The NFL has had some classic rivalries over the years. Perhaps the most iconic, and the oldest, is the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers of the old “Black and Blue” division. Since then and up to today there are some bitter team rivalries going on, but few are rivalries between individuals. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is perhaps the longest and most talked about rivalry between two quarterbacks ever.
Next Sunday Manning and Brady will face off for the seventeenth time in their careers and fifth time in the post season. Brady has gone 11-5 head-to-head against Manning. But the story’s a bit different in postseason. They’ve split those four meetings, however Manning has emerged victorious in the last two and is 2-1 against Brady in championship games and 2-0 at home. Neither quarterback has beaten the other on the road since 2007. This personifies the importance of home field advantage.
Will this AFC Championship game live up to the inevitable hype that will be bombarding the airwaves this week?
Denver has the edge on defense and has relied heavily on that defense to get them to this point. On the other hand Tom Brady is playing the best football of his career and has a healthy receiving corps including Danny Amendola, Julian Eldman, and Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski.
For Bronco fans, this is more than a stepping stone game to the Super Bowl. This is a game against a team (and person, Brady) that Denver fans have come to loath as much or more than the old days of the “Raider Hater” rivalry of John Elway days.
It’s not just Denver fans who have a burning distaste for all things Brady either. For years, Brady has been the type of guy fans tend to hate unless he’s on their team, but in the wake of the Deflategate scandal, wherein Brady allegedly had game balls deflated below the NFL’s acceptable minimum level of air pressure, he’s been villainized even further, perceived as more nefarious than he has for the better part of two decades, which is really saying something.
It was a year ago Monday that Deflategate first took center stage, during a 45-7 rout of the Colts in the conference championship game, but even 12 months later, many fans are still hesitant to forgive and forget. Part of that likely has to do with New England’s continued success, which few anticipated, particularly after Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season. (The ban was ultimately overturned by a judge.)
Fortunately for everyone outside of the Patriots’ home market, Denver has a defense that could actually prove capable of ending the defending champs’ reign, even if Manning’s ebbing physical attributes are doing the Broncos more harm than good at this stage in his career. (However, there’s no doubt his mental grasp of the game is still as strong as ever.)
The league leaders in total defense, Denver allowed 283.1 yards and 18.5 points per game this year. The Broncos also gave up a league-low 199.6 passing yards per game and generated 27 takeaways this season, though their turnover margin took a massive hit thanks to Manning’s propensity for throwing it at the other team’s players.
In its overtime win over then-undefeated New England in Week 12, Denver’s pass defense was hardly stalwart, as Brady threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns with no picks. But it also forced New England to punt on four of its final five possessions, including three crucial three-and-outs that kept the Broncos in the game. And there’s no doubt they’ll be looking for a more balanced performance on Sunday with the stakes as high as they’ve been all season.
All of that is to say that Brady-Manning Bowl XVII will be one worth watching, even for fans who may hate the teams and star quarterbacks in it. Overall, Brady holds an 11-5 edge in the series, but they’ve split the last 10 down the middle and neither quarterback has won on the road since 2007. That would seem to bode well for Manning and the Broncos, but if Sunday really is the final time the two most recognizable quarterbacks in football meet, the football gods will likely see to it that it’s a classic regardless of who ends up winning the game.
It’ll be fascinating, if nothing else, to see if Manning, in what could potentially be his last game as a player, will have enough gas left in the tank to uncork the type of throwback performance the Broncos will need to get past New England.