Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, return to prove that last year's success was not a fluke. Both Luck and Kaepernick led their teams to 10-plus win seasons, playoff berths, and plenty of individual accolades.
But which quarterback is poised to step-up this year and build on last year's success?
The logical assumption is that Kaepernick has the edge over Luck in avoiding the "sophomore slump". Kaepernick returns as the starter for the 49ers, arguably the hottest, youngest, and most talented team in the NFC. Kaepernick has one of the best defenses in the NFL to pound opposing offenses. The 49ers only improved in the off-season, landing Kaepernick yet another offensive weapon, wide receiver Anquan Boldin in free agency. Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and had a 98.0 plus quarterback rating (nearly 20 points higher than Luck). Clearly, Kaepernick has all the pieces in place to exceed last year’s performance and out-perform fellow second-year quarterback Luck. Or does he?
An argument can be made that, between Kaepernick and Luck, it is actually Luck who is prepared to out-perform Kaepernick.
Luck and the Colts return to a weak AFC South. The Jaguars and Titans have no proven quarterbacks and suspect defenses. The Texans, outside of their defense, are one of the most inconsistent teams in the AFC. None of the AFC South teams upgraded their rosters in any major way. Luck and the Colts will benefit from the return of head coach Chuck Pagano, who was out for the majority of 2012 while being treated for leukemia. An 11-5 or 12-4 record is not beyond the realm of possibility for the Colts. Luck will also get four conference games against the Jaguars and Titans, whose defenses were among the worst in the NFL last season.
What about Kaepernick and 49ers? It is possible that the 49ers might not even be the best team in the NFC West this year. The Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals all significantly upgraded their rosters in the off-season and draft. The NFC also has the Falcons, Saints, Giants, and Redskins (and RGIII) loaded with playoff caliber talent and coaching.
Luck has a full season of wear and tear and the huge expectations of being the first pick in the 2012 draft in his rearview mirror. The expectations for Kaepernick, who did not start until the twelfth game of 2012, are set to go into high-gear. How Kaepernick deals with an entire season in the spotlight, along with the expectations of playing for a team that appeared in last year’s Super Bowl remains to be seen. There will be far lower expectations on Luck to take a less talented Colts team to the Super Bowl.
Both Kaepernick and Luck have the talent and teams to be successful quarterbacks in 2013.
Both have worked with an incredible head coach Jim Harbaugh. Luck's experience came while in college at Stanford. Kaepernick as him now and is learning his methods while in the NFL with an added dimension of offensive consultant Eric Mangeni that can only make him more lethal.
But look for Luck to capitalize on playing in a weak conference along with having an entire season as a starter under his belt to edge out Kaepernick for the quarterback to watch in the upcoming season.