To me life is pretty black or white. I understand the concept of nuisance and recognize it has its time and place, but on most topics you either feel one way about something or the other. For example, you are either a cat person or a dog person. You prefer Seinfeld or Friends, Wedding Crashers or Old School, blondes or brunettes. In football there is an argument like this that has developed over the last 13 years: Is Peyton Manning the best quarterback of his generation or is it Tom Brady?
The discussion normally boils down to a couple simple talking points. If you support Brady you immediately point out his three Super Bowl rings, his superior postseason record and his head-to-head success against Manning. Manning-backers will argue that their guy never had the same type of dominant defense that Brady enjoyed early in his career, nor did he have the benefit of being tutored by one of the best coaches in the history of the game. All Manning does is post spectacular numbers every season no matter what kind of supporting cast he is surrounded by.
You cannot talk about either man it seems without at least mentioning the other. They will be linked in history forever and their presence has made the NFL immeasurably more fun to follow.
That, along with all of the arguing amongst fans, is what makes Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the two signal callers feel like the sports equivalent of a life-or-death event. As I said, I see things as either black or white, and to me this contest will either strengthen or destroy so many of the arguments that one side uses against the other in the Manning/Brady debate.
If the Broncos win, Manning will have evened his record against Brady and the Patriots in the postseason. Since 90 percent of the Brady camp’s case revolves around the fact that the regular season is irrelevant and the playoffs are all that matters, they will no longer be able to point to their guy’s dominance over Manning if the two are 2-2 against each other in the postseason.
Conversely a Patriots victory would erase one of the Manning camp’s strongest defenses. If Brady won those three rings because he enjoyed the far superior supporting cast during the early 2000’s, than Manning should be able to take care of business on Sunday.
The skill of the Broncos’ receiving corps has been overrated all season. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas are all good receivers, but only Welker had enjoyed any professional success before being quarterbacked by Manning. He has turned them into an elite receiving corps by constantly putting them in the right spots. Still, even the most fanatic of Peyton-backers would have to admit the Denver receivers are 10 times better than the slop Brady has been throwing to this year. If Brady can out-duel Manning with this paltry group of pass-catchers, than you have to tip your cap to him.
If Manning wins on Sunday and then triumphs in the Super Bowl two weeks later he can also say that he was able to cap the greatest single season in the history of quarterbacking with a world championship. When Brady turned in the previous greatest season ever in 2007, his team came one step shy of raising the Lombardi Trophy. Yet a Brady win on Sunday would only strengthen the notion that Manning can dominate during the regular season, but that he cannot come through when the proverbial chips are on the table.
For the record, I am an unapologetic Manning guy. I think he is the most entertaining quarterback to ever play the game. The way he conducts a contest at the line of scrimmage is awe-inspiring in my mind. I concede Brady’s great, but I also contest that he was fortunate enough to have been dropped into the perfect situation.
To my dying day I will insist that if you put Brady on the Colts and Manning on the Patriots during the primes of their careers, New England would not have missed a beat. Under the direction of Belichick and with an elite defense on his side Manning would have been unstoppable. Meanwhile, Brady would have been very good, but I doubt the Colts win all the regular season games they did with Manning.
What evidence do I have to back this up? It’s simple really. Both quarterbacks missed one season due to injury during their Hall of Fame careers. Brady tore his ACL in 2008, while Manning endured neck surgery and was sidelined in 2011. In his absence journeyman Matt Cassel captained the Patriots to 11 wins in 15 starts. Without Manning the Colts lost the first 12 contests of the ’11 campaign and finished the season 2-14.
With that in mind, can anyone explain to me again how Brady has not enjoyed the far better situation for almost his entire career?
Still, Manning must win on Sunday for me to continue to claim that he is the greatest quarterback of all time. I believe he is and so I think Denver will be victorious on Sunday. If he comes up short, that argument will lose an awful lot of strength.
There’s a lot on the line Sunday. These are the types of games that come along rarely. Enjoy it everybody.