This is Part 1 of a four part series titled “1998 Manning versus 2012 Luck.”
Never in the history of the National Football League have we ever seen a situation like the one the Indianapolis Colts have. Their captain, their leader, their heart and soul has voluntarily been sent away after 14 great and remembered years. All because of complications of a neck injury, age, and progression into creating a new foundation to, hopefully, build something great for the future. Peyton Manning’s only NFL memories are those he established playing for the blue and white. But had it not been for Andrew Luck being there, who knows what Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay would have done. Never before in the history of the NFL has one great left, in order for another “great” to take his place.
Now, Luck has everything going for him. The kid is smart. This was proven by the pro-style offense he ran under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford. He was the valedictorian of his high school class. He could have been the first pick of the 2011 NFL draft, had he not decided to continue his  Architectural Design degree, which he is set to complete on June 17th. He is 6’4’’ 234lbs, runs a 4.67 40 yard dash, has a cannon of an arm, and is the most highly touted quarterback to come out of college since Manning himself. He is called the prototypical pro-style quarterback who's shown scouts he can do everything that the pro-level will require him to do.
If there were ever a sure thing going in to the Draft, Andrew Luck would be it. But there is no such thing as a sure thing. Even in 1998, there was Manning, but there was also Leaf, and we all know how that worked out. But everyone knows, there had to be some suits in the Colts front office that wanted to take Ryan Leaf at the time. But how do we project what Luck will do when he is playing for the horseshoe?
Andrew Luck lit up the box-scores from his junior year on. His senior year, Luck finished with 3,517 yards passing, 37 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 71.3 completion percentage. Luck had over 300 yards passing in five games, over three touchdown passes in eight games, and only threw two picks in a game once. Some of Luck’s records at Stanford include: most touchdown passes in a season (37), most total offense in a season (3,791 yards), and highest completion percentage in a season (71.3).
In Peyton Manning’s senior season at Tennessee in 1997, he threw for 3,819 yards, 37 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and had a 60.37 completion percentage. Also, some of the records Manning holds at UT are: most passing yards in a game (525), most career passing touchdowns (89), and the top three single season passing yard marks (’97, ’96, ’95.)
Fast forward to Peyton Manning’s rookie year. The Colts finished an abysmal 3-13, at the bottom of the AFC East. His first win came in week five against Ryan Leaf and the San Diego Chargers. Peyton was 12 for 23 for 137 yards with one TD and one pick. Manning would finish his 1998 campaign with a 56.7 completion percentage, 3,739 yards, 26 touchdowns (a then rookie record), and 28 interceptions. He had Marvin Harrison, Marshall Faulk, Marcus Pollard, Ken Dilger, and Mike Vanderjagt on his team to provide guidance, experience, and help.
Manning had to face six playoff teams in 1998, which included the four other teams in the AFC East (Miami, N.E., Buffalo, NY Jets) and the NFC representative in Super Bowl XXXIII, the Atlanta Falcons.
Fast forward to an outlook of Andrew Luck’s upcoming rookie season. On the Colts schedule, four of their opponents made the 2011 playoffs. Seven teams ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in passing yards allowed in 2011 (Bills, Lions, Packers, Bears, Pats, Dolphins, and Vikings.) The Titans were ranked 14th and lost corner Cortland Finnegan to free agency. The Jaguars and Texans defense, who the Colts play twice each, ranked in the top-ten in passing yards allowed. Indy’s offensive line has gone through dramatic changes in the offseason, and expect one maybe even two rookies starting. Anthony Castanzo, the Colts 2011 first round pick, was injured most of 2011 and no one knows what to expect.
Five of the Colts opponents in 2012 ranked in the top half in sacks the previous season, the Vikings, Dolphins, Lions, and Texans ranked in the top-ten. The Titans ranked second to last, but expect them to address this problem during the draft. Seven of the Colts opponents ranked in the top-ten in interceptions in 2011, the Texans and Jags ranked 12th and 13th, respectively. So we can say, as a postulation, Andrew Luck will have to, overall, face a tough slew of defensive opponents, when it comes to passing in 2012.
The only experience returning for Luck predominately resides on the defensive side of the football, but he does have receiver Reggie Wayne, and that is huge. He does not have a dominate running back, since the Colts let Joseph Addai go, and the returners are 2010 first-round draft pick Donald Brown and 2011 fourth-round draft pick Delone Carter. He does not have an experienced left tackle or an established pass-catching tight end. Everything previously stated will be addressed in the 2012 draft. Their strength of schedule is ranked 14th (their 2011 opponents finished a combined 128-128) and have seven games versus quality opponents.
Many are already saying Luck’s 2012 Indianapolis team will finish worst than Peyton’s 1998 team, which should be pretty difficult to do. That would involve a lot of terrible play and little to no heart by the veteran defense. There are many other reasons that this should not be the case, and they will be explained further in parts two through four, but to end part one, here are my Andrew Luck 2012 Stat Projections:
Passing Yards: 3,920
Rushing Yards: 150
Passing Touchdowns: 26
Rushing Touchdowns: 2
Interceptions: 12
Completion Percentage: 60.0
QB Rating: 82
Keep watch for Part II of “1998 Manning versus 2012 Luck”: Different Rules, Different Game