Koll: The Andrew Luck Retirement Effect On The Steelers

Looking at things through black and gold glasses

Matt Koll
August 27, 2019 - 12:03 pm
Andrew Luck & Ben Roethlisberger

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’ve had a few days to process the news of Andrew Luck’s early retirement from football, it’s time to examine all of this from our black and gold glasses.

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While it is sad to see a great quarterback have a potential Hall of Fame career cut tremendously short due to constant pain, and I certainly wish him the best in his recovery and all he’ll have to deal with for the rest of his life, Andrew Luck retiring presents an even brighter 2019 outlook for the Steelers.

When you look at all the season projections from different national outlets, the consensus seems to land right around 9-7 to 11-5 for the Steelers this year.

Most sites cite the AFC North division being very competitive, with the recent rise of the Browns and the sustaining power of the Ravens having higher potential upside with Lamar Jackson.

Some are completely buying in and even have the Browns winning the division over the Steelers.

To be honest, it’s going to be such an exciting race this year and I can’t wait to see what unfolds not just in the AFC North, but the entire conference. With Luck out, there’s no doubt the landscape of the AFC has changed.  Here are a few practical things that could happen now as a result.

  1. An extra regular season win. Those same sites, with all their analysts, experts and computer projections, largely had the Colts winning the AFC South and finishing with 11-12 wins.  You’d have to think at the very least 3 or 4 wins get taken off the board without the franchise QB. Jacoby Brissett was their interim starter two years ago when Luck went down for the year and while he finished with over 3,000 passing yards in 16 games with 13 TD’s and just 7 INT’s, the Colts only managed four wins. One could argue there is more talent there this time around, especially defensively, but there’s also no denying that Brissett just isn’t the playmaker and game-changer Luck was. It’s tough to compare past seasons even when talking about the same player because situations and rosters change, but in Luck’s one game against the Steelers it took a 5 touchdown performance from Ben Roethlisberger to outduel Luck’s 400 yard, 3 touchdown performance at Heinz Field. The Steelers did face those 2017 Brissett-led Colts in Indianapolis and just squeaked out of there with a 20-17 victory after a game-winning kick from Chris Boswell. While 2019’s matchup will be in Pittsburgh, it’s an interesting historical barometer that these two may not be far off from each other even with Brissett in there, and if Luck were in the game it would have been a real struggle for the Steelers. It might be an important victory when it comes to final standings time, as long as they don’t pull a “Tomlin special.”
  2. Simply a better mathematical chance for the postseason. You’d have to think the Colts go from 11-5ish to 8-8ish without Luck. That means that an above .500 season from the Houston Texans (already projected to be the case by most outlets before Luck’s retirement) wins the AFC South. In my mind, barring a miraculous season from Jacoby Brissett, a team has been essentially eliminated from Super Bowl contention and that can only bode well for the Steelers. When the Colts were in the mix, there were legitimately eight teams capable of making the postseason for six available spots (New England, Indianapolis, Houston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Kansas City, LA). Simple math tells you that it’s now seven without the Colts.
  3. Less pressure to win the AFC North. Consider the trickle-down effect here.  One less team means more breathing room for other conference contenders. The AFC North figures to be tight this year, and, in my mind, his retirement lessens the chances that just one team will make the postseason from the North like the Ravens did last year. There could be more room for…
  4. A potential Browns-Steelers playoff matchup. By the Colts being eliminated, we could see a Steelers-Browns playoff matchup for the first time since 2002-03 when Chris FUUUUUUUUUUamatu-ma’afala sealed the victory for the Steelers. Whether it’s the 3 seed vs. 6 seed matchup or the 4 seed, vs. 5 seed matchup, this could happen as early as Wild Card weekend again. If one team somehow locks in a top 2 seed and the other wins a game, the stakes could be even higher. Talk about kicking the rivalry back up…
  5. Seeing the Patriots later in the playoffs. In my mind, the Patriots and Chiefs have a great chance at landing those top two seeds again this year. But so did the Colts. It’s one less team for the Steelers to try to leap to earn that home field advantage and first round bye in the playoffs, keeping the vaunted Patriots at bay for maybe another round and allowing other teams to take their shots at them first. By the way, the Colts were 0-4 under Luck against New England.
  6. I'm going to look completely silly if Jacoby Brissett pulls a Nick Foles in Philadelphia to lead the Colts to the promised land. Or even the playoffs. The rest of the Colts roster is solid but losing Luck looks like a lot to overcome.   

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Related: NFL Power Rankings: Where Does League Stand After Andrew Luck's Retirement?