NFL: Peyton vs. Brady and the Most Anticipated QB Duels of the 2012 Season

Callum Mackenzie@callumlarrContributor IIIMay 7, 2012

NFL: Peyton vs. Brady and the Most Anticipated QB Duels of the 2012 Season

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    By some, 2012 was dubbed the "Year of the Quarterback"—and for good reason.

    We witnessed record-breaking displays from Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who broke Dan Marino's long-standing record for yards thrown in a single 16-game season, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who broke the same record in another stellar season. Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning had an excellent season, too, emphasized by some clutch performances in the postseason.

    And then there were the breakout performances by Lions signal caller Matthew Stafford and Panthers rookie Cam Newton, adding new names to the ongoing debate about the league's best men under center. And there was also the small matter of that man Aaron Rodgers, who had one of the most consistent seasons for a quarterback in league history, leading his Green Bay Packers to a 15-1 record and taking home the league's MVP award.

    With quarterbacks playing such a pivotal role in the fortunes of many teams in the NFL, games which feature two of the league's elite always seem that little bit more special. Here are 12 of those such games, which look to be the most anticipated in the 2012 season.

    Note: The list does not include any divisional games. Although there are some notable candidates from these games, they do happen every year and, as a result, aren't as unique as those selected here.

Week 1: Robert Griffin III vs. Drew Brees

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    Welcome to the big leagues, Griffin!

    What a test for the latest in a long line of Washington Redskins quarterbacks in his NFL debut—a trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to face Offensive Player of the Year Drew Brees and his record-breaking Saints offense.

    RG3's accolades—Heisman Trophy winner, No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft—speak for themselves, as does his game film and heroics as a Baylor Bear. Over the last three years (but 2011 especially), Brees has enjoyed some of the most productive seasons by a quarterback in recent memory, linking up with tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Marques Colston and versatile back Darren Sproles.

    The two key components of this game will be Griffin's weapons and the Saints' defense.

    If Griffin can start to form a partnership with ex-Colt Pierre Garcon as early as Week 1, while familiarizing himself with a new playbook, the 'Skins can be a real threat to their opponents. The Saints' defense will be playing with quite the chip on their shoulder, hoping to prove their detractors wrong and to improve on their many mediocre displays from last season.

    Expect a shoot-out from one of the best there is in the game and from one of the hottest rookie prospects in years.

Week 3: Aaron Rodgers vs. Matt Flynn

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    Matt Flynn has just two games in a Seattle Seahawks jersey before he plays host to his old team and the guy he used to play backup to, for in Week 3, the Green Bay Packers make their way westward to Seattle's CenturyLink Field.

    Besides the matter of where Peyton Manning would land, Flynn was the talk of the free agency period, with various teams rumored to be clamoring for his services. This following a stunning performance in the New Year's Day game with Detroit, wherein he threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns (both Packers franchise records).

    From some quarters, this performance gave birth to talk of Aaron Rodgers being a system quarterback—that Flynn, or any quarterback for that matter, could turn in similar performances just by working within the well-oiled Packers offensive engine. Rodgers' performances last season earned him the Associated Press' Most Valuable Player award, which rightly ought to dispel any such talk; in Seattle, Flynn's actions will speak louder than words.

    Look out for stars like Jordy Nelson and Marshawn Lynch to try and deflect attention away from their quarterbacks, but this will be an intriguing collision of two quarterbacks who know one another pretty well.

Week 3: Andy Dalton vs. Robert Griffin III

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    Two weeks removed from his potential baptism of fire in the Superdome, Robert Griffin III will host Andy Dalton and his Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3.

    Dalton's consistent performances under center for Cincinnati were very much a pleasant surprise for Bengals fans, as he took them to the playoffs and a much improved record in the regular season from the previous season.  

    Although surrounded by a colorful supporting cast, it was his blossoming partnership with fellow rookie wideout A.J. Green which caught the limelight the most. Expect this duo to continue their growth and success in their sophomore season.

    Griffin and his Redskins will have to play at their very best to keep up with the Bengals, but given RG3's collegiate caliber, something tells me this will be quite a close affair. Definitely one match-up to watch out for.

Week 4: Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers

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    Well, well, well. If last season's opening night epic is anything to go by, this will be one of the games of the season.

    It'll be a collision of Offensive Player of the Year and the league's latest MVP, the two most talked about players of last season, and of two of the league's most potent offenses. With two of the league's poorer defensive units also featuring in this game at Lambeau Field, this match is set to be a real shoot-out: two of the league's most prolific gunslingers using their supporting casts to full effect.  

    Some quick name-drops to emphasize the offensive talent on display here, aside from Brees and Rodgers: Jimmy Graham, Jordy Nelson, Marques Colston, Greg Jennings, Darren Sproles and Jermichael Finley.

    For Saints and Packers fans, only one team's fanbase will be cheering after this game. For neutrals, this looks set to be nothing short of spectacular.

Week 5: Aaron Rodgers vs. Andrew Luck

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    Andrew Luck is arguably the most exciting quarterback to be drafted to an NFL team since Peyton Manning. After just three games in a Colts uniform, his fourth will see him face that fellow we just talked about: Aaron Rodgers.

    The two come from different backgrounds, certainly: Rodgers waited patiently behind Brett Favre for his chance to start in a Packers jersey, while Luck will almost certainly take his place under center immediately, starting his Colts career at Soldier Field.

    By this point he'll have come up against Jay Cutler, Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert—although Cutler's a seasoned vet, this is by no stretch a phenomenal crop of players. As a result, his first huge test will arguably come here, as Rodgers and the Pack come to Lucas Oil.

    Although an Indianapolis victory is certainly within the realms of possibility, it's not exactly likely. So expect to see shades of Luck's promise, overshadowed by the offensive juggernaut in green and gold.

Week 5: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady

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    Two future Hall of Famers, two of the greatest players to don an NFL jersey in the 21st century thus far—truly two titans of the National Football League come to blows once more. Peyton Manning comes to Gillette Stadium for the first time as a Bronco in Week 5.

    Both players have a relatively unparalleled resume—Super Bowl wins, Super Bowl MVP awards, league MVP awards abound here. But both will enter the season with something still to prove.

    Brady is undoubtedly one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league and has been for the last decade, but the shadow of two Super Bowl defeats looms over him and the Patriots organization. Failing at the last two attempts to claim the Lombardi Trophy and without the ultimate success for seven years and counting, Brady is only getting older.

    Although surrounded by talent in Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, No. 12 is running out of time to win the Super Bowl for a record-tying fourth time.

    Peyton, now 36, doesn't have time on his side either. In the unique situation of struggling to return to form from a year absent through injury, while learning an entirely new playbook in new surroundings in Denver, Manning's career is in its twilight.  

    One of the most talked-about subplots of this upcoming season will surely be whether Manning can return to that superb form that has made him one of the game's finest signal callers. This game will irrefutably decide whether he has or not, when he comes nose to nose with one of his greatest rivals.

    And then there's the small matter of that postseason drubbing the Broncos received at Gillette back in January, just to throw more coals on the blaze.

    This game will be electric.

Week 9: Cam Newton vs. Robert Griffin III

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    Two of the most exciting young athletes in the National Football League will collide at the FedEx Field in Week 9, when the Washington Redskins entertain Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers.

    Many analysts have already made the comparisons between Newton and Griffin—they're both comfortable running the ball, both can throw with aplomb. Both teams finished last season with similar records, and both are very much looking to their young stars as their franchise quarterback—the man to build around for the next few years.

    Then there is the matter of Newton's remarkable rookie campaign. Breaking records held since Peyton Manning's rookie season—such as becoming the first rookie quarterback to throw for over 400 yards in his NFL regular season debut—Newton earned Pro Bowl recognition at the first attempt.

    Carolina fans are undoubtedly giddy with excitement heading into his sophomore season, and rightly so—their franchise has a talismanic leader who'll delight crowds for years to come should his rookie success continue to grow.

    Although neither team are being touted as Super Bowl candidates just yet, this is still an exciting match up of two electrifying quarterbacks. Give it a few years, and we could be seeing these same teams in an NFC Championship game.

Week 9: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Eli Manning

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    From one NFC East team to another to two young prospects to two veteran signal callers. Week 9 also sees Ben Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers head to MetLife Stadium to take on incumbent Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and his World Champion New York Giants.

    This is a different match-up entirely, for various reasons. Neither Roethlisberger nor Manning are noted for their athleticism or willingness to run the ball. Instead, both are characterized by their leadership on the field and their ability to elongate plays and unwillingness to be sacked.

    Both are multiple Super Bowl champions and their on-field maturity and leadership capabilities reflect this; they could easily be viewed more like field marshals than quarterbacks in how they control their offenses and lead by example.

    This could easily become a defense-heavy match-up, given that a whole host of the league's defensive juggernauts play for either the Giants or the Steelers—Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, to name but five. Yet both teams boast superb offensive talents as well—young wideouts Victor Cruz and Mike Wallace will undoubtedly be looking to make their mark on the game and connect with their quarterback.

    This looks to be a real dogfight, as two quarterbacks, both underrated by some, fight for victory at MetLife Stadium.

Week 9: Andrew Luck vs. Ryan Tannehill

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    In the third Week 9 game featured here, two of the four quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft oppose one another: Andrew Luck's Indianapolis Colts are entertained by Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins.

    While Luck's status as a Colt was arguably confirmed the moment Indianapolis were announced to be in possession of the No. 1 draft pick, Tannehill's path to the NFL has been much more rocky and unlikely.

    Having started at both wide receiver and quarterback at Texas A&M, many draft analysts declared he lacks the experience and smarts to excel at quarterback in the NFL. His rookie season will likely be marked by such a personal battle, to prove to himself, his new team and his critics that he fits in as an NFL quarterback.

    Although neither the Colts nor the Dolphins boast the roster of offensive weapons you might find in a Steelers or Giants uniform, this is still set to be an exciting meeting of young talents in the AFC. Both Luck and Tannehill will be desperate to live up to their preseason expectations—expect this match-up to reflect that.

Week 10: Peyton Manning vs. Cam Newton

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    Peyton Manning spent 13 success-laden seasons playing for the Indianapolis Colts; his name is now arguably synonymous with the franchise, despite his new status as the latest Denver Broncos quarterback.

    And in Week 10, he meets a young man on the field with the capability to bring similar success to, and become synonymous with, the Carolina Panthers—fellow No. 1 pick, Cam Newton.

    There is a little history here; as aforementioned, Newton broke a couple of the records Manning held from his rookie season. Although those records will likely not be on Manning's mind, they still bring a hint of fire to this match-up. Denver, and maybe Carolina, will be fostering playoff aspirations beyond the halfway point of the season, so both of these teams will be desperate to come away from this one victorious.

    This game could easily be viewed as a passing of the torch of sorts. Whether Newton will be viewed as this generation's Peyton is something that will be hotly debated by analysts across the league. Even more so should his Panthers come away from this Week 10 game with the win.  An exciting encounter and one to be missed at your peril.

Week 11: Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady

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    He already faces the incumbent league MVP in Week 5, and now, in Week 11, Andrew Luck and the Colts face Aaron Rodgers' MVP predecessor—Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

    Brady, as previously mentioned, boasts considerable history with the Indianapolis Colts, as one of Peyton Manning's greatest rivals of the last decade. For the first time he faces the Colts with a different man under center.

    By this point, the Patriots will likely either be in control of the AFC East or will know exactly who'll challenge for the division title, especially given their relatively easy schedule. Brady will savor the opportunity to host Luck, who, with a little bit of luck, could well be leading his Colts to a much-improved season than the one they've just experienced.  

    Coming out of a game with Brady's division rivals Miami two weeks previous, the Colts will be desperate to salvage the reputation they had built with Manning under center that was tarnished in the humiliating 2011 season.

    Both Brady's and Luck's talent seems unquestioned. Here, one of the greatest of his generation, and potentially one of the greatest of the next will face off in what could be an excellent quarterback duel. It could be just as exciting as the Manning/Newton game the week previous.

Week 13: Matthew Stafford vs. Andrew Luck

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    And if Rodgers and Brady weren't tough enough...

    Andrew Luck hosts Matthew Stafford and the resurgent Detroit Lions in Week 13.

    Stafford's pedigree before 2011 was very much in question, his young NFL career marred by injuries and inconsistency. With a fully healthy campaign behind him, in which he threw for over 5,000 yards (only the fourth quarterback in NFL history to do so), Stafford firmly entrenched himself as one of the league's brightest stars under center.  

    Although this may have been attributed in part to the excellence of wideout Calvin Johnson, Stafford still broadcast his talents wide and clear to the entire league last year, as the Lions clinched their first playoff berth in 12 seasons.

    Stafford could easily be viewed as a real role model for Luck—both No. 1 picks in the draft, both young quarterbacks leading teams expected to be unsuccessful in their rookie seasons.

    Should Stafford maintain the quality of play he displayed this past season, and should Luck excel in the league in the way so many predict him to do so, this game in Week 13 will be a real shoot out and one of the season's most exciting.

    But, over to you—are there any games I left out that you think would be more exciting and deserve mention? Was your favorite quarterback excluded from these selections? I look forward to your feedback!