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Tom Brady Versus Peyton Manning

by: Rich Salvatori @dickiesalvatori - posted on: 19-Nov-2013

As the AFC playoffs loom large, it's looking more and more likely that we could be headed toward a renewal of what is the conference's oldest rivalry.

Some 7-8 years ago we were watching Peyton Manning and his Colts take on Tom Brady and the Pats in an annual playoffs showdown that would typically determine the likely winner of the conference.

Manning is now on the Broncos and has an all time great supporting cast. He sits at 9-1 and as the current odds on favorite to win it all. A title this year would mark his second world championship and put him directly one behind Brady on the all time list.

There is no question that Manning is one of the greatest at the position to ever live. I'd argue that he is the greatest regular season quarterback ever. But as Tom Brady wandered off the Bank of America field in Charlotte last night, screaming at the official with a decent amount of blatant profanity, all I could think about was how good Brady is, even in a loss.

Brady had his entire roster dismantled in bizarre fashion over an offseason that tested everyone within his organization. He is only 6-3, yet has an opportunity with a win this weekend over Denver to launch New England toward a potential number one seed yet again.

Brady won the Super Bowl in his rookie year after having entered the league as a 6th round pick and afterthought in the mind of many NFL Draft evaluators. He is 5-2 in AFC title games, which means that during his playing career he has reached the conference title game over 50% of the time. 

Manning has put up other worldly statistics in a fashion few can imagine. But Manning has had a knack for disappearing in the big spot . He has struggled to command games in the playoffs at the clip Brady has. The massive discrepancy in their respective playoff records is incredibly interesting given the fact the two are linked at the hip in most discussions.

Manning's lone Super Bowl came during a season where New England's roster had been decimated. He also had the fortune of playing Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl that season, and the result was predictable. 

But Manning showed his true colors in the Broncos home loss to Baltimore in the divisional round. He was sloppy to start things off and and failed to take enough risks to move the ball down the field against a defense that physically dominated the line of scrimmage. 

Despite the blown coverage that led to a tie score, Manning crumbled in overtime. He reverted back to a style and strategy contingent upon risk averse behavior when he was required to let it all hang out.

Brady has always had a gunslingers mentality. But he has applied his intelligence of the game on his quarterbacking style that has the utmost effect on teammates. Manning and Brady are equally good at dissecting coverages and finding mismatches. What makes Brady better at it over time has been his tenacity in delivering the football.

Brady will make whatever throw it takes, as evidenced by his intercepted ball in the front of the end zone in Carolina. Prior to that throw, he set them up with easier field to work with by taking 3 seconds off the clock with a six yard out. That final 50+ yard drive was a reminder of how scary Brady is, regardless of time. 

Brady went down fighting in 2007 during a Super Bowl that witnessed him launch a ball 70 yards to Randy Moss on a dead rope on third down from inside his own 20. The throw, an incompletion, is one of the most beautiful balls I've ever seen. It didn't make up for his lackluster performance during the game, but it is also a lasting memory of noble he has performed in defeat.

Despite all the offensive success Denver has had this year, New England is the only offense I watch and truly believe they can score every single drive. The big plays are actually somewhat rare, but the play calling and ability to consistently attack the defense in an efficient manner is appalling.

Peyton will enter New England on Sunday night working behind a banged up offensive line that has struggled at tackle recently. Wes Welker, Brady's former right hand man, will likely play despite suffering a concussion in the Chiefs game.

No matter how this one plays out, I've seen enough football over the last few years to know who the better player is. Peyton is downright nasty in primetime and New England's secondary issues could prevent Tom from getting a much needed win here. 

Either way, I look at the Patriots and Brady as the more formidable opponent if healthy at playoff time. They suffered serious defensive line injuries in the last month, but seemed to find capable backups as evidenced by what they did in the Carolina game. 

For the young receivers, a full 16 game season of playing with Brady will feel like 3 years worth of games for some of these guys. The confidence coming from this group is quite obvious. They have a bigger reliance on the running game this season than some realize, but that's not a bad thing.

The Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Bliunt triple combo is a far more interesting and capable group than anything Brady has had in recent years. This is the guy who made the short passing / west coast offense a featured component of his early year success. He will keep all three players involved based on his knowledge of the game and has two potential weapons in the passing game in Vereen and Ridley. 

All of it put together is not as flashy as what Peyton is sporting. After all, the numbers and the high powered early season success carries a bit of fanfare that puts fear in the opposition given the level of dominance. 

But it might just have more substance. That is the one thing Brady has never lacked, and he just keeps showing up and preparing like a rookie. He wants to win above all else, and the frustration on his face these days has been marred by the lack of a Super Bowl dating back 9 seasons.

You had better believe Brady is just as if not far more hungry than Peyton, and all you have to do is watch him and the way he approaches things. He is as good of a quarterback since this game was started, and I expect us to be reminded again of that come January.