On Monday, we examined the on-the-field matchups between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts: Brady vs. Luck, Gostkowski vs. Vinatieri, Van Riddles’ fumble problems vs. T-Rich’s fumble problems, etc.
But that is only half the story. Today we look at all of the off-the-field matchups: the coaching, the front office, the injury-based, the cosmic, the karmic, the spiritual. Things may get weird.
Onward and onward.
Pats’ Chances of Winning vs. Dan Dierdorf
Now, if you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know I take commentators very seriously. Here, for your edification, is the Patriots 2013 record by commentating team.
Dierdorf/Gumbel (CBS) 2-2
Nessler/Mayock (CBS) 1-0
Burkhardt/Lynch (Fox) 1-0
Michaels/Collinsworth (NBC) 2-0
Brennaman/Aikman (Fox) 1-0
Tirico/Gruden (ESPN) 0-1
It’s already been announced that Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel will be handling the commentating duties, and that spells bad news for the Pats. The two losses that Dierdorf/Gumbel manned two of the Patriots’ ugliest losses (13-6 to the Bengals, 30-27 to the Jets) and two of their ugliest wins (24-21 over the Bills, 34-31 over the Texans).
That being said, the Pats were undefeated with Dierdorf/Gumbel from 2009-2012. It weirds me out that this is Dierdorf’s last game, as it seems to beg for some drama-filled action for him to yell about. Not to mention that he was the commentator when Tom Brady was knocked out by a certain Bernard Pollard….
Winner: Slight edge to the Pats. But this is cause for worry.
Colts Taking Advantage of Karma vs. Pats
On Monday, the Colts announced the signing of veteran wide receiver, Deion Branch. Needless to say, I was horrified.
Branch, an Indiana native, signed on with the Colts days before going up against the team he spent seven seasons with. Last time Branch played against the pats, he caught four passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns while with Seattle. But more than his receiving skills is his being symbolic of the old Patriot way: scrappy, cerebral, and an underdog chip on his shoulder.
On a tactical level, the Colts get a smart player with insight into New England’s strategy. On a karmic level, they hit a home run.
Winner: Branch and the Colts
Patriots vs. the Injury Bug
Also on Monday, the New England Patriots placed Brandon Spikes on season-ending IR, his knee injury apparently catching up with him. If you’re keeping count, that’s Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Boyce, and now Brandon Spikes all lost for the season. Yeesh.
The Patriots brought J’Gared Davis up for linebacking depth, and Dane Fletcher’s role with the team will increase drastically. This hurts the Patriots in the run-defense game. But, then again, I guess it couldn’t get much worse.
Winner: That cold, cold, mean Bug.
Chuck-Pagano’s-Plucky-Underdogness vs. Bill-Belichick’s-Super-Palpatineness
A wildly underrated aspect of this game. It’s hard not to like Chuck Pagano. He’s a super energetic, hyper-motivating leader of men. Like Pete Carroll without the questionable academic fudging. His cancer survival story is genuinely inspirational and it’s clear that his rapport with his players is strong. And, most importantly, he’s won consistently.
But…most Colts fans will tell you that Pagano is A) Not a great play-caller, B) Not a great game manager and C) the Colts were a tad inconsistent this past season, all of which starts with the coaching staff.
Which brings us to the other side of the spectrum. Bill Belichick has no time for emotion, no time for rah-rah sentimentalism. But he is arguably the greatest coach in the NFL for a reason: he’s a master technician. His players know that his way is the best way: he has the wins and the rings to prove it.
Now…on a purely coaching, nuts-and-bolts level, Belichick has the edge. But on a karmic if-this-were-a-sports-movie level, it’s a bit closer. Pagano is super likable, personable, and has the spirit of an underdog. Belichick is the Evil Emperor Palpatine himself.
That being said, if the narrative were this is Belichick’s greatest coaching job ever (which it almost certainly is), it should be capped off with at least a showdown Denver if not another ring. Does this mean much in the end? Of course not. But it is something to think about.
Winner: Edge to Belichick.
Front Office Faces
Sorry Jim Irsay. I know you have adorably sassy tweets, and you love your team more than life itself. But you ain’t beating the classiest in the business.
Winner: Robert Kraft is da man.
Technically, this should have been in Monday’s article, but whatever.
Quarterback mojo is a tricky thing. There’s a fine line between Joe Montana and Joe Namath, and the difference can be Super Bowl Rings. You don’t have to be the most electrifying player to haven the most success (the Matt Saracen vs. JD McCoy argument) and being charismatic doesn’t mean you can throw a proper fade (uh…Tim Tebow).
Andrew Luck definitely still has that lovely new car smell on him. He’s young, vibrant, and his clutchness has shone over his occasional hiccups (two out of the three picks he threw against Kansas City were pretty bad). With his Andre-the Giant level voice and surprising running skills compared to his massive frame, Luck is emblematic of Pagano and the Colts as a whole, that they can ride to the Super Bowl and great vibes and comeback narratives alone (which they may very well do).
Tom Brady…he may be boring to most people around the league. He’s not affable or self-effacing like Peyton Manning. He’s not as omnipresent or as likable as Aaron Rodgers. He may not have the same connection with his fanbase as Drew Brees. He’s prickly, prone to yelling and screaming on the field, and still carries the pretty boy label. Most offensively? He’s been consistently great, which has gotten really boring.
This year, the dynamic has changed slightly. The argument could and should be made that Tom Brady is a Top 3 MVP candidate this season. Pundits have gone on and on about how devoid of talent his receiving options have been, and yet Brady has put up great numbers and led his team, somewhat improbably, to 12 wins, despite their being wrecked by injuries. Take Peyton Manning off the Broncos, and you can’t tell me that Brock Osweiler can’t be at least average with Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Knowshown Moreno surrounding him. Take Tom Brady off the Patriots? Yikes.
What does all this mean? I’m not sure. There are two very different energies surrounding these QBs. It will be interesting to see how Brady comes out in this first playoff game, especially with the disappointments of the last few New England postseasons.
Winner: Who knows? We all win, I guess.
Heating Up at the Right Time
The Colts, without question, hit their peak at the beginning of the season, with decisive wins over San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver. Following the bye week, however, they were blown out by St. Louis, Arizona, and Cincinnati. They won their last three against Houston, KC, and Jacksonville. But that’s still an iffy stretch. And last week against Kansas City, they did achieve a miraculous comeback, but they also put themselves in that gigantic hole in the first place.
The Patriots haven’t exactly generated a ton of momentum this season (their losses are all pretty evenly spaced, but if you’re a Pats fan you have to feel good about the team coming off their last two games. Dec. 22’s blowout game against the Ravens and Dec. 29’s running-fueled dismantling of a strong Buffalo defense were both huge. While the argument could be made that the bye week may hurt New England’s momentum, the chance to have an extra week to heal up is much more valuable. Even with that bye week…
Winner: Patriots. If I’m the Colts I’m more worried by the shoddy play in the first half against Kansas City than I am pleased with the comeback.
A Man’s Uniform is His Creed
Look, I like the Flying Elvis unis just fine. They’re sleek, they’re modern, and they just look good (though it’s impossible to say how much of that is the Pats success rubbing off on them). But just seeing that Colts horseshoe makes me queasy. There’s something so frighteningly old school about them, as if it was still possible for Johnny Unitas’ spirit to leap into Andrew Luck’s body, like Lily Tomlin jumping into Steve Martin, and absolutely eviscerate the Pats. It scares me.
Put it this way. If New England were to come out onto the pitch in their Pat the Patriot uniforms? I’d add three points to the spread in a heartbeat.
Mane of the Gods
I cannot stress this enough. The Patriots are 100% more follically gifted than the Colts. Have you seen Logan Mankins? Dude will knock you on your ass before going back to his log cabin on top of the largest mountain in the United States, where he eats beans from a can and communes with the wolves. Van Riddles? His hair is basically a traveling art installation. LeGarrette Blount? Julian Edelman? I mean, Jesus, Tom Effing Brady?
Winner: Patriots, duh.
We’ve Been Here Before
To cap Part 2 off, in which we’ve looked at karma, vibes, narratives, likability, and hair aesthetics, I’d like to return to history for a moment.
The Colts are 3-3 in the Divisional Round since 2000.
The Patriots are 7-2 in the Divisional Round since 2000.
The Patriots are 6-1 coming off the Wild Card Bye since 2000.
The last time the Colts and the Patriots faced off in the playoffs was in 2006.
The Colts won 38-34.
The Patriots won the two previous playoff meetings, 20-3 and 24-14.
That being said that was Peyton Manning. This is Andrew Luck.
How did Andrew Luck fare in his one game against New England?
The Patriots won, 59-24.
Check back on Friday for Part 3 of this preview on Friday morning. You can find Part 1 HERE.