With his last name, which is ideal for headline writers, it makes sense that Andrew Luck is good. He’s on the fringe of becoming great, but it takes one more win to reach that next level of NFL quarterbacks.
Most times, a career-changing moment comes in the form of an upset. Here’s one odd example: Everyone was stunned when Lyle Lovett, a goofy country singer, married actress Julia Roberts. That was 22 years ago, and Lovett still is famous for that, even if some us consider Roberts overrated.
It could happen for Luck if he wins the AFC Championship on Sunday. Is this his moment or is he still a year or two away?
The Indianapolis Colts, 6½-point underdogs at New England, will stun the Patriots only if Luck is better than Tom Brady. It could happen.
Here’s another example: Just this week, the best quarterback in college football was upset on the big stage. In life and in the postseason, getting hot at the right time means everything.
“It’s sort of like Ohio State going on that late run through Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “It’s kind of like the Colts could do the same thing. I believe they are live ’dogs right now. All of the squares are on the Patriots.”
Brady almost got shot down by Baltimore’s Joe Flacco last weekend, when Luck got the best of an aging and injured Peyton Manning in Denver. That was the first big upset Luck needed. The next one will be tougher to get, even if the point spread is about a field goal lower.
In no way are the Patriots overrated. Bill Belichick continues to prove he is the smartest coach in the game. Brady is arguably the best quarterback, and he’s so much better when tight end Rob Gronkowski is catching his passes. Gronkowski is an impossible matchup for almost any defense. He’s too big and strong for cornerbacks and too fast for linebackers.
So, the Indianapolis defense is starting at a disadvantage, and on top of that, Luck will need to outplay Brady and Belichick’s defense.
“Luck is dangerous,” Miller said, “but this is a healthy Brady and not a beat-up Manning.”
When the favored Colts took out Cincinnati in the wild-card round, the Bengals were without top wide receiver A.J. Green. That left quarterback Andy Dalton as a red-headed Robin, who is nothing minus Batman. A limping, duck-tossing Manning was a joker.
In Week 11, when the Patriots were 3-point underdogs and punished the Colts 42-20 in Indianapolis, Brady passed for 257 yards and two touchdowns — one to Gronkowski — in a statement game. But let’s take a closer look at it.
Brady was intercepted twice, and Gronkowski had only four receptions, so neither was unstoppable. New England rode Jonas Gray, who rushed 37 times for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Gray has disappeared from the offense.
The Colts had no running attack at the time. Luck passed for 303 yards and two touchdowns, and he was the team’s leading rusher with 15 yards. Indianapolis has developed a capable running back in Daniel “Boom” Herron.
Things have changed, Luck is hot at the right time, and handicapper Micah Roberts believes an upset could happen.
“The Colts’ past six games stayed under the total, and in five of those, the total was driven under by the Colts defense, which held Manning and the Broncos to 288 yards on their home field,” said Roberts, from the “The Linemakers” on SportingNews.com and a former book director. “It’s another sign the Indianapolis defense has fixed some areas of concern, and Herron has materialized into a good running back to help keep the clock and chains moving and the pace slower.
“The Colts have gained 2½ points to their rating in the playoffs, while the Patriots failed to cover another playoff game, going 3-11 ATS in their past 14. The Patriots are also 0-5 ATS in their past five AFC title games. I think the Colts’ tempo sets the pace and keeps this under 54½. An Indianapolis money-line play also deserves strong consideration.”
Both conference championships are rematches of lopsided games. In the NFC, Seattle opened the season by embarrassing Green Bay 36-16 on a night when Aaron Rodgers was under constant pressure and not himself.
Unfortunately for the Packers, Rodgers still is not himself because of a calf injury that crippled his mobility last week against Dallas. Unlike the Cowboys, the Seahawks will relentlessly blitz Rodgers.
“Everybody is on Seattle,” Miller said. “I can see nothing but public money on Seattle coming in all weekend.”
The Seahawks are 7½-point favorites at most books, and Miller said he might move to 8 “real soon.” At 8, I’ll probably take a small shot on the Packers, who I bet in July at 14-1 odds to win the Super Bowl.
The bookmakers expect to be rooting for both ’dogs. Luck and the Colts are getting 7 at a few spots now.
“The smarts are not laying 7 in that game, there’s no way,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “Luck is a very good quarterback, and he’s going to get better. He’s going to be recognized, when a couple guys in front of him retire sooner or later, as the No. 1 quarterback in the league. But I still can’t buy the rest of the team.”
I can buy into the Colts covering but not winning. Luck could outplay Brady, and a field goal could decide it.
Lovett’s odd marriage lasted less than two years. Luck will be great for several more years, and his moment is coming. But this still is Brady’s time.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.