Patriots

NFL Notebook: How Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement impacts the Patriots

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(Getty Images)

Still trying to digest the news that Andrew Luck, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, decided to retire just days shy of his 30th birthday and following a very good season in which he was NFL Comeback Player of the Year. It's not a stretch to say this is the most stunning sports retirement since Michael Jordan walked away from the NBA.

But here are some wide-ranging thoughts from who's to blame, the unretirement rumors that are soon to flare up as soon as another No. 12 finally decides to hang them up and the inevitable misguided testaments to Tom Brady. But first, we'll start with the most important fallout from a Patriots' perspective — the landscape in the AFC:

One possible contender is basically eliminated

I don't care that Luck was 0-6 vs. the Patriots in his now-brief career — wins and losses are team stats — there was little doubt the Colts were going to be in the postseason picture in the AFC. And if you were putting together a list of teams that could compete with New England and Kansas City if things went their way, the Colts were probably at the top of the list. The 2018 Colts started 1-5 but won nine of their final 10 games to get in, register a road playoff win at Houston before bowing out against the Chiefs.

The reason for the turnaround came from the Colts' defense via the offense. Only one team (KC) was better offensively from Weeks 7-17 according to FootballOutsiders.com's advanced metrics. The offensive efficiency kept the defense off the field and made them much better. Normally teams which close strong roll that into this next season. And this was a team that had been rebuilt slowly but steadily by GM Chris Ballard. They added some key pieces (Justin Houston, Devin Funchess) and had another strong draft. The offensive line had been built and the offense was tailored to Luck's strengths. All signs were pointing up. Jacoby Brissett is no slouch and the Colts will contend for a playoff spot, but a maturing Luck gave them an opportunity to grow into being Super Bowl contenders. Now that's over.

AFC home-field could shift

The Patriots have one of the league's easiest schedules on paper this season, and that's not going to change. But what will be altered now is it's become easier for the eventual