On one side of Super Bowl XLVIII: Peyton Manning, the best quarterback of his era and one of the best of all time—if not the best.
Both quarterbacks needed to beat their top rivals head-to-head in the conference championship games. Both quarterbacks need a Super Bowl ring to silence any remaining doubts about their ability. Both quarterbacks are going to to have to outscore each other in order to succeed.
In many ways, the two men couldn't be more different. In other ways, they're carbon copies of each other.
So how do they stack up?
By the Numbers
Obviously, Manning's career totals in yards, touchdowns, Pro Bowl appearances, etc., all far outstrip Wilson's, so they weren't included here. Comparing their career rate stats, though, is enlightening.
Manning has a prototypical passer's body, standing tall and lean in the pocket. Wilson is, famously, the shortest starting quarterback in the NFL these days. Wilson's stout upper body and strong legs, though, make him resilient and notoriously difficult to tackle.
Wilson's much more dangerous on the run; his 4.55-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine, per NFL.com, smokes Manning's old 4.9-second time. That's likely kind to Manning too. Today Wilson's likely to be able to run nearly as fast as he did at the combine; Manning, not so much.
Manning is 37, in the twilight days of an incredible career. Wilson is 25, having a sophomore season remarkably like his stunning debut campaign. Then again, Manning knows how to manage a pocket.
Manning has a slight edge in career completion rate, at 65.5 percent to Wilson's 63.6 percent. Wilson's completion rate is very good, but in 2013, per Pro Football Reference, 25 quarterbacks completed at least 60 percent of their passes.
In 1999, Manning's sophomore season, only seven quarterbacks topped 60 percent—and Manning's 62.1 percent rate was second-best in the NFL.
Manning's career completion percentage is that much more impressive when you consider the two eras of football his career bridges.
The biggest difference between the two quarterbacks comes in the passing-yardage department. Manning's 270.7 yards per game is third-best in NFL history, per Pro Football Reference, behind only Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees. Wilson's average of 202.3 is 27th among active quarterbacks.
This is partly because Manning's a slightly better passer and partly due to how few attempts Wilson gets. The power running of Marshawn Lynch reduces the need for Wilson to throw all the time, while Manning has been the unquestioned focal point of every offense he's piloted.
Of course, Wilson's rushing-yards-per-game average is over 11 times that of Manning: 32.1 yards per game versus Manning's 2.9.
Wildly Different, Basically the Same
Though the two quarterbacks couldn't be much more physically different, as passers they're remarkably similar.
This season, Manning had 659 pass attempts compared to Wilson's 407; that's 61.9 percent more attempts. Manning threw for 342.3 yards per game in 2013, 63.2 percent more than Wilson's 209.8.
If you're following the math, you likely realize the two quarterbacks averaged nearly the same number of average yards per attempt—and they are: Manning's 8.31 barely edges Wilson's 8.25. They finished second and third in the NFL this season, respectively.
Look at their career Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, though, which figures in sacks and interceptions, and Manning pulls a little bit ahead: 7.24 against Wilson's 7.05. These two are third and fourth all-time in the NFL.
Despite Manning's better completion rate and touchdown rate, Wilson has the upper hand in NFL passer efficiency rating. This is partly due to his slightly lower interception rate (2.4 percent against 2.6 percent).
Both quarterbacks are ruthlessly efficient and very effective. Both throw accurately and effectively to all levels of the field, though Manning's arm strength was visibly lessened by the nerve damage he suffered in a 2010 shoulder injury that kept him out all of 2011.
Taking the Torch
As I wrote earlier in the playoffs, the stage is set for the likes of Manning and Tom Brady to pass the torch to the Wilsons and Colin Kaepernicks of the NFL.
It's easy to imagine Manning capping off the best statistical season in NFL history with a Super Bowl championship and calling it a career. Yet Wilson could reach up and take the torch right out of Manning's hand in Super Bowl XLVIII.
He certainly isn't too small for the moment. When reporters asked Wilson after the NFC Championship Game if it's sunk in that he's going to the Super Bowl, he didn't hesitate.
"It’s definitely hit me that we’re going to the Super Bowl," Russell said, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times. "I had a feeling we were going anyway. It was just one of those things that I just believed in what we were doing."
Wilson has defied all kinds of odds to make it this far; he's proven that his arm talent and football IQ more than make up for what he lacks as a physical prospect.
Still, as much as winning a Super Bowl surely means to Wilson, Manning has even more at stake. His resume and legacy become much stronger if he wins a second Super Bowl, especially for a different franchise than the one with which he won his first.
This game is going to be an intense battle between two great quarterbacks. Though one of them will have to be the loser, NFL fans everywhere win by getting to watch.
*Unless otherwise noted, all stats provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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