It's been a while since either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning has hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. However, when measuring the desperation level for both future Hall of Famers heading into their clash in the AFC Championship Game, Manning has to be feeling the squeeze a little more.
Will Brady be irritated and miffed if he and his resilient New England Patriots are turned away again in the AFC title game?
Sure he will.
A loss Sunday to the Denver Broncos would mean the Patriots have no Super Bowl rings, and one berth in the big game to show for three-straight AFC title game appearances.
That's not the Patriot way—at least it isn't what the organization wants to become the norm.
As desperate as that situation may sound for Brady, it doesn't compare to what Manning faces if he loses.
This Could Be Manning's Last Chance
It's always difficult to remain a legitimate Super Bowl contender year after year. That's a reality facing every contender that falls just short of the ultimate goal. The Broncos will be staring that problem in the face if they don't beat New England.
For Manning personally, his window of opportunity is small. Unfavorable results from an offseason evaluation on his surgically repaired neck could close it completely.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Manning's future in the sport hinges on the results of the exam. Manning has been cool, calm and collected about the test, but it has to be in the back of his mind.
If the Broncos find themselves in a tight situation against the Patriots, it could weigh even heavier. Everyone would obviously hope for the best with Manning, but if this it for him, we all know he'd like to go out a winner.
Even if Manning's neck checks out, he's still going to be 38 in March. Brady isn't far behind him in age. He'll be 37 in August, but with less serious injuries in his past, it would appear that he has more tread left on his tires than Manning.
Tarnished Postseason Legacy
Which quarterback is under the most pressure?
Manning has been called the "greatest regular-season quarterback in history," via Steve Serby of the New York Post. That's not a moniker a Hall of Fame quarterback can be proud of.
It implies one hasn't gotten it done in the postseason. While Manning has played in two Super Bowls and won one, his postseason record is still below .500 (10-11).
Brady hasn't won a Super Bowl in nine years, but he has three rings. Also, Brady is 18-7 lifetime in the postseason. As desperately as he wants to win, his legacy isn't on the line in this matchup.
As NFL on ESPN points out in this tweet, Brady even has the edge in the wins column over Manning in head-to-head meetings:
Brady has already accomplished enough to be considered one of the best postseason performers at his position.
Only one Super Bowl win for Manning just seems a little empty for a player of his stature. A lack of postseason success is really the only legitimate knock on his 16-year career.
Manning spoke to NFL.com about silencing his critics after Denver knocked off the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Divisional Round.
If Manning is to quiet every doubter, he must win a Super Bowl this season. A second Super Bowl ring would draw him even with John Elway, Ben Roethlisberger, Bart Starr and his brother Eli Manning.
Going through Brady would make it all the more sweet.
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