At least one media outlet thinks the New England Patriots have the easiest schedule in the NFL for the upcoming season. Given that their three AFC East division mates contribute six games to that schedule and have barely put up a fight during the past two decades, it’s not an outlandish claim.

When you throw the Bengals, Giants and Washington into the mix of softies along with the Dolphins, Bills and Jets, the notion gathers even more steam. Playing at least a half-dozen tomato cans won’t hurt the defending Super Bowl champions in their quest for title No. 7.

Now add Saturday night’s bombshell. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck called it quits in an emotional press conference. Luck reportedly gave up $58 million in future money, and a chance to compete for a title with an up-and-coming Colts team that was considered one of the AFC’s best.

Translation: One of the biggest threats between the Patriots and another trip to the Super Bowl now doesn’t have an elite quarterback at the helm.

They still have Jacoby Brissett, who is a decent backup, but that’s the same Brissett the Patriots traded to the Colts two years ago after deeming he wasn’t what they were looking for in their quarterback stable.

Luck is more the type of quarterback who could beat you with his smarts and his will to win. He used to be able to beat you with his arm, but he’s not the gunslinger he once was. Even so, he still was a battler with an advanced football brain. While he didn’t have success against the Patriots, going 0-6, he certainly had the talent to beat any team at any time.

And with General Manager Chris Ballard doing a good job restocking the team after last season’s playoff appearance, building a good young defense and supplying Luck with more weapons and a capable offensive line, expectations grew even higher this season.

They were one of the favorites in the AFC, along with the Patriots, Chiefs, Chargers and Browns. Quite simply, Luck’s departure torpedoes the hopes of this rising team. It also makes it look like a shrewd move by Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to get cold feet at the last minute and back out on the Colts head coaching job last year.

Luck led the Colts to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, including back-to-back AFC South titles, and the AFC championship game in the 2014 season.

The Patriots, of course, demolished them in that contest, 45-7, before going on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Luck’s list of injuries reads a lot like that of former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Along with shoulder and ankle woes, Luck has dealt with kidney and rib injuries that have forced him to miss time. While he at times questioned whether he would be able to continue his career due to his shoulder woes, he returned last year, throwing for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns to win the Comeback Player of the Year award and lead the Colts back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

But, as he said Saturday night, he hit the proverbial fork in the road after an ankle/calf problem just wouldn’t improve. He hated leaving a game he loved and a team with so much promise. The news understandably rocked the NFL and shook the Colts. It’s hard to blame him if his heart and mind are no longer in it.

On his way out, Luck did his best to pump up Brissett, who takes over.

“He’s an awesome dude. He’s diligent. Sharp, loves football,” said Luck. “I hope I can support him in different ways.”

Luck indicated at one point last year, he was “jealous of this fun, happy dude that was in my spot as a quarterback on this team.”

That was temporary, but Brissett is there for real now. He’s the Colts quarterback. He is going to have to take down the Patriots, if it comes down to it.

Can’t imagine any of the AFC contenders feeling the same about the Colts with the fun, happy dude leading the charge, instead of Luck.

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