Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are not only two of the best quarterbacks currently in the NFL, but they're also two of the best ever at their position.
Any time two of the best players in the history of a sport play in the same era, we can't help but assume they have a rivalry, even if they've proven to be friends off the field.
Regardless, they play in the same conference and either Indianapolis or New England usually has to get through the other in order to advance to the Super Bowl.
The rivalry has swung back and forth constantly, so let's see where it stands after the 2010-2011 season now that both have been eliminated from the playoffs.
A quick caveat: Brady and Manning have been so good and been around for long enough now that there could easily be a book written about the two men. This is a broad overview of their careers up through this latest season. Feel free to post more in-depth analysis in the comment section, but remember that this is indeed an overview.
Peyton Manning has the clear advantage over this time period.
Manning was selected first overall in 1998 and quickly made the All-NFL Rookie Team. Then in 1999 he threw for 4,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl while leading his team to the No. 2 seed in the AFC, although the Colts would lose in their first playoff game.
Indianapolis' star made the Pro Bowl once more in 2000 and fell in the wild card round of the playoffs.
On the other hand, Tom Brady was drafted No. 199 in 2000 and never even got a chance to play.
Obviously, Manning had the upper hand to this point.
When Drew Bledsoe went down with internal bleeding, Tom Brady took over and never looked back.
Brady won 11 of the 14 regular season games he played in, throwing for 2,843 yards and 18 touchdowns. He took the league by storm in his first year at the helm and even made the Pro Bowl.
In the playoffs, he guided New England all the way to the Super Bowl, overcoming a 10-point deficit and a controversial call against the Raiders. In the Super Bowl, he led a last-minute drive to set up an Adam Vinatieri game-winning field goal. Brady was named the Super Bowl MVP and immediately became the league's top quarterback.
Manning, on the other hand had a great year, but his team only won six games. Yes, this was the year of the infamous Joe Mora rant about playoffs.
As Manning couldn't even make the playoffs and Brady took the league by storm, Brady took over as the better of the two at the time.
Playing with a shoulder injury for much of the season, Tom Brady threw for an NFL-high 28 touchdown passes in 2002. However, his Patriots failed to make the postseason thanks to a less-than-steller 9-7 record. New England actually tied with Miami and the New York Jets for the division lead, but failed to advance on the third tiebreaker.
Then in 2003, Brady led his team to 12 straight wins to close the regular season and finished second in the NFL MVP voting. In the playoffs, he knocked out the Colts en route to a 32-39 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
It was the Patriots' second title in three years and also Brady's second Super Bowl MVP in the same timeframe.
Meanwhile, Peyton Manning made it to the wild card round in 2002 but saw his Colts get trounced by the New York Jets, losing 41-0. He still managed to throw for 4,200 yards and 27 touchdowns that season.
In 2003, Manning shared the NFL MVP award with Steve McNair but lost to the Patriots twice, the latter of which ended the season.
In Week 13, Manning led his team back from a 21-point deficit to tie the game at 31, but the Patriots still won the game. More significantly, he threw four interceptions in a 24-14 loss to New England in the AFC Championship.
The advantage still remained slightly in Brady's favor thanks to the postseason success.
Fresh off winning the MVP, Peyton Manning put together another stellar regular season. In 2004, Manning posted the all-time greatest statistical season by a quarterback.
He completed 336 of his 497 passes for 4,557 yards and 49 touchdowns while only throwing 10 picks. It was good enough to earn him a Passer Score of 69.73, the highest single-season total of all time. (If you're unfamiliar with Passer Score, read this: NFL Passer Score: A New and Improved Statistic for Measuring QB Play.)
His 49 touchdowns broke Dan Marion's record. Manning also led his team to the third seed in the AFC.
During that same time, Brady helped his Patriots win their 21st game in a row, dating back to the previous season. While New England went 14-2 and earned a higher seed in the playoff's than Manning's Colts, the statistical greatness of Manning's season was too much.
Both quarterbacks were playing spectacularly, but the attention that Manning got for his historically-great season helped him take over the title of the league's best quarterback from Brady.
Winning a third Super Bowl in four years tends to help your case.
While Peyton Manning floundered in the postseason once again, Tom Brady was well on his way to winning another title.
The Indianapolis Colts season ended against New England once again when they lost to the Patriots 20-3. In a season in which Peyton Manning was unstoppable, he was not good at all in the loss. That should be fairly obvious from the fact that the Colts failed to score anything more than a field goal.
Brady, on the other hand, beat the Colts and then the Pittsburgh Steelers despite receiving intravenous treatment for a 103-degree fever the night before the latter.
In the Super Bowl, Brady threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns in a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In that stretch of three games, Brady took the luster off Manning's stellar regular season and regained the upper hand in the rivalry.
The proverbial monkey on Peyton Manning's back up through the previous slide had been the quarterback's inability to win in the postseason.
That changed in this time period when Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to the title in 2006.
Before that, in the 2005 season, Manning had another great year (surprise, surprise). He played so well that the Colts were able to rest him for the final two games of the regular season since they'd already wrapped up the AFC's top seed. If he'd played, Manning may have earned himself a third-straight MVP Award instead of losing out to Shaun Alexander.
In the playoffs, Manning failed to lead his team to a single playoff win as they lost in the divisional round to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 2006 regular season saw Manning throw for 4,397 yards and a league-high 31 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he helped the Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs, outlast the Baltimore Ravens, come back against the New England Patriots thanks to 32 second-half points and then win the Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears. Manning was named Super Bowl MVP.
What was Brady doing during all this?
Well, in 2005 Brady led the league in passing yards with 4,110 yards and 26 touchdowns although he threw a career-high 14 interceptions. In the playoffs, he tasted bitter defeat for the first time in his career, losing in the divisional round to the Denver Broncos.
Fully recovered from the sports hernia he played through during the end of the 2005 regular season and the playoffs, Brady helped his Patriots win 12 games in 2006.
After barely beating the San Diego Chargers, Brady traveled to Indianapolis for a shot at Peyton Manning's team. The Patriots led by 15 at halftime, but thanks in part to a last-minute interception by Brady, they lost the lead for good and were eliminated from the playoffs for a second-straight year.
With the monkey of his back, Manning took control of the rivalry once more. It wouldn't last for long.
With the new additions of Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Kelley Washington, Kyle Brady and Sammy Morris, Tom Brady's 2007 was marvelous.
It was good enough in fact, to be the second-best statistical season by a quarterback ever. Brady completed 398 of his 578 passes for 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Those numbers gave him the second-best single-season Passer Score of all time: 66.73.
The Patriots more than doubled their opponents' total scores en route to a 16-0 regular season. Obviously, Brady was named the NFL's MVP.
In the playoffs, the Patriots cruised to the Super Bowl but their bid for a perfect season was denied by David Tyree's helmet.
Peyton Manning opened the season with seven-straight wins but then lost to the Patriots in a game that was dubbed Super Bowl 41.5. He failed to mentally recover the next week when he threw six interceptions against the San Diego Chargers.
Manning's Colts earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC, behind the Patriots of course, and were knocked out in the divisional round by the San Diego Chargers.
At least Manning's kid brother got the Super Bowl win and partially redeemed the Manning clan after Peyton lost the lead in the rivalry again.
Manning had an unbelievable regular season in 2008, one that earned him his third MVP Award. But thanks to a rather inept defense, his team still struggled.
The talented quarterback went into the Week 17 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars needing to carry his team to victory in order to clinch the AFC's fifth seed. On Thursday Night Football, he completed his first 17 passes and led his team back from a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit. He was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after going 29-for-34 for 364 yards and three touchdowns.
In the playoffs, Manning's Colts fell to the San Diego Chargers for the second-straight season, this time in the wild card round.
Tom Brady, on the other hand, missed all of the 2009 season with the exception of the opening half of the opening quarter, when his left knee's ACL and MCL were torn by Bernard Pollard.
But even though Manning had the entire season to catch Brady, the Patriots' quarterback's 2007 was so incredible that he still couldn't do it. It would take until the end of the 2009 season.
In 2009, Brady threw for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns en route to being named the NFL's comeback player of the year. But it all came crashing down when he lost his first career playoff game at home. The New England Patriots failed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in the wild card round and the season was over.
Meanwhile, Peyton Manning put together another outstanding regular season and won the MVP Award for the fourth time of his career, the most of any player in the history of football.
The quarterback led his team significantly farther than Brady led his. The Colts made it all the way to the Super Bowl but lost to the New Orleans Saints.
Despite the failure to win it all, the playoff success pushed Manning back ahead of Brady.
In November of 2010, Tom Brady became the first player to ever win 26-straight regular season home games after beating the Indianapolis Colts 31-28 and the New York Jets 45-3.
Brady led the New England Patriots to the best record in the NFL, 14-2, but they fell to the Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs after a week filled with trash-talking.
In the process, Brady surpassed Bernie Kosar's record for most passes thrown without an interception. He enjoyed a truly great season, one which will most likely see him named NFL MVP when the award is announced.
On the other hand, Peyton Manning and the Colts struggled through much of 2010, barely winning a surprisingly weak AFC South.
He even went through a stretch in which he threw 11 interceptions in three games, leading everyone to question if the 34-year old quarterback had lost his touch.
The Colts disappointing season ended in losing fashion when the Jets beat them 17-16 in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Because Brady's season was so much better, he regained the upper hand in the ever-changing rivalry.
It's amazing how close this rivalry has been over the span of the last 12 years.
Brady and Manning have both achieved so many things and won so many awards that it would be virtually impossible to list them all here. And you probably wouldn't want to read a 5,000 page list of them anyway.
But, I will attempt to share a couple of the key stats and awards with you.
Brady has made the Pro Bowl six times, won three Super Bowls and won one MVP Award. Manning, on the other hand, has made 11 Pro Bowls, won one Super Bowl and won four MVP Awards. In my mind, the two extra Super Bowls trump Manning's other superior recognitions.
As for the statistics, Manning's Passer Score over the course of his career stands at 34.03 while Brady's is 33.73. Once again, Manning reigns superior.
However, stats don't tell the whole story and Brady has done more in less time.
It's incredibly close, but the playoff success pushes Brady slightly ahead of Manning in my mind.