It's a rivalry that dates back well over a decade. This will be the third time the two have met with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Given the players involved, the longevity of the rivalry and the magnitude of this latest chapter in the NFL equivalent of Ali vs. Frazier (or maybe Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West...you can pick who's who), it's hardly a surprise that the Golden Boy vs. the "Omaha!" Assassin is the dominant storyline heading into to this week's tilt in Denver.
However, amid all the talk, hype and Buick commercials leading up to the game are more than a few misconceptions about what may be the greatest individual rivalry in NFL history.
So, as we get ready for what promises to be an exciting game, here's a look at some facts and fiction regarding the "Branning Bowl."
Tom Brady owns the "rivalry" with Peyton Manning: FACT (sort of)
At the end of the day, the only number that really matters in the 14 matchups to date between Brady and Manning is the one on the scoreboard. In that regard, there's no denying that Brady has the edge.
The question then becomes just how big an edge that really is.
|2001||3||Patriots 44, Colts 13|
|2001||6||Patriots 38, Colts 17|
|2003||13||Patriots 38, Colts 34|
|2003||AFC Championship||Patriots 24, Colts 14|
|2004||1||Patriots 27, Colts 24|
|2004||Divisional Round||Patriots 20, Colts 3|
|2005||9||Colts 40, Patriots 21|
|2006||9||Colts 27, Patriots 20|
|2006||AFC Championship||Colts 38, Patriots 34|
|2007||9||Patriots 24, Colts 20|
|2009||10||Colts 35, Patriots 34|
|2010||11||Patriots 31, Colts 28|
|2012||5||Patriots 31, Broncos 21|
|2013||12||Patriots 34, Colts 31|
Brady leads series 10-4
At first glance, Brady's 10 wins in 14 tries against Manning would appear a runaway victory for supermodels and grandpa sweaters.
However, it's worth pointing out that Brady and the Patriots won the first six meetings in the rivalry. Since losing to the Pats in the divisional round of the 2004 playoffs, Manning has split eight meetings with the Patriots right down the middle.
That game in 2004 was one of three postseason meetings between Brady and Manning, with the Patriots getting the win twice. It was Manning and the Indianapolis Colts who prevailed the last time they faced off in the playoffs, winning the 2006 AFC Championship Game 38-34.
Recently though, Brady and the Patriots have been on a roll against Manning. New England has won the last three games, including both contests played since Manning joined the Denver Broncos.
Brady's edge in the rivalry extends to the stat sheet: FICTION
Given Brady's clear edge over Manning head-to-head, it would be reasonable to assume that Brady also holds a clear advantage in statistical production in the series.
Well, you know what they say about assumptions.
Yes, Brady holds an edge over Manning in completion percentage and passer rating in their last five games. In fact, over those games Brady's passer rating against the Colts and Broncos is a robust 108.2.
However, Manning's 92.5 passer rating over that stretch is hardly awful, and Manning has the edge in passing yards and touchdowns per game. Go back further, when Brady's Pats were a ball-control team and Manning's Colts were as pass-happy as they come, and the waters get even muddier.
There is one number that leaps out from that table. Over those past five matchups dating back to 2007, Manning has thrown seven interceptions to Brady's three, an average of almost a full pick more per game.
With comparable passing numbers, this begs the question of why the head-to-head disparity is so large, which brings us to...
Brady has benefited from a better ground game: FACT
One of the preferred talking points for Manningites (kind of like a Mennonite, only with bigger foreheads) when discussing Manning vs. Brady is the fact that Brady has had the benefit of better teams around him.
Where running the ball is concerned at least, that holds water.
Once again using the past five matchups between the pair as a barometer, the Patriots have out-rushed the Broncos/Colts in each of those five seasons. In only one of those years was the gap between the two squads less than 10 yards per game.
In two seasons, that gap was at least 30 yards per game.
Manning has had a wealth of offensive options at his disposal over his career in both Indianapolis and Denver, from Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas.
However, during his later years in Indy, a dependable running game wasn't one of those options, and while it's gotten better in the Mile High City, the Patriots' ground game has still been better.
Hey! Maybe we're on to something here! Manning can't do it all by himself, and he certainly doesn't play defense, so...
Brady has also had the benefit of a better defense: FICTION
It's a pretty commonly held belief that over the course of their rivalry, Tom Brady has also had the luxury of playing on a Patriots team that was much better defensively than Manning's Colts and Broncos.
Unfortunately, the numbers just don't bear that out.
In fact, in four of the past five years in which Manning and Brady met, the Colts/Broncos finished ahead of the Patriots in total defense.
The disparity grows even larger when looking solely at pass defense.
Granted, the Patriots win the tale of the tape where scoring defense is concerned, allowing a five-year average of 19.3 points per game versus 20.6 for the Broncos/Colts, but in two of those seasons (2007 and 2012) it was Denver/Indy that allowed fewer points, and the overall gap is less than 1.5 points per game.
The argument can be made that the Patriots were more opportunistic in those seasons, but the fact remains that the belief New England's defense has been markedly better in the rivalry (at least recently) is a myth.
So what's the problem? Maybe it really just is that...
Manning isn't as "clutch" as Brady: FICTION
This is an old knock on Manning, borne of his less-than-stellar 10-11 career record in the postseason. Compared to Brady's 18-7 mark in the playoffs, it's not hard to see where that criticism comes from.
However, it's folly to simply say that a postseason win-loss record is the final barometer of which quarterback is more "clutch." Since we're talking about a playoff meeting, let's examine the two players' passing stats over their extensive postseason careers.
Per Pro Football Reference
Brady has more wins and a better touchdown-to-interception ratio, but outside that the numbers are very comparable. In fact, if you covered up the names of the players and asked 100 people to pick which was which, it's a safe bet that a majority would ascribe Manning's numbers to Brady.
It's also worth noting that after winning his first 10 playoff games, Brady is only 8-7 over the next 15. Over that same span (2005-2013), Manning is a nearly identical 7-6, and actually he has a slightly higher winning percentage.
The long and short of this whole exercise is this: Manning's struggles, both against the Patriots and in the postseason, go well beyond Manning himself.
With that said, the lack of a glaring reason for those struggles gets Manning the "choke artist" label, while Brady's early playoff successes have given many other fans blinders.
Brady can do no wrong in the playoffs. Manning can do no right.
Take this play for instance. Yes, Manning threw an interception in overtime against the Baltimore Ravens a year ago, but I don't see him anywhere in coverage on this bomb to Jacoby Jones.
In the playoffs especially, all it takes is one play to swing the game, and often, believe it or not, the pivotal player involved isn't a quarterback.
The same is going to hold true on Sunday. Granted, both of these future Hall of Fame signal-callers will be huge factors in the AFC Championship Game, but as great as they are, they can't single-handedly will their team to victory, especially in the playoffs.
It isn't fair to expect them to, any more than it's fair to simply glance at the win-loss record of the two players and declare one the "winner."