Firstly, he's the smartest quarterback of all-time, without question, regardless of how many Super Bowl rings he wins by the end of his career. Manning studies the hardest—before, during, and after the game—and is able to change his strategy of attack quicker than any player out there.
Not to take anything away from Brady and Montana's uncanny abilities and football IQ, but the Colts' pivot thinks on a different level and confuses defenses at the line like no other.
Case in point, the AFC Championship, which embodied his incredible smarts to this point in his illustrious career. The Jets' dominant first-ranked defense blitzed effectively to smother Indy's offense in the first quarter, tallying a couple rare sacks of Manning. But the Colts' QB was able to quickly make the necessary adjustments to beat the Rex Ryan's blitz and overcome a 17-6 deficit, earning Indianapolis' spot in Sunday's big game.
Indeed, Manning's intelligence has helped him win a lot of football games over his 12 seasons in the NFL, despite some of the early playoff failures.
Coupled with his four MVP trophies, the most any player has been awarded in NFL history, No. 18 has led the Colts to seven straight season with 12-plus wins, most wins of any team in the 2000s with 115, and will have guided his franchise to two Super Bowl titles if Indy can beat the high-powered Saints on Sunday.
Not to mention, it will be the Colts' second championship in the last four seasons, nearly challenging New England's run earlier in the decade.
Another championship also puts the Colts in the conversation for team of the decade—amidst the Patriots' dynasty and the Steelers' two Super Bowl titles. Leading into Sunday's kickoff, New England is the leading candidate to close out the 2000s as the greatest team, with their unprecedented run of three Super Bowls in four years. But a win in Super Bowl XLIV would put Indianapolis—the team with the most wins (115) and two championship rings—above them all.
For his part, Manning, similar to Montana's achievements in turning around the 49ers' fortunes, has single-handedly elevated the Colts franchise into the upper echelon of the NFL since being drafted first overall in 1998—to the point where the majority of football fans across North America take notice every time Indy's playing.
It's the first time since the Baltimore Colts were the toasts of the league that the organization has garned such attention nationwide, and it's all because of Peyton's credentials as a brilliant signal-caller.
He's already established a storied legacy as a great NFL quarterback, but adding another Super Bowl title to his mantle will only help his cause in the debate over who's the best ever and push him closer to No. 1 all-time.