This is Andrew Luck vs. Team Luck.
It’s the Man vs. the Myth.
Give me the Myth. Give me Team Luck. Give me the Patriots over the Indianapolis Colts. Big time. Every time.
The Patriots are ready to dance to the Waltz of the Tomato Cans straight into the AFC Championship game. And the way things go around here, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Chargers stun the Broncos and come to New England for the conference title. It would be the ultimate example of the Patriots getting to the Super Bowl without really . . . you know . . . being a great team.
Deep down, you know it’s true. You know this Patriots team is nothing like those mastodons who dominated the NFL in 2003, 2004, and 2007. This team has a great coach and a great quarterback and not much else. This team has overcome innumerable hits and overachieved and earned its playoff bye. The Patriots have earned their home game and clear path into the NFL’s final four. Despite inordinate attrition and a raft of ordinary players, the Patriots have put themselves in position to advance to the conference championship. Again.
I mean, all they have to do is beat the Indianapolis Colts? Seriously. It’s just like two years ago when all the Patriots had to do was beat an 8-8 Tim Tebow-quarterbacked team at home (45-10, thank you). Or just like last year when all they had to do was beat a Houston team (41-28, thanks) on the verge of collapse (2-14 this year).
With all due respect, this is something of a joke. The abject mediocrity of the AFC is now the Patriots’ best friend. And so we can only ask: In a season in which no team has distinguished itself, why can’t a depleted Patriots team go all the way to the Super Bowl?
The Colts are not the Cincinnati Bengals. They do not have an obtuse, clueless coach, or a quarterback incapable of leading his team to a victory in the playoffs. They are not guaranteed to choke.
But they have all the ingredients Bill Belichick loves in a playoff chump.
Really. If you were going to draw up a Hoodie dream playoff opponent, you would ask for a dome team with a young quarterback, a neophyte coach, and a bad defense; a team that you beat, 59-24, last year; a team that allowed 30 first downs, 44 points, and 513 total yards playing at home last week; a team that trailed, 38-10, in the third quarter of its first playoff game; a team that cannot defend the run; a team that is happy just to have gotten this far.
And you would play that team in Foxborough. On a night that will require a running game.
In short, Saturday is shaping up as a party night for the guys in the lifeguard chairs.
Bring on the Broncos. Or better yet, bring on the Chargers in the shadow of the high-fivin’ CBS Scene.
Which way to Exit 16W off the Jersey Turnpike?
Colts-Patriots history means nothing in this one. There was a terrific stretch in which the teams played 10 times in six years, three times in the playoffs, but those were the Peyton Manning Colts. Those Colts had general manger Bill Polian getting the rules changed after Ty Law picked off three Manning passes in a 24-14 Patriots win in the AFC Championship game of the 2003 season. Those Colts came back from a 21-3 deficit in the conference title game of the 2006 season, stunning the Patriots, 38-34. Those Colts had Dwight Freeney. They forced Belichick to go for it on fourth and 2.
These are the Andrew Luck-Chuck Pagano Colts.
Luck is a tremendous young quarterback, but he is not ready for Belichick in the playoffs. In his only appearance against New England, Week 11 in 2012, he completed 27 of 50 passes for 334 yards and two touchdown passes, but he was intercepted three times and lost the game by five touchdowns. On Saturday, Belichick will own Luck the way he owned Drew Bledsoe.
Everyone likes Pagano. He’s a solid football guy from a football family.
But Foxborough will prove too much for the man. He will be swallowed up like Gary Kubiak, John Fox, Sean Payton, Jack Del Rio, Marty Schottenheimer, and Belichick’s personal stooge, Greg Schiano.
Pagano got off to a good start Monday when he signed Deion Branch. Very Belichickian (Saul from “Homeland” is going to pry the secrets out of Branch this week). But it all changes on Saturday. Pagano will lose his football mind at the sight of Belichick and Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium. He will forget everything he ever knew about the gridiron.
The Colts also come to town with a kicker named Adam Vinatieri. He was here in the days when the Patriots could go on the road and beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.
It was real back then. The Patriots were the best. They beat you.
Now they just stand back, play mistake-free, cerebral football, and watch you beat yourself.
Works every time. All the way to the AFC Championship.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.