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Alternate Jersey: Luck Be Eleven

With Andrew Luck being on the Colts’ IR list, possibly for a career-ending injury, it’s easy to look at this once promising prospect and mourn for what could have been. Luck, a too big to fail style of quarterback, made an immediate impact on a team that was worried they would be without solid quarterback play for years to come. Luck took a 2–14 team and raised them to an 11–5 record, a playoff appearance, and almost singlehandedly restored Colts fans hopes in their team after releasing Peyton Manning due to a horrible neck injury.

As a draft prospect, Luck was second to none. A slam dunk pick due to having an incredible football IQ, playing a pro-style offense, and looking nearly flawless with his big arm, laser accuracy, and rare mobility. When he applied for the 2012 draft, he was the no-brainer pick for anybody who would be in desperate need of a franchise quarterback. The Colts were that desperate franchise in 2012. Luck has been the one bright spot in a franchise that is slowly watching itself fail due to poor front office decisions, bad coaching, and now potentially losing Andrew Luck forever as a player.

If you’ll recall, Luck applying for the 2012 draft was a pretty big deal. Luck famously made the decision to skip the 2011 draft so he could finish his studies at Stanford (I mean, if you have to have a degree from somewhere.) This was a big deal because he was looking poised to be one of the two big names heading into the 2011 draft alongside Auburn’s Heisman winner Cam Newton. But of course, Luck opted to finish school and applied for the 2012 draft where he’d be analyzed alongside another Heisman winner in Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. Cam went to the Panthers, Luck went to the Colts, and Griffin III caused the Redskins to sell the farm to trade up for him. The rest is history.


But what if Andrew Luck applied for the 2011 draft?

I cannot emphasize enough that Andrew Luck was THE draft pick. The most surefire thing to happen to the NFL in the 21st century. I know there are likely Panthers fans reading this clutching their Cam jerseys or pounding their oversized drums. Trust me, if Luck had applied for the 2011 draft, you’d be needing to add a “2” to that precious Newton jersey. Andrew Luck goes to Carolina no questions asked.

So what of Cam Newton?

Next up to pick, the Denver Broncos. They could use themselves a franchise quarterback, right? Denver is still warming up 2010’s 1st round draft pick Tim Tebow to take the reigns of the Broncos. “But Cam is WAY better than Tebow!” I hear you yell, shaking your screen in anger and disgust. And you are right; however, Tebow was not a certified bust as of yet. He had very limited time starting and was looking to have his first real shot. And come on, you don’t spend a 1st round draft pick on a quarterback and then immediately turn around and do the same thing that next year. Not even the Browns have done that.

So, Denver still takes Von Miller to reinforce their defense. The Heisman winner still on the board. Third on deck: the Buffalo Bills. The Bills at quarterback aren’t looking stellar they’re more looking… average. Ryan Fitzpatrick just finished year two in Buffalo with another missed playoff season, a 4–12 record, and overall not looking stellar. Oddly enough Fitzpatrick was the quarterback the Bills were willing to hitch themselves to for a while. If you’re the Bills — a franchise with a terrible record, a below average quarterback, and haven’t been to the playoffs in nearly two decades — and all of a sudden Cam Newton just fell into your lap, you have to take him, right? Of course you do. Welcome to Buffalo, Cam!

The Titans still take Jake Locker. I’m so sorry Titans’ fans.

Cam and Andrew now have competing rookie seasons, but let’s start with Newton’s impact in Buffalo. Super-Cam quickly dethrones Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Bills starter and adds a new dimension to an otherwise stagnant Bills running game. Our real-world rookie of the year leads the Bills to a suddenly dominant 7–0 start after picking up close wins against the Bengals and Giants. Now, after the bye, this would be the point where Fitzpatrick came completely undone and started showcasing why he is not a true option for any team. The Bills went on a 7 game losing streak, eventually ending their season at 6–10 after a 5–2 start. But now we have Cam Newton to play with. Granted, Buffalo’s losing streak wasn’t solely on Fitzpatrick, but it would be nice if he hadn’t thrown 23 interceptions that season.

Let’s plug Cam into the equation. As a rookie on the Panthers, Cam only threw 17 interceptions against 21 touchdowns. Pretty great for a rookie. But also keep in mind that Newton also RAN for 14 touchdowns. FOURTEEN! That kind of number is enough to pick up three additional wins in what would have been the seven-game nightmare. So instead of a 6–10 finish, the Bills grab a 10–6 start in the Cam Era. A record that is good enough to bump the Bengals out of the playoffs and pick up the Bills first playoff appearance in the 21st century.

Luck on the Panthers is a Godsend. Luck as a rookie was big on huge chunks of yardage. Keep in mind that he had some talented receivers to work in Indy, but do you know who he has in Carolina? Steve Smith. Smith, who hauled over 1,300 yards with Cam Newton as his quarterback, now gets an even gunslinger quarterback to work with. Not to oversell or anything, but as the Panthers only viable receiver during this time period, I don’t think it’s too insurmountable to say that Smith is putting together a 1,500-yard season. Under Luck, the frequently “so-close-but-just-missed” Panthers also climb up to a 10–6 record as Luck helps pick up wins against the Cardinals, Bears, Saints, and Vikings.

Meaning your 2011–12 playoffs will look like this:

AFC

  1. New England Patriots
  2. Baltimore Ravens
  3. Houston Texans
  4. Denver Broncos
  5. Pittsburgh Steelers
  6. Buffalo Bills

NFC

  1. Green Bay Packers
  2. San Francisco 49ers
  3. New Orleans Saints
  4. New York Giants
  5. Atlanta Falcons
  6. Carolina Panthers

We’ll keep this year simple: Luck and Cam aren’t able to overpower either the Texans or the Saints. This translates to the rest of the playoffs proceed as normal. The scrappy Giants still upset the Patriots.


Let’s now get into the 2012 season and remember: Andrew Luck is off the board.

The Colts have the number one pick and Heisman Winner Robert Griffin III is now officially the best quarterback in the draft. So naturally, the Colts take Griffin. With a slam dunk quarterback off the board, the Rams have no reason to trade with the Redskins since now Washington has to go with their plan B at quarterback: Draft Ryan Tannehill. An oft-forgotten piece of 2012 draft history is how on the fence everybody was about the Texas A&M product. Washington was in desperate need of a quarterback. If they couldn’t make a deal with St. Louis, they were going to take their consolation prize and draft Tannehill before anybody could get their hands on them. Trading down was off the table because Miami was poised to take him as the eighth pick. So, Washington pulls the trigger and takes Ryan Tannehill with the sixth pick in the draft.

This leaves the Dolphins in a tough spot because now the two best quarterbacks are gone. Their next best option is 28-year-old Brandon Weeden, a player who nobody believed was worth a top 10 pick. Instead, Miami buys their time into the second round choosing instead to grab Luke Kuechly to help support their defense. In the second round, they get Brock Osweiler before Denver can. As a side note, the Redskins are still picking up Kirk Cousins in the fourth round since Shanahan really, really liked the Michigan State product after coaching him in the Senior Bowl. More on that later.

What we know for sure now is Robert Griffin III’s amazing rookie season is now going to spent in Indianapolis. For those who’d like a refresher, RG3 threw 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions for over 3,000 yards while also nearly raking up a 1,000 yard rushing season. This is even more impressive when you consider that his number one receiver, Pierre Garcon, only hauled in 633 yards. Griffin was making magic happen in the capital city with a mediocre receiving cast. Now let’s give him the likes of Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. It seems like a match made in heaven.

There is one big stat we can’t overlook with Griffin going to Indy: Andrew Luck was sacked 41 times during the 2012 season. Griffin, who you may remember likes to put himself in harm’s way as a runner and had a hard time taking a hit, was only sacked 30 times. That’s not taking into account the sheer amount of tackles he took as a runner. Furthermore, let’s remember that Griffin was injury prone and was now going to a team that does an even worse job protecting their quarterbacks.

RG3 isn’t facing any of the teams who gave him one of his numerous injuries during his time as a Redskin: the Falcons, Ravens, and Seahawks. So we’ll go ahead and plug his insane numbers onto the Colts team until we run into another lethal defense that can mess him up. Why would he still be injured? Well, if you watch film of Griffin you start to notice that he doesn’t ever brace for impact. A key quality of being a great, or at the very least a long-lasting quarterback, is to learn to avoid or at the very least take a hit in a way that doesn’t put you in danger. So, with that being understood, Griffin’s Colts go 10–3 until a date with the Houston Texans hinders Griffin with a leg injury leaving RG3 out for the final three games of the season. The Colts end at 10–6 and secure the sixth seed. The question then turns to is if Griffin will be ready for the playoffs. The Colts opt to go the safe route with their potential franchise guy, unlike some other teams.

With Cam’s Bills, Newton hits a bit of sophomore slump similar to the one he hits in Carolina. The winning the Bills did the season previous paves the way for a much tougher slate of opponents. Cam rises up a few times, but the challenge puts Buffalo at an 8–8 record without any real shot of the playoffs. But Cam grows as a direct result.

In the NFC, Luck’s Panthers find themselves trying to keep pace against a red-hot Falcons team with their eyes on the first seed. Luck’s squadron fairs a bit better without Cam under center. Cam only threw 19 touchdowns this season while Luck would be good for not just a few more TDs, but a few more clutch performances. See, the Panthers lost five games by a margin of six points or fewer, ending their season with a 7–9 record while Matt Ryan’s boys blazed through the division. With Luck on hand, the Panthers improve to an 11–5 record. Not enough to challenge the Falcons for the division title, but absolutely enough to shake up the NFC playoff picture.

Oh, speaking of which, RG3 helped booked the Colts their return to the playoffs while Ryan Tannehill is being tasked with the same job over in Washington. Of the 2012 rookie quarterbacks, RT17 had the least impressive showing of the bunch, throwing 12 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. A very average performance, but being stuck on a below average team and not having the body sacrificing mobility of Griffin under center, the 10–6 Redskins plunge to a 4–12 record. This paves the way for the Giants to win the division on the heels of an 11–5 record.

So now that we’ve totally repainted the entire league with new quarterbacks scattered everywhere, your playoff picture looks like so:

AFC

  1. Denver Broncos
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Houston Texans
  4. Baltimore Ravens
  5. Cincinnati Bengals
  6. Indianapolis Colts

NFC

  1. Atlanta Falcons
  2. San Francisco 49ers
  3. New York Giants
  4. Green Bay Packers
  5. Carolina Panthers
  6. Seattle Seahawks

The RG3-less Colts fall to the best Texans team to ever be fielded and the Ravens do away with their division rivals. Thus, we know how the AFC story goes: the upstart Ravens plow their way to the Super Bowl. But what of the NFC? Luck’s Panthers muster enough gusto to upset the Packers while the Seahawks complete the NFC Wild Card sweep with an upset win against the Giants. Carolina now heads up to face Kaep’s 49ers while the Seahawks once again fall to the Falcons. Sadly, Luck’s team is not nearly strong enough to fend off the elite 49er squad. The rest goes as we know it. Baltimore wins the Super Bowl after the lights shut off.


So far no huge impacts as far as Super Bowl goes. 2013’s draft doesn’t see too many quarterback shakeups. The best news goes to Buffalo because Cam is most assuredly their quarterback of the future so they don’t have to select E.J. Manual. This also means that Manual is going to wind up going to St. Louis to become a Ram while the Rams give one final shot with Sam Bradford. Manual becomes a marinating prospect for St. Louis to see if they can prep him to potentially replace Sam Bradford.

But let’s continue focusing on our big three: Luck’s Panthers, Cam’s Bills, and Griffin’s Colts. Luck’s third year as a starter was his best yet, hurling a career-high 40 touchdowns while rushing for three more. He’ll now be hurling said touchdowns on one of the better Panther teams the team had assembled. This is important. In our world, Cam threw 24 touchdowns for the Panthers and ran for six more. So off the bat, Luck is bringing 13 more touchdowns to the table. We’ll give Carolina a good handful of wins on top of an already impressive 12–4 record by adding two more wins in the beginning of the season against the Seahawks and Bills. This pushes Carolina to a 14–2 record and the number one seed.

E.J. Manual was responsible for a total of 13 touchdowns passing and rushing as the Bills oft-maligned starter. But as we previously established, Cam is good for 30 in his season. Now, of course, we’ll take into account that he’s not working with as great a receiving corps as he would have been with the Panthers, but Cam edges out three more wins to bring Buffalo to an 8–8 season record. They were close to a playoff berth had Luck’s Panthers not stolen a win from them in week two, but they also do hand New England an extra loss to start off the season.

This brings us to Griffin’s second season as the Colts leader. Griffin suffered a massive sophomore slump due to having his style figured out, his run game being massively contained, and of course, his injury teaching him nothing. Under Luck, the Colts went 11–5 but Griffin’s second year again standing behind a worse offensive line cripples Indy. Griffin exits after a punishing blow from the prolific Seattle defense, leaving the aging Matt Hasselbeck to drag the Colts to a 7–9 record. Where there’ll lose their playoff bid behind a now 8–8 Titans team.

Meaning your new playoff arrangements are as follows

AFC

  1. Denver Broncos
  2. Cincinnati Bengals
  3. New England Patriots
  4. Tennessee Titans
  5. Kansas City Chiefs
  6. San Diego Chargers

NFC

  1. Carolina Panthers
  2. Seattle Seahawks
  3. Philadephia Eagles
  4. Green Bay Packers
  5. San Francisco 49ers
  6. New Orleans Saints

Rivers and the gang don’t stand much of a chance against the Patriots as they get pushed immediately out. Alex Smith’s gang wrestles the unimpressive Titans out of the playoffs themselves. This leaves Kansas City to go do battle with their offensive record-breaking rivals in Denver while the Patriots go up to exact revenge against the Bengals. The trip goes as planned, sending New England up to take on Peyton’s Broncos, a match they once against lose. Denver still winds up in the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, in the NFC, the Saints still find their way against the Eagles and the 49ers still embarrass the Pack in Lambeau. Sending New Orleans now to get pounded by their divisional foes while the 49ers lose to Seattle a week early. Now the Seahawks are on the road against a Panther team having a prolific offense themselves. After running 20 simulations, we can confidently say that Carolina and Andrew Luck punch through the Legion of Boom and end up going head to head against the Denver Broncos a whole two years early!

After running another 20 simulations as per usual to account for the roster changes, your Super Bowl Champions in 19 of 20 simulations end up as Luck’s Panthers!


We do see a small landscape shift in the 2014 Draft. With Seattle now picking earlier, they choose to bolster their receiving corps by going after Kelvin Benjamin. The Panthers have the 32nd pick and opt not to trade their pick away to the Vikings. That pick, you’ll recall, gave Minnesota Teddy Bridgewater. Instead, Carolina grabs some offensive line help in Xavier Su’a-Filo. This blows the door wide open for the Texans to take the quarterback they had the most vocal interest in selecting: the aforementioned Teddy Bridgewater.

Carr still winds up in Oakland, but it also means the Vikings still have their 2nd round pick, a pick they now spend on Jimmy Garoappolo, a player the team worked out and were overall impressed by. This leaves the Patriots to stall their eventual replacement for Brady hunt for one more season. With Buffalo no longer picking at four, however, the fate of Sammy Watkins and thus the entire 2014 receiving class hangs in the balance. Watkins now finds himself suiting up for the Buccaneers while Mike Evans gets taken immediately after by joining the Browns. Odell Beckham Jr. still finds himself in New York, but the Bills now are picking before the Saints. Buffalo arms themselves with Brandin Cooks, joining the AFC East a full three years early!

Griffin’s Colts are all but obsolete by year three in 2014, falling dramatically out of playoff contention due to yet another Griffin injury and allowing Teddy’s Texans to take the AFC South. The now defending champion Panthers still suffer a little bit between the seasons, but not quite 7–8–1 level of suffering. More like a 10–6, fourth seed kind of suffering. The real story comes from Buffalo, where Cam Newton and the Bills have managed to pull off a 12–4 season after adding a real passing weapon who has a real quarterback gunning for him. The Newton-Cooks connection is real, but not quite real enough to steal the AFC East from the Patriots. Oh, and Cam avoids that car accident. So does Andrew Luck, in case you were wondering.

So here’s the scoop:

AFC

  1. New England Patriots
  2. Denver Broncos
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers
  4. Houston Texans
  5. Buffalo Bills
  6. Cincinnati Bengals

NFC

  1. Seattle Seahawks
  2. Green Bay Packers
  3. Dallas Cowboys
  4. Carolina Panthers
  5. Arizona Cardinals
  6. Detroit Lions

You’ll notice Baltimore missing from the playoffs. The is great news for Pittsburgh as it will spare them a 1st round exit as they once again beat the Bengals. Bridgewater’s Texans are still too young to handle the revamped Buffalo offense as the Bills get their first win in this century. That gives the Broncos the task of having to take on the Steelers, a task they bungle at home, launching the Steelers to the championship game.

Meanwhile, Cam’s boys do the impossible by putting intense pass pressure on Tom Brady and doing what they did in the regular season: beating the Patriots at home. The Steelers now host the upstart Bills in the AFC Championship. After running the sims, it’s close, but the advantage goes to the experienced Steelers, booking yet another Super Bowl trip. The NFC picture isn’t much different: Luck disposes of the Cardinals without any problems but meets his end against the Seahawks. The Seahawks go to the Super Bowl and get some revenge against Pittsburgh by winning their first Lombardi in franchise history.


Enter 2015.

I told you the wheels were falling off the cart for the Colts and they are definitely not renewing Griffin’s contract or signing him to any deals anytime soon. Problem is, the top two picks in the draft are not ones they qualify for, so Winston and Mariota are out of reach for Indy. Instead, the Colts decide to place a stop gap at the position by grabbing Brian Hoyer so they can buy some time until 2016. The team is also going to wade out Griffin’s contract until it just expires and give him a chance to compete and stay healthy with Brian Hoyer. Thus, the Browns are going to be just rolling with Josh McCown out of the gates instead of waiting to see Griffin get hurt. Tyrod Taylor is also not sent over to Buffalo because there is literally no point in doing so. He remains a backup quarterback that you’ve never heard of.

Luck’s Panthers are now the scourge of the NFC. 15–1 is still exactly where they land but in far more convincing fashion. More on that later. Another big story is the MVP caliber season Cam is putting together in Buffalo. Cam pulls the Bills out of a few tight losses, including a sweep of New England. The Bills rocket up to 13–3, a vast improvement now that they have the assistance of LeSean McCoy.

BUT this was also the year of Kirk Cousins in Washington. How does his fate change? Well, Tannehill, struggle though he does, is sturdy. And with the rest of the NFC taking a dirt nap this season, it becomes the prime chance for Tannehill to rise to the occasion. He books an 8–8 record and keeps his stock as the Redskins future alive.

There is one other backup quarterback who is not actively participating in this scenario though: Brock Osweiler. As a draftee of the Dolphins, Osweiler is not available to relieve the “injured” Peyton Manning midseason. Instead, Denver is leaning on seventh-round rookie draft pick Trevor Siemien following a disappointing and injured outing from Peyton. After going 1–4 as the starter, the Broncos put Peyton back in for the final two games of the year to try and salvage their playoff hopes but wind up with a 9–7 season. A playoff exit that the legendary quarterback has to see happen in week 17. Thus, the playoffs now look like this:

AFC

  1. Buffalo Bills
  2. Cincinnati Bengals
  3. Kansas City Chiefs
  4. Houston Texans
  5. New England Patriots
  6. New York Jets

NFC

  1. Carolina Panthers
  2. Arizona Cardinals
  3. Minnesota Vikings
  4. Washington Redskins
  5. Green Bay Packers
  6. Seattle Seahawks

The Pats fend of the Teddy’s Texans while the Jets gets the snot kicked out of them by the Kansas City Chiefs currently in mid-roll. This sends the Chiefs to blow through the Bengals while the Patriots get sent packing away by Cam’s Bills. The Bills and Chiefs throw down for all the marbles, but it’s the Bills making their fifth return to the Super Bowl. The NFC is essentially Luck’s playground as the Panthers hold back everybody and plow into the playoffs.

Luck versus Newton, the battle of the two top quarterbacks from the 2011 draft is as exciting as billed for. Once again, simulations out the wazoo but in the end, it’s Andrew Luck and the Panthers returning to and winning their second Lombardi.


The time has come for Indy in the 2016 draft. Indy tanks so hard, they just barely edge Tennessee for the top pick in the draft. A spot they don’t intend to trade out of so they can get their hands on Jared Goff. Cleveland, however, still in control of the 2nd pick, still ships their pick off to Philadelphia who will still take Carson Wentz. This leaves the Rams to take Paxton Lynch after declaring E.J. Manuel to be a bust, while the Broncos choose to go the odd route and pursue Kirk Cousins to take a shot at their starter job after his contract ends in Washington. Remember, the Redskins now feel that Tannehill can get them to the playoffs so why not see what else he can do? Surely he’s bound for a huge season soon.

The Bills suffer a Super Bowl hangover, due to Cam not putting up his same level of performance and struggle a bit to keep their same pace. The Patriots, however, are not the clear favorites as Jimmy G is having a great time out in Minnesota and NOT winning those first three games for New England. The Pats instead go 0–4 with Jacoby Brissett, forcing the Pats to an 11–5 finish. The Bills, while weaker, pull out a 12–4 finish to keep their throne atop the AFC East. Teddy’s Texans hit a major snag with Bridgewater’s sudden ACL tears during a practice leaving the door open for Mariota and Titans to grab their playoff spot. Luck’s Panthers hit a major snag with a sudden defensive drop as well as an offensive line that allows Luck to get pummeled over and over again, leading him to a similar back injury he suffered in Indy. The defending champions miss their playoff boat, while the Falcons jump in and eventually make the Super Bowl.

For 2016, we’ll only discuss the AFC picture which looks like this:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Buffalo Bills
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers
  4. Tennessee Titans
  5. Oakland Raiders
  6. New England Patriots

Brady’s revenge tour starts with a dismantling of the Steelers and the Titans get gifted a playoff win by taking on a Carr-less Raiders. The Pats continue their march and take out Kansas City in Arrowhead while the Bills stop Tennessee dead in their tracks. Tom Brady then executes the Bills in front of their home crowd, sends the Pats into the Super Bowl, and a combined record of 28–3.


Some things change dramatically, some things do not. But what I want you to take note of is how poorly the Colts tried to build anything around their once in a generation talent of Andrew Luck. On a semi-competent team, Luck has two Super Bowl wins. The Bills, it should also be noted, are a good quarterback away from putting some of those narrow misses behind them. In fact, for argument sake, let’s say Cam, who is good at game-winning drives, is in Buffalo right now in 2017. The Bills could be looking at a 10–5 record right now. That’s a playoff berth given the current climate of the AFC.

Ah, what could have been.

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