When talking about the best rivalries in sports a lot of matchups come to mind. Celtics vs Lakers. Red Sox vs Yankees. Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson in golf. Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal in Tennis. The list goes on and on. When it comes to NFL quarterbacks there is one that sticks out for everyone – Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning.
It’s crazy to see how different the beginning of Brady’s and Manning’s career was. Manning was a highly touted prospect and was drafted first overall in the 1998 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He was pegged to be a franchise quarterback from day one.
Tom Brady had quite the different path. He was drafted in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. I want to add in that the Patriots already had then-franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe. It wasn’t even a guarantee that Brady would make the team out of camp until Bledsoe got injured.
For the first couple of years Brady sat behind Bledsoe while Manning gained valuable NFL experience as the Colts’ signal caller. Peyton’s rookie season saw him go 3-13 and then the following season he flipped that record around. That’s right, he jumped ten wins in a year to catapult the Colts to a 13-3 record in year two.
Brady vs Manning
Brady finally got his shot to start in 2001 and so began the Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning saga. We all know the story that comes after. Tom goes on to win three Superbowls in his first four seasons as a started, beating down Manning twice en route to two of his rings.
It was a bit of a struggle for Peyton Manning in the early 2000s as he couldn’t find a way to get over the hump and challenge for a Superbowl title. Through the 2005 NFL playoffs, he had a 3-6 playoff record with a single AFC Championship appearance. Meanwhile, Brady had accumulated a 10-1 playoff record and three Superbowl championships. It looks like the Brady vs Manning battle was a blowout.
Manning makes a comeback
Cue the turning point. The 2006 AFC Championship game in Indianapolis and the Patriots are in town trying to knock down Peyton once again in a playoff bout. After rushing out to a 21-3 deficit, Manning and the Colts stormed back to steal the AFC title with a thrilling 38-34. The game winning drive was magnificent. Manning went 3/4 for 57 yards passing and marched his team 80 yards downfield in 75 seconds. Incredible. The Colts would go on to beat the Chicago Bears in Superbowl XLI.
For the next six years, both Brady and Manning would reach the Superbowl again, but neither could take home the trophy. Those were some of the best statistical years for both Brady and Manning too.
Brady vs Manning down the stretch
After a seven-year hiatus, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning finally met in another AFC Championship. Two of the best in the business with already storybook careers at that point were finally back to face one another. Manning was part of a new team at this point, the Denver Broncos after leaving the Colts in 2011. He also broke the record for most touchdown passes in a season that year with his new Broncos squad. Manning would top Brady in that game 26-16 but lose to the Seattle Seahawks in the Superbowl two weeks later.
The final time the two future-hall-of-famers met was two years later in yet another AFC Championship game. It was another home game for Peyton and the Broncos and they held on a Patriot fury at the end of the game to record his third straight championship game victory over Brady and the Patriots. This marked the end of an era. A great finish to an illustrious battle between the two best to ever do it.
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Inside the Numbers
Tom Brady holds the overall edge in terms of wins in the Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning rivalry. He was 11-6 against Manning throughout his career. But hold the phone – Manning was 6-5 in his last 11 starts against Brady, including a 3-1 overall record in AFC Championships, which is the biggest game these two could have played since they were both AFC quarterbacks during their rivalry. This shows that Manning may have finally proved that he had the clutch gene all along.
Both Brady and Manning knew how important it is to secure a top playoff seed for the NFL playoffs. During the final seven years of Manning’s career, the top seed in the AFC playoffs was either his team or Brady’s. Of those seven years, the AFC was represented in the Superbowl by either a Manning-led team or a Brady-led team five times! Wow, that’s a pretty solid shooting percentage. The last four years of the rivalry (2012-2015) saw Peyton’s Broncos and Tom’s Patriots be the top two seeds in the AFC. They were both the 1 and 2 seeds twice in the four final years.
Another interesting piece of this rivalry was the home-field advantage. Of the 17 games between the two famous signal-callers, the home team came away victorious 12 times. You know what is even more interesting? The home team won the last seven matchups dating back to 2009.
Although Tom Brady’s career is still going on, he currently ranks second for most passing yards in NFL history. Manning is right behind him at number 3. What about passing touchdowns? Brady at 2 and Manning at 3 once again. Active New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is number one in both categories.
Tom Brady not done yet
As I’m sure you know, Tom Brady isn’t ready to hang up the cleats while Peyton did four years ago. Brady credits his off the field nutrition and workout program to his longevity in the brutal game of football.
He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 2020 NFL season and joins a standout cast of receivers. Both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans have proven to be game breakers for the Bucs without Brady. So, what happens with him? Well, let’s just say that they might’ve snuck right into the conversation of Superbowl Contenders for 2020.