[[nid:100653]]Sunday’s AFC Championship in Denver features arguably two of the best quarterbacks of all time.
The Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has won the Super Bowl once and been named the NFL’s MVP a record four times. Meanwhile the New England’s signal-caller Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings and league MVP honors twice.
Sunday’s game will decide whether Manning or Brady advances to the Super Bowl this year.
"They love this moment," Phillip B. Wilson, sports columnist for the Indianpolis Star, said. “They will both embrace this moment. It’s like a part of history. You can throw in comparisons like Ali and Frasier. You have to have a nemesis that is worthy. A rival that can make you raise your game higher than maybe you think you can."
Origins of epic rivalry
Wilson witnessed the first time Manning and Brady met on the field in 2001.
Brady started the game because of an injury to Drew Bledsoe and the Colts were 2-0 and the favorites.
But Brady avoided mistakes, made just enough plays and the Patriots intercepted Manning three times, returning two of the picks for touchdowns. New England won 44-13.
"I saw Tom Brady arrive," Wilson reflected.
The Patriots have been as good as any team in shutting down Manning.
Wilson said Manning is like a coach on the field, calling all of the plays at the line of scrimmage after reading how the defense is lined up.
To counter that, New England head coach Bill Belichick, regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the game, began disguising his defensive formations as much as possible before the snap to confuse Manning.
At a news conference Wednesday, Manning praised Belichick.
"Coach Belichick is the best coach I’ve ever competed against," Manning said. "I think it’s safe to say he'll go down as the greatest NFL coach of all time."
New England has beaten Manning four out of the last six times they've met on the field including a game during the regular season.
Manning's biggest victory against the Patriots came in the AFC Championship Game in 2006. The Colts trailed 21-3 at halftime before storming back to win 38-34. Manning and the Colts then went on to beat Chicago in the Super Bowl.
"That was Peyton Manning's finest moment," Wilson said.
This Sunday, Wilson expects the Patriots to turn to their renewed running game to keep Manning off the field as much as possible.
But Wilson thinks Manning and the Broncos will win.
"I think Peyton has as good of weapons around him as he's ever had," Wilson said. "And the Patriots defense is not as good as the ones he's faced in the past."
If the Broncos do beat the Patriots, Wilson said it's a tossup whether Denver will win the Super Bowl two weeks later.
Wilson said both San Francisco and Seattle from the NFC boast stout defenses, two of the best in the league.
Manning and the Broncos, according to Wilson, can beat either team but only if Manning is patient and doesn't press or try to do too much.
Another wildcard is the location of the game: The Super Bowl will be played this year in New Jersey and Wilson said cold, windy weather could affect Manning's passing ability.
"Peyton Manning in New Jersey in February is a 50-50 proposition," Wilson said.