Next Sunday, the New England Patriots visit the Denver Broncos for the right to play in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California.
Of course, much of this week’s narrative will revolve around Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s 17th meeting.
Throughout the course of their rivalry, most of the discussion centered on who was better. Brady and his Super Bowl rings or Manning and his cavalcade of statistical accomplishments?
As we enter the 17th and quite possibly, the final chapter, the narrative has and should change. No longer is Brady versus Manning a realistic argument. Even his four Super Bowl rings aside, Brady’s star and skill seemingly has surpassed Manning.
Meanwhile, the latter is being propped up by the game’s best defense and a competent rushing attack in the twilight of his career.
Alas, this meeting will be far different. It’s unlikely we’ll see anything resembling the epic 2006 AFC title game or their great regular season tilts over the past decade.
Instead of seeing the Star Wars version of Manning, we will see a guy who has to scratch and claw for every yard on every pass. I’m not saying he’s washed up but it is far more serious discussion than not.
Following Sunday night’s Broncos victory over Pittsburgh, NFL Network’s Chris Rose repeatedly asked if playing Manning against the Patriots was a good idea considering his skillset at this point. While Rose’s point to replace Manning with Brock Osweiler is ridiculous under the circumstances, it illustrates how far Manning’s on-the-field star has fallen.
The ultimate star of next week’s game will be the defense that is able to shine brightest in the face of pressure; and force a mistake that will put their team into the Super Bowl.
The quarterbacks will get all the shine ultimately, but the defenses will be the biggest bread winner next Sunday.