published Monday, January 13th, 2014

Wiedmer: Another Manning-Brady showdown

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) passes against the San Diego Chargers in their NFL AFC division playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Denver.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) passes against the San Diego Chargers in their NFL AFC division playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Denver.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

With apologies to any spouse who wants his or her NFL-addicted other half to get off the couch between 3 and 10 p.m. this Sunday, this is one time to forgive. Better yet, join the fun.

None of this gibberish about needing to be more well-rounded. The trash and the small talk can wait. The song of the week is Carly Simon's ode to ketchup -- "Anticipation."

That's because Sunday is the day of the conference championship games and thanks to the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots of the AFC and the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks of the NFC, this has the potential to be about as good a day as American sports gets.

The obvious pairing is New England at Denver, which is actually Tom Brady at Peyton Manning in one of those showdowns that has become as electrifying as Bird-Magic, Palmer-Nicklaus, Russell-Chamberlain, Federer-Nadal.

And Sunday morning news that the 37-year-old Manning's surgically repaired neck is up for re-evaluation after this season gives one pause to wonder if this is the last time we'll see this pairing.

So let Peyton win to reach a third Super Bowl and possibly go on to claim a second Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champ and serious talk will begin about Manning possibly being the best ever, better than Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Dan Marino, though Danny M's arguments pretty much hinge on stats rather than trophies.

On the other hand, should Brady guide these broken down Pats to yet another Super Bowl and he'll almost certainly become known as the best quarterback of his generation, not unlike Montana in his ability to raise his game when it matters most.

Naturally, all arguments for Brady should include the fact that he plays for Bill Belichick, who is once again looking like the smartest guy in any NFL room after the way New England dismantled Indianapolis on Saturday.

If former Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr is somehow diminished in "Best Ever" arguments because he played under the unmatched Vince Lombardi, perhaps Brady should carry a similar asterisk, for as good as Tommy Touchdown's been, his coach's spot among the top four of the past 75 years -- Lombardi, Pittsburgh's Chuck Noll and San Fran's Bill Walsh -- would seem similarly secure.

But the reality is that however fair or unfair this may be, how Manning performs on Sunday against Belichick and Brady's Pats may carry an inordinate amount of weight regarding his permanent legacy. Especially after that lost weekend in New England in late November, when the Pats rallied from a 24-0 hole against the Broncos to win in overtime.

Manning wasn't awful that night, but it solidified the argument in some minds that he can't perform in cold weather, which should keep all of Colorado glued to the Weather Channel this week.

An irony about the Brady-Manning comparison: If Wes Welker drops another potential touchdown pass as he did in the Broncos' Sunday win over San Diego, he'll have a hand in watering down both quarterbacks' resumes, since his drop of a Brady pass against the Giants in the Super Bowl a few years ago is the only reason Brady isn't already up there with Montana for the coolest cat under pressure ever.

An example of Manning's magic that may not get the credit it deserves: His hard counts drew five neutral zone infractions against the Chargers defense, which were the most drawn by a team in a single game since 2001. When it comes to small details, Peyton has no equal. And his 21-yard completion on 3rd-and-17 late in the fourth quarter against the Chargers wasn't bad, either.

But San Fran's Sunday night trip to Seattle for the NFC crown could equal if not surpass Patriots-Broncos in their third meeting of the year. Though the Seahawks routed the visiting 49ers 29-3 in September, San Fran won the rematch 19-17 in December. Given that San Fran has already won twice away from home this postseason at both Green Bay and Carolina, it seems likely they'll handle Coffee City much better this time around.

And while we're on the subject of coaches, the Niners' Jim Harbaugh is coaching in his third NFC title game in his third season on the job. He lost the NFC title game his first year, won it last year then lost the Super Bowl. If his steady climb continues, this is the year he wins it all.

But regardless of who wins the NFC, the Super Bowl storyline will be about the AFC champ's quarterback, whether it be Brady or Manning.

"It's the Broncos versus the Patriots," Manning said after the Chargers game when asked about another duel with Brady, who leads Peyton 9-4 head-to-head overall and 2-1 in postseason showdowns. "When you get to the AFC Championship, it's about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there."

Dream on, Peyton. Dream on.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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