The Brady/Manning Rivalry Is Dead

Tom Brady is a superior quarterback to Peyton Manning right now.

Tom Brady Peyton Manning

Photo via AP

The biggest advantage the Patriots have over the Broncos is at the quarterback position. New England has arguably the best QB in football and Denver might have the worst. Sunday’s AFC Championship is being billed as Brady-Manning XVII, but the truth is, this rivalry died as soon as Peyton Manning started throwing wounded ducks in lieu of actual passes.

The starting point of Manning’s decline is easy to identify. He was enjoying another sensational season in Denver throughout most of the 2014 campaign, but then his performance plummeted in early December. Over the final five games of last season, including the playoffs, Manning threw four touchdown passes, six interceptions, and averaged an 80.0 passer rating. He was 30th in red zone completion percentage as well.

Tom Brady, meanwhile, was playing arguably the best football of his career at the end of 2014. In the 12 contests after the Patriots’ infamous Monday night debacle against the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady completed 66 percent of his passes, threw for 3,318 yards, and had a 103 QB rating. He was sensational during last year’s playoff run, too, posting a 100.3 passer rating and capturing his third Super Bowl MVP.

This season, Manning’s fall has accelerated while Brady has stayed sharp. Manning was only able to play in 10 games due to various injuries, but still managed to throw the second most interceptions in the league (17) and posted the worst quarterback rating among all starters (67.9). It was the antithesis of Brady’s performance, as he led the NFL in touchdown passes.

Though the numbers tell most of the story, the differences between the two all-time greats at this advanced stage of their careers has maybe never been more glaring than it was over the weekend. Brady carried the Patriots in their win over the Chiefs, throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. He was surgically accurate as well, hitting Julian Edelman with a back knee pass and finding an outstretched Rob Gronkowski in the end zone for a first quarter score.

Manning’s afternoon against the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t include any touchdown passes and barely any highlights as well. One of his best throws of the day probably shouldn’t have even counted, considering he gave himself up in the pocket before stumbling back to his feet.

The Broncos ran the ball 33 times Sunday, opting to take the ball out of Manning’s hands as much as possible. Brady, conversely, only handed it off on eight plays and actually ran six times himself.

These two Hall of Fame quarterbacks are in completely different places as they head into the AFC Championship. Brady says he thinks he can play for another decade, whereas Manning seems to be contemplating retirement. Though Manning is only one year older than Brady, their skill levels are currently a worlds apart.

Over the last 15 years, Brady and Manning have engaged in 16 epic duels. Their 17th and likely final matchup shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as their previous encounters.