While the stats are surprisingly similar, the Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Jags’ Blaine Gabbert are miles apart in their development as franchise quarterbacks.
Gabbert may eventually become the cornerstone under center that Jacksonville expected—and frankly needs—him to be when taking him with the 10th pick in the 2011 NFL draft. However, Luck has already arrived for Indianapolis.
The 5-3 Colts have a chance on Thursday night to further cement themselves as legit playoff contenders and to exact revenge on the Jaguars, who handed them a 22-17 loss in Indianapolis back in Week 3. But Luck and Co. are a much different group now, winners of three straight games.
Thursday night’s contest could be considered a classic trap game for any team lobbying for postseason position; a seemingly unproblematic game against one of the league’s worst teams, followed by a road matchup against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
However, Luck’s naivety in this league should serve a good purpose here, thwarting the possibility of that happening—not to mention that this group is in no position to take anything for granted, with what has transpired with head coach Chuck Pagano.
Indianapolis has a favorable schedule the rest of the way. While this team isn’t quite in position to enter any game as heavy favorites, there are only two matchups that most would give them no shot at winning—at New England in Week 11 and a road game with the Houston Texans in Week 15. Even a home game to close the season with the Texans looks winnable, assuming the Colts have something to play for and Houston is already locked into its playoff position.
Who wins tonight's game?
Everyone expected Luck to enter the NFL with unusual poise, and thus that his success would be expedited. No one imagined, however, that he would be able to turn this team—virtually the same group that finished last season 2-14, earning the rights to draft the quarterback—into a playoff contender so soon.
Luck already has two more victories under his belt than Peyton Manning did his entire rookie season with the Colts. And since the NFL has evolved into its current video-game-like form, Luck is on pace to outperform his predecessor on the field as well.
A win on Thursday night would further fuel the chatter of Luck being the next big thing.
More importantly, it would keep the Colts in control of their own destiny in the AFC playoff picture—one that seems wide-open enough for a rookie quarterback to step out of the shadow of a similar blueprint created 14 years ago by this very franchise.