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Top AFC story line: graybeard Tom Brady vs. caveman-bearded Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts shakes hands

Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts shakes hands with Tom Brady of the New England Patriots following their game at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 18, 2012. Credit: Getty Images

The all-time great vs. the up-and-comer.

Chin dimples vs. man-cave beard.

Tom Brady vs. Andrew Luck.

Sure, Sunday night's AFC Championship Game is about more than two quarterbacks. It's the New England Patriots against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium, with a berth in Super Bowl XLIX on the line.

But let's talk about the two quarterbacks anyway. There's the super-cool three-time champion in Brady who wants (at least) one more ring. There's the ultra-talented Luck, who hasn't been able to slay the New England dragon in his young career.

How good is Brady? You already know the answer to that.

How good is Luck? So good that Patriots coach Bill Belichick turned into a veritable chatterbox when discussing Luck and the Colts this past week.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for our opponent," the usually monosyllabic coach said. "I think this is the toughest team that we've played all year. They've got so many big-play guys. Of course, it starts with Luck . . . He runs very well, he's athletic, he can get outside and make yards with his legs. And he's strong. He's strong in the pocket. He's got good lower-body strength. He's got strong legs. He's hard to wrap up. A lot of times, he's got guys draped all over him and he can throw the ball. He's strong, he's fast, he's athletic. He does a good job of throwing on the run. He's got good vision down the field . . . Really dangerous guy, tough guy to handle, great quarterback."

Anything else?

"He's pretty good," Belichick said. "He was pretty good when he came [into the NFL] and he's even better now. He's a great player. He does everything well. He's got a lot of strengths, no weaknesses. He's got a great future in front of him. He's already produced a lot. He's already done a lot in the time that he's been in the league, and I'm sure by the time he gets done, he'll pass a lot of guys by."

Of course, the Patriots don't plan to let Luck pass by their guy -- not as long as Brady is in the league. Luck is 0-3 against the Patriots in his three-year career, including last year's 43-22 loss in a divisional-round playoff game. New England has outscored Indianapolis 144-66 in those games and Luck has thrown six touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

When asked this past week about "beating Brady," Luck said: "In my mind, that's not a benchmark, I guess. It's about the Colts hopefully beating the Patriots. It is a team game. I've never viewed it as quarterback vs. quarterback. Obviously, he's a stud out there. I have the utmost respect for what he does, what he's done and what he still does. He's a great role model for any quarterback at any level playing the position, but it's a team game. To me, it's as simple as that."

Luck may downplay it, but Colts coach Chuck Pagano understands how quarterbacks are ranked. And Luck's ascendance won't be complete until -- and if -- he wins and leaves Brady in his wake.

"I think ultimately we're all judged at the end of the day by one thing, and that's probably how many rings you won," Pagano said. "So winning these games is really important because it will get you to the final game, which is his goal and which is our goal.

"All the numbers, all the stats, all the wins, this, that and the other, they look good and they may get you into something at the end of the day, but we're here to win championships, multiple championships. When we got together in 2012, we wanted to build a program for sustained success, so he's obviously a huge, huge part of that."

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