Yesterday, while clicking around the internet trying to avoid doing actual work, I came across an article talking about this weekend’s marquee NFL matchup between Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos. The main argument of that article? That the rivalry was overblown, and everyone is tired of hearing about it.
Well you know what? That is just about the dumbest thing I’ve heard anyone say about football this year. While I can certainly see how some people might be tired of it, the fact remains that the rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning actually is the best one going in football today, and quite possibly ever. And with this list, I’m going to tell you why. Cool?
Cool. So let’s get started, then.
We might as well begin with the superficial stuff. And by "the superficial stuff" I mean all the non-football related things people think about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Because you see, when it comes to public image and/or persona, they couldn't be more different.
Manning, of course, is the "awe shucks" southern boy who married his college sweetheart. He's humble and he's simple, kind of like the NFL's Joe Sixpack—except that he doesn't seem like the guy who would drink a whole sixpack. He'd have two beers and call it a night because he's promised the wife he'd make pancakes first thing in the morning.
Then there's Brady, the good-looking California boy who knocked up a gorgeous actress (Bridget Moynaham) before running off with a Brazilian supermodel (Gisele). When Brady isn't playing football, he's buying fancy suits and modeling for GQ.
Now, personally, I like Tom Brady. I think he seems like a pretty nice guy. But a lot of people do not not like him (or the Patriots), and the perceived differences in character between Brady and Manning makes their rivalry more interesting. So I've got nothing against the official farm boy-fancy boy narrative.
9. Personality Conflict
Of course, despite the general public perceptions of Manning as the humble golden boy and Brady as the cocky celebrity d-bag, the reality is it's Peyton who grew up with the NFL silver spoon in his mouth and Tom who had to claw and scratch to get where he is today.
Manning has pedigree. His dad, Archie, is in the College Football Hall of Fame and was the second overall pick in the 1971 NFL draft. Then he played in the NFL for 13 years and made two Pro Bowls. So greatness was expected of Peyton. He was the starting quarterback of the Tennessee Volunteers, and then the Colts chose him first overall in the 1998 draft, fully expecting him to be their franchise QB.
Brady? Pretty much the opposite. Everywhere he went he had to prove people wrong. When he started playing football at Michigan he was seventh on the depth charts, but by his junior year he was the starter. But that didn't get him drafted in the first or second or third or fourth or fifth rounds of the 2000 NFL draft. He was drafted in the sixth round, 199th overall. And of course, he only got a chance to play with the Pats when Drew Bledsoe got injured in 2000-2001.
So when it comes to the background narrative of this rivalry, there are two sides. The slick Hollywood guy with the exotic wife was the scrappy underdog. The down home everyday guy has been the superstar every step of the way.
8. NFL Pedigree vs. Sixth Rounder
Okay, now lets talk about actual football. Perhaps what makes these two unique is that each has an incredible football IQ. So every time their teams play each other, you're watching genius at work on every snap.
Manning, as you may know, has a legendary encyclopedic memory. After getting drafted in 1998, he had the Colts' playbook memorized in two weeks. (Have you ever seen a football playbook? Have you ever played Madden? If so, you know that's insane.)
Brady, meanwhile, is the guy in college who never left the library. From his first day with the Pats, Brady was the first one at work every day, studying film, and he was the last one to leave. Thus, when he got his opportunity, nobody had to tell him anything. He already had the knowledge he needed to succeed.
Then there are the things you simply cannot teach. By all accounts, Brady and Manning are able to read defensive coverages both before and during a play better than any quarterback anybody has ever seen. (I'm paraphrasing a bunch of quotes here.) Thus, each guy possess and incredibly rare blend of physical and intellectual abilities. That they ever get to play in the same game against each other is pretty special.
7. Two Football Savants
You know about this one already. Tom Brady missed all but one game of the 2008 season after destroying his ACL—then he won the 2009 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Peyton Manning missed all of 2011 with a neck injury that very nearly ended his career—then he won the 2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
The point? Both players have faced major adversity, and both have overcome it beyond most human beings' wildest dreams. Why? Because they are winners, plain and simple.
6. Both Have Made Big Comebacks
Okay, now it's stats time.
Between these two guys there are seven Super Bowl appearances, four Super Bowl Rings, and six NFL MVP Awards. Brady of course has a 3-1 advantage in the rings department, but Manning has the substantial 4-2 edge in MVPs. (And, unless something bad happens, Manning will almost certainly win his fifth MVP this year.)
Then there are the counting stats and passing records. Manning is second in all-time passing yards with 63,059; Brady is fifth with 47,358.
Manning is second in all-time passing TDs with 470; Brady is fourth with 352.
Brady holds the current record for TDs in a season with 50 in 2007; Manning set the old record with 49 in 2004.
Brady is second on the list of most passing yards in a season with 5,235 in 2011; Manning is on pace to shatter the all-time record of 5,476 this season.
In short, these are two of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game. Both might be in the top five. And that's just nuts.
5. Two Future Hall of Famers
Alright, now we're getting to the real meat of the argument. Simply put, the NFL has never seen this kind of personal player rivalry. Not only are Tom Brady and Peyton Manning historically good, but they have played each other a ridiculous 13 times already, and this Sunday's will make it 14. Brady leads the series nine wins to Manning's four.
Just think about those numbers. Do you know how many times Joe Montana played Dan Marino? Three times. Montana-Elway? Five times. Elway-Marino? Three times. Favre-Aikman? Six times. Young-Aikman? A whopping seven times. And, going further back, Staubach-Bradshaw? Four times.
The only other legendary quarterbacks who faced off as many times as Brady and Manning? Bart Starr with the Packers and Johnny Unitas with the Colts. They played each other 13 times, with Starr winning eight and Unitas five.
So what makes Brady-Manning better than Unitas-Starr? Well, for one thing, there are a lot more teams today than there were in the 50s and 60s, so playing each other that many times today is far more rare. More importantly, however, is the fact that Manning and Brady have played each other three times in the playoffs (compared to just once for Unitas and Starr), and each time the winner went on to win the Super Bowl.
4. Tons of Meetings
So how were all these games between Manning and Brady? Well, nine of the 13 have been decided by 10 points or less, while seven have been decided by seven points or less. And of those games won by seven or less, three were decided by no more than a field goal.
Blowouts? Sure, there have been blowouts. But only four.
The point is, when Brady and Manning play, you can expect a good game.
3. So Many Great Games
As the last point suggests, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning bring out the best in each other. In games against Manning, Brady's completion percentage is 67%. That's 3.5% better than his career completion rate, and a 1% better than the best career completion rate in NFL history.
Of course, as suggested by his 4-9 record against Brady, Peyton Manning's numbers on the whole are not as great. However, there is one amazing nugget to point out: when playing Brady, Peyton averages 293.9 yards per game compared to Brady's 235.3. That is 24.4 yards per game more than Manning's career average—and his career average is third on the all-time list.
With any other head-to-head match up, these numbers would be insignificant because we'd be dealing with a small sample size. However, Manning and Brady have played nearly an entire season against each other, so these numbers are meaningful.
2. They Bring Out the Best in Each Other
The number one reason why the Brady-Manning rivalry is the best in football is because, every time, it stokes the flames of the best debate in football: who's better, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?
And obviously, you can make arguments for both depending on how you phrase the question.
Who do you pick to win one game? You'd have to go with Brady, since he's got the best winning percentage (by a mile) of any QB since 1970.
Who do you pick to rack up the most points? You'd have to go with Manning, since he's got Brady beat by a wide margin in career yards and touchdowns.
Of course, we all know the debate always boils down to one thing: playoff record vs. regular season record. In the regular season, Manning is quite obviously the greater quarterback. However, in the postseason, it's all Brady.
So who is the best overall? You tell me.
1. Best Debate in Football
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