The ultimate sibling rivalry, big brother Peyton versus little brother Eli, may be the most exciting potential matchup in a New York-Indy Super Bowl, but it may not be the most important.
Eli has come out of his brother's shadow and for the early part of the season had people questioning who the better Manning was, as he took his Giants to an early undefeated record and had his offense dominating opposing defenses.
Peyton erased the argument fairly quickly though, as he has taken it upon himself—with six fourth-quarter comebacks and a seven-game win streak—to put the Colts back on pace to secure yet another playoff berth after a scary 3-4 start.
The Giants have built themselves a pretty solid resume and share the best record in the NFC at 11-3 with Carolina. And everyone is preparing themselves to see a repeat appearance by them in this year's Super Bowl, while the Colts have risen from the dead to a 10-4 record and have fast become the team that no one wants to play this postseason.
The Manning brothers have captained their teams into playoff contention this year, but what would each be without their supporting casts?
Let's start with the captains of the trenches—the centers, Jeff Saturday and Shaun O'Hara.
Prior to this season, Saturday had handed Peyton the ball in 51 consecutive games. But he missed the first four this year, with the most notable being the first two games when Peyton got taken down four times and threw two picks.
Sure, big brother was still shaky after his two preseason knee surgeries, but I guarantee not having old reliable Jeff was a negative factor.
While Saturday has been Peyton's sturdy support upfront, Eli has been taking O'Hara's snaps for all but five games during his young career. In a season where he no longer carries the burden of being the "other" Manning, do not underestimate how much his continuity with big Shaun in front has helped him do that.
No group of backs has been more feared this year than the Giants' Earth, Wind, and Fire trio. Over the course of the season, they've continued to show defenses, top defenses mind you, why it is pointless even trying to game plan against them. But Ward and Bradshaw have looked far too human of late without the support of their friend Earth.
While Rhodes and Addai have combined to form one of the worst backfields in the league this year, do not forget what they used to be—a two-headed monster as feared as any. It is the postseason that counts, and during the Colts' 2006 Super Bowl run they were every bit as important to the team's success as Manning or anyone else, if not more so.
No one is more of a quarterback's best friend than a reliable tight end, and both the Giants and Colts have one they can count on.
With the absence of Jeremy Shockey, many questioned how well Eli and company would fair in the passing game. But Kevin Boss has stepped up big-time with career highs across the board in his first season as a starter, 300-plus yards and a team-leading five scores. And with Plaxico long gone and Hixon looking shaky, I bet Eli starts looking his way a lot more.
On the Colts' side, no name brings more relief to Peyton's ears than Dallas Clark. He is second on the team in receiving yards with over 600 and tied for the most touchdowns with five.
He showed how much Manning relies on him by having a career day with 12 receptions, 142 yards, and a beautiful jump grab for a touchdown against the Lions. When receivers get shut down, do not fear, because Clark is here.
No defense can survive in this pass-happy league without being able to put pressure on the quarterback, and few teams do it better than these two.
The Giants faced a scary moment at the beginning of the season when they lost their star rusher, Osi Umenyiora, to a season-ending injury as well as future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan to retirement. But that moment of fear did not last long, as Justin Tuck and Mahias Kiwanuka quickly showed how well they could perform.
And let's not forget about that big boy in the middle, Fred Robbins, who may be the most underrated defensive tackle in the league.
The Colts have always relied on a speed rush, and it has never looked prettier than the way Dwight Freeney and Robert Mahis do it—they lead the league in forced fumbles (75) since Mathis entered the league in 2003. Oh, and by the way, they have both been deservingly voted to the Pro Bowl this year with 21 sacks and nine forced fumbles between them.
I know I said they wouldn't be the most important matchup to look at, but you can't argue with the fact that they would be more than just a "factor."
The Manning brothers have piloted their teams to victory in the last two Super Bowls, each has come away with the coveted Super Bowl MVP, and each was voted to this year's Pro Bowl. Honestly, is there a more intriguing matchup than this? I think not.