Three weeks into the 2009 NFL season, certain teams and players have begun to separate themselves from each another. Needless to say, the 2009 season has not gone as many of the so-called "experts" had predicted.
After the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory in Super Bowl XLIII the popular opinion was that Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger had secured the top two spots at their position, with the league MVP Peyton Manning descending to the third spot or lower.
Never mind the fact that Roethlisberger was coming off a relatively poor season (despite the success of his team as a whole and a solid Super Bowl finish) and that Brady hadn't played a full game in over a year and a half, it was those two who many had anointed to be the league's finest.
How quickly things change.
Not so much in regards to the reality but in regards to the general perception of it.
Both Brady and Roethlisberger have rarely been known for being some of the more productive players in the National Football League but the respective teams they have played for have managed to attain great success in spite of that.
Of course, that is not to say that they haven't been both productive and efficient (they have been in both respects) but there is a substantial difference between being efficiently productive players paired with Super Bowl caliber defenses and being the most productive player in the 90-year history of the sport.
Enter Peyton Manning.
It should come as little surprise that Peyton has played at such a phenomenal level, after all, he has been not only the most productive player in league history but also the most consistent.
Simply put, this guy just doesn't have "off years."
An off year for Manning is coming off two knee surgeries and a mediocre start to the 2008 season and finishing in historic fashion (setting the NFL record for highest completion percentage by any quarterback in any month in NFL history) to win an NFL-record third MVP award.
Last year's Manning was no joke but in comparison to this year's Manning, we might really have something to laugh about.
Peyton Manning (After Week Three of 2008)
71 of 120 (59.2) for 784 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Quarterback rating: 73.1
Peyton Manning (After Week Three of 2009)
66 of 96 (68.8) for 983 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
Quarterback rating: 117.7
The differential is staggering.
So far this season with 24 fewer passing attempts, Manning has thrown for almost 200 more yards, more than doubled his touchdown totals and cut his interception rate in half.
The result is a quarterback rating 44.6 points higher!
And for as great as Manning has been so far in 2009, his competition has been...
Ben Roethlisberger (After Week Three of 2009)
78 of 109 (71.6) for 860 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 88.5
Tom Brady (After Week Three of 2009)
87 of 142 (61.7) for 871 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 79.9
It is not so much that Brady and Roethlisberger have played horrible, it is simply that they are contributing significantly less to their team's chances of winning than Manning.
What I see as being an issue for Brady and Roethlisberger in 2009 is the same issue they have had for the majority of their careers and that is failure to put points on the board.
The difference this year is that unlike years past, their running games and defenses have not picked up the same slack, thus their team has yielded different results.
Due to the heroic nature of both Brady and Roethlisberger's comeback victories (which actually happen in lower frequency in comparison to Manning) and team accomplishments, the contributions of their running games and defensive units are often overshadowed.
How could you say that they haven't been?
The Patriots and Steelers have traditionally ranked far higher in rushing offense than passing offense as their defenses have often ranked higher than their offenses.
Yet when you think of the Patriots and Steelers, you think of their quarterbacks opposed to other members of their teams who ranked much higher in comparison to the rest of the league at their respective positions than Brady and Roethlisberger have in comparison to other quarterbacks.
Speaking of comparisons, this is the reality of 2009 thus far...
If we are comparing Manning to Roethlisberger, it is a simple matter of Manning moving his team up the field more, scoring more than twice as many touchdowns and giving the ball to the other team half as frequently.
If we are comparing Manning to Brady, we are seeing Manning move his team up and down the field more, put twice as many points on the board and doing so with 46 fewer passing attempts.
Manning's quarterback rating is 37.8 points higher than Brady which accounts for a greater degree of difference than Brady is from Jake Delhomme (79.9 to 45.3).
Essentially, Brady has passed the ball the equivalent of almost two entire games more than Manning and contributed substantially less in the process.
Heck, Manning equaled Brady's season touchdown total in the second quarter of last night's game alone.
But the greater issue at hand is that none of this should come as much of a surprise to anyone.
Sure Brady and Roethlisberger are struggling more than people might have expected but Manning is continuing to do what he has done for the majority of his career.
After the Patriots and Steelers losses in Week Two, I saw analysts on ESPN debating about whether Manning or Drew Brees is the best quarterback in football.
While that might be the accurate discussion to be had, it wasn't accurate simply because Manning and Brees played great while Brady and Roethlisberger didn't play well that week.
It just illustrates the same thing I said for Brady in 2007 and Roethlisberger at the end of 2008. People will always live in the moment and ignore productive history in the favor of current heroics.
That is why many people are surprised to see Brady and Roethlisberger perform at a mediocre level while some of their contemporaries continue to produce at an exceptional rate.
But remember, I have never been a believer of getting caught up in the moment and allowing that to formulate my overall conclusions.
Brady and Roethlisberger could go on to have great weeks next week while Manning and Brees could play poorly and that would not change my opinion. In the same way that Manning and Brees are not better because they have played at a much higher through three weeks.
It is the track record that is their careers and if you'd like, their careers as of late.
If history is the gage, Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL but if you get caught up in the here and now, Manning has delivered for you too.
Taking Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger over Peyton Manning?
As a great man once said, child please!