clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Andrew Luck narrowly edges Drew Brees to move on to Face of NFL Sweet 16

New, comments

Luck, the future of the quarterback position, surpassed one of its current standard bearers in our tightest first-round matchup.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Much like the NCAA men's basketball tournament, our Face of the NFL competition is moving on to the Sweet 16. The bracket has been whittled down from 32 players, and all of the big stars remain.

Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt are all coming off impressive first-round victories and seem destined for deep runs in this competition. Upsets aren't as prevalent here as they are in the real March Madness, because a player's entire body of work is factored into each decision opposed to just the events of an isolated game.

With that said, there were a couple of tightly contested battles. Andrew Luck narrowly prevailed over Drew Brees in our closest matchup, while Tony Romo squeaked past Eli Manning. Rodgers over Jay Cutler was the biggest landslide of the first round, with Rodgers taking 93.5 percent of the vote. That surely is a positive commentary on how many fans view Rodgers, but also speaks to Cutler's more villain-like demeanor.

The first-round triggered some disagreement, and below, our writers debated the closest race in each region. The Sweet 16 promises to produce even more discussion -- especially for those who are seeking a reprieve from their busted March Madness brackets.

Voting is now closed, but check back on Friday to see who moved on to our Elite Eight. 

Sweet 16 NFL

East Region

No. 1 Tom Brady def. No. 8 Darrelle Revis

This matchup, unsurprisingly, wasn't close at all. Brady's Hall of Fame resume coupled with his off-field superstardom will be a tough combination for anybody to beat.

No. 2 Odell Beckham Jr. def. No. 7 Dez Bryant

Even though he's only been in the league for two seasons, Beckham has become a fixture on NFL highlight reels. That should continue for many years to come.

No. 3 Rob Gronkowski def. No. 6 Ndamukong Suh

Gronk is an unstoppable force on the field and a party animal off of it. He may only be a No. 3 seed, but he could wind up having one of the deepest runs in this entire tournament. It's no surprise he easily ousted Suh, who's best known for stepping on opponents' body parts.

No. 4 Eli Manning vs. No. 5 Tony Romo

The case for Romo: Despite their nearly 20-year run of relative mediocrity, the Dallas Cowboys remain one of the biggest draws in the NFL. Last season, for example, they led the league with six primetime appearances. That means Romo is on national television more than any other quarterback in the NFL.

But what also propels Romo above Manning is the constant debate surrounding his late-game gravitas. Few debates in sports are more compelling than sparring over whether a player "chokes" in big spots. Romo is arguably the poster boy for those type of discussions.

There is an undeniable buzz around Romo that Manning lacks, despite his surname and the fact he plays in New York. That's the biggest reason why Romo should advance: he's almost always the center of conversation.

The case for Manning: Romo hasn't accomplished much beyond going from an undrafted player to an elite quarterback. He's never had the Cowboys in position to win a Super Bowl and he's frequently been unable to make things happen when it matters most.

Manning, on the other hand, has twice taken an underwhelming Giants team all the way to the end. Both times, the teams looked like they would be eliminated from the playoffs in the opening round, but instead they took down the big, bad Patriots to win the Super Bowl. And Manning had a lot to do with both wins.

It's difficult to truly consider somebody with the last name "Manning" as an underdog, and he wasn't in this match given the seeding, but he's often been held to lower standards throughout his career and he's frequently surpassed those standards. Two Super Bowl MVP awards say Manning deserves to advance here.

Winner: Romo (51.6 vs. 48.4 percent)

Sweet 16 matchups

No 1 Tom Brady vs. No. 5 Tony Romo: Brady is 2-0 in the two meetings of these franchise quarterbacks.

No. 2 Odell Beckham Jr. vs. No. 3 Rob Gronkowski: One-handed catches vs. everyone's favorite bro.

West Region

No. 1 Russell Wilson def. No. 8 Philip Rivers

Rivers' sustained strong play on a terribly inconsistent Chargers team over the years is admirable, but Wilson is getting better and better. He's also getting bigger and bigger, and with a Super Bowl ring to his name easily took down Rivers.

No. 2 Larry Fitzgerald def. No. 7 Carson Palmer

Fitzgerald came awfully close to being named the top seed in our bracket due to his sustained success and exemplary attitude both on and off the field. Fitzgerald is everything great about the NFL and he thrashed his Cardinals teammate.

No. 3 Von Miller def. No. 6 Justin Houston

In a battle of pass rushers, Miller dominated Houston. Houston has been a more productive sack artist than Miller, but the reigning Super Bowl MVP seems to more consistently disrupt plays and is obviously the bigger name.

No. 4 Richard Sherman vs. No. 5 Eric Berry

The case for Berry: Even if you set aside Berry's comeback from Hodgkin's lymphoma, you have one of the top safeties in the league up against one of the top cornerbacks in the league. But Sherman wasn't quite the lockdown corner in 2015 that he was in years past, and he took a backseat to the play of some other members of the Seattle defense.

Berry, on the other hand, made his return to the league and was instantly the class of his position. He looked like a top-tier player and made his fourth Pro Bowl last season. He was also named a first-team All-Pro player for the second time in his career.

And, come on ... the Hodgkin's lymphoma shouldn't be overlooked. The man was named the AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year after he beat the disease, and the Chiefs stuck by him every step of the way. He's now the soul of that franchise and a leader in that locker room and deserves every bit of recognition for it.

The case for Sherman: Everyone has an opinion about Sherman, and whether yours is good or bad, what matters is that you know exactly who he is. He was a boisterous and confident player right from the beginning, but it wasn't until his explosive postgame interview with Erin Andrews in the 2013 NFC Championship that Sherman really became a household name.

Sherman believes he is the best and has no qualms telling you so. Some love the cocky confidence and others hate the brash arrogance, but Sherman has parlayed your opinions and his popularity into plenty of commercials and endorsements.

Oh, and don't forget that he's really good. The interception he forced against the San Francisco 49ers that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl came after a regular season in which quarterbacks had a 36.2 passer rating when throwing his direction. The stats weren't much different in 2014 and, while he started slow in 2015, he regained his dominant form in the latter half of the year.

Berry may have the higher approval rating, but Sherman moves the needle more, and that's why he deserves a spot in the Sweet 16.

Winner: Sherman (70.8 vs. 29.2 percent)

Sweet 16 matchups

No. 1 Russell Wilson vs. No. 4 Richard Sherman: TEAMMATE FIGHT!

No. 2 Larry Fitzgerald vs. No. 3 Von Miller: Fitzgerald has been one of the best for a long time, but is it enough to beat the Super Bowl MVP?

South Region

No. 1 Cam Newton def. No. 8 Marcus Mariota

The reigning NFL MVP has plenty of haters, but absolutely no shortage of star power, charisma and ability to grab headlines. Mariota, on the other hand, is a quiet, young player with a bright future. But for all his potential, Mariota didn't stand a chance in this matchup.

No. 2 J.J. Watt def. No. 7 DeAndre Hopkins

One of the biggest blowouts of the first round was Watt over his fellow Texan. There's no question who the face of the team is, so there shouldn't have been any question which player would advance to the Sweet 16.

No. 6 Luke Kuechly def. No. 3 Julio Jones

Upset alert: The sixth-seeded Carolina Panthers linebacker grabbed 58.7 percent of the vote against one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. Does this make up for Kuechly getting posterized by Jones in December? Probably not, but it's a start.

No. 4 Drew Brees vs. No. 5 Andrew Luck

The case for Brees: In six of the last 10 NFL seasons, Brees has finished with the most passing yards in the league, including four of the last five. Only Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino are ahead of him on the all-time passing list, and Brees managed to pass Marino on the touchdown list in 2015.

His career résumé is beyond reproach, he has a Super Bowl MVP under his belt and there's no doubt that he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Sure, at age 37, it's hard to say how many years Brees has left, especially after enduring shoulder and foot injuries in 2015, but the Saints are confident enough in the quarterback to work on getting him a new contract this offseason.

If Luck is the NFL's star quarterback of the future, he didn't quite show it in his injury-riddled 2015 campaign that ended with a 74.9 passer rating. In 10 seasons with the Saints, the worst rating for Brees was a 89.4 in 2007.

The case for Luck: So Luck's 2015 season wasn't quite the coronation some people expected. He missed nine games with various injuries and didn't play all that well when he did take the field. By all accounts, it was a lost year for Luck and the Colts.

However, there are plenty of reasons to believe Luck will come back and reassert as the future of the league. For starters, his most serious injury was a lacerated kidney, a freak injury that's not expected to be an issue going forward. Furthermore, Luck had some unreliable weapons outside of T.Y. Hilton. Andre Johnson was a free agent bust and rookie Phillip Dorsett wasn't quite ready for primetime. If Dorsett steps up and lives up to his first-round hype, that should only help Luck.

Luck is still just 26 years old and you can make a good argument that we haven't seen the best of him yet. He has nowhere to go but up after 2015, and we've already seen what he's capable of. The sky is the limit for Luck and the Colts.

Winner: Luck (51 vs. 49 percent)

Sweet 16 matchups

No. 1 Cam Newton vs. No. 5 Andrew Luck: The first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft vs. the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

No. 2 J.J. Watt vs. No. 6 Luke Kuechly: The only time Watt didn't win Defensive Player of the Year in the last four years was when Kuechly snagged it in 2013.

North Region

No. 1 Aaron Rodgers def. No. 8 Jay Cutler

Smokin' Jay is popular among Internet fans for his endlessly meme-able facial expressions, but his cult status wasn't enough to beat out his biggest divisional rival. Rodgers remains one of the most iconic and marketable figures in the NFL.

No. 2 Antonio Brown vs. No. 7 Clay Matthews

The case for Brown: Brown has "quietly" developed into one of the most exciting players in the NFL. He hit a career high in receiving yards last season, catching 136 passes for 1,834 yards. We're in a period in which there are several dominant receivers in the league, but Brown stands out among the best of them.

His combination of speed and strength is incredible. No defensive back can completely shut him down, and in addition to his yardage, he had 10 touchdown receptions with Mike Vick, Landry Jones and a frequently injured Ben Roethlisberger throwing him passes last season.

Brown is also a character and a leader in Pittsburgh's locker room. He doesn't talk as much as some other players, but you can tell he's having fun when he's completely embarrassing defensive backs. Brown is ridiculous and could make any quarterback and any offensive coordinator look good with his skill set.

The case for Matthews: Everybody knows the hair. Even people who don't regularly follow the NFL know the hair. Matthews' glorious Thor mane was already enough to make him hugely popular, and that's even before you get into how good he is.

Matthews spent most of his career as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, terrorizing quarterbacks every step of the way. Last year, the Packers made an unusual move, switching Matthews to the inside position after injuries necessitated it. It would've been perfectly understandable if his production regressed, learning a new position and all. Instead, Matthews was just as good as ever. The sack numbers obviously dropped (6.5, compared to 11 in 2014) but Matthews remained a force of nature on the defense, setting a career high with 66 tackles.

The Packers will move Matthews back to his more natural position in 2016, and we don't expect him to miss a step. He's still in his prime at age 29 and should have many more great years ahead of him.

Winner: Brown (53.9 vs. 46.1 percent)

No. 3 Adrian Peterson def. No. 6 A.J. Green

Peterson's reputation and image took a massive nosedive after his 2014 indictment for child abuse charges. The details were disturbing and the public backlash was enormous, to the point where Peterson missed nearly the entire season with a de facto suspension on the commissioner's exempt list. He came back last year and won the rushing title, looking every bit like the future Hall of Fame talent he was before. Apparently that was enough for him to beat out A.J. Green.

No. 4 Ben Roethlisberger def. No. 5 Joe Flacco

Maybe Flacco isn't elite after all, losing big to his first-round opponent. Roethlisberger has more titles and way more notoriety.

Sweet 16 matchups

No. 1 Aaron Rodgers vs. No. 4 Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben has 10,000 more passing yards, but Rodgers is a two-time MVP.

No. 2 Antonio Brown vs. No. 3 Adrian Peterson: Arguably the NFL's best receiver against arguably the best running back.