game to game. Somehow, they win against the better competition, and it always comes back to the promising coach-QB combination of Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck. They play disciplined and relentless for Pagano, knowing their trump card is Luck in the clutch.
The Patriots have maybe the best-ever duo in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and every year, they have a shot at their fourth rings. This should turn into a classic, as Brady and Luck duel at a high level. While the Patriots will lean more on the run, the Colts know their best bet is letting Luck loose. In a back-and-forth offensive game there are defensive liabilities on both sides, but Robert Mathis can be a game-changer. Adam Vinatieri makes another big playoff kick in New England, only this time to help the Colts steal one.”
It says here: Patriots 28, Colts 24. Just a hunch, but after Sunday’s Chargers-Broncos game, there may be some tickets on sale down on Route 1 come Monday.