The four best teams in the NFL are playing this weekend and I can’t wait. When my editors and I started emailing about potential topics for this week’s Cheat Sheet, ideas were batted around that made a whole lot of sense. What makes Larry Fitzgerald so special? Are Brady and Belichick the best QB/coach combo ever? Just how much does Carolina running back Mike Tolbert really weigh?
But Tom Brady and Peyton Manning just felt right, yet what can be said that hasn’t been written a million times already? Well, I’d start by saying I was more impressed with how Manning managed his divisional-round playoff win, played within his own physical limitations, and let his defense — not his arm — lead the way last Sunday over the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’d then go a different route and say that if I was most impressed with Manning’s intelligence and restraint, I was even more impressed with Brady’s physicality and arm strength. Here he was, at 38, scrambling like a college kid and throwing darts.
So much to say, but I wasn’t satisfied. So I emailed FOX Sports stats guru Steve Owens and said, "Forget the game. Give me the series. I want all the nuggets. All the inane facts. 16 games. Let’s give the readers something they don’t know."
And with that, on the week of Brady-Manning XVII, here are 17 things to know about the Brady-Manning series.
1. Only 5 players have ever caught passes from both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Torrance Small. Austin Collie. Jermaine Wiggins. Wes Welker. Dan Klecko. I love Klecko. Here he is a few weeks ago, before Jets-Patriots, introducing his two sons to his former Patriots teammate:
There’s only one player to catch a touchdown pass from both Manning and Brady: Wes Welker.
2. Though the narrative all week has been that Brady and the Patriots own Manning, the last time Tom Brady beat Peyton Manning in a playoff game was way back on Jan. 16, 2005, in the divisional round in New England. That game, Corey Dillon ran the ball for 144 yards and Mike Vanderjagt scored the Colts’ only points in a 20-3 Patriots win.
3. Sunday will be the fifth playoff meeting between Brady and Manning, the most head-to-head meetings by two starting quarterbacks in playoff history. The next most frequent recurring matchups each happened four times, and were Terry Bradshaw vs. Ken Stabler, Steve Young vs. Brett Favre and Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco.
4. Sunday will mark the fourth time the two players will face off in a championship game. That’s the most in the Super Bowl era. Each has happened three times, and here they are: Terry Bradshaw vs. Ken Stabler (1974, 1975, 1976); Bernie Kosar vs. John Elway (1986, 1987, 1989); Steve Young vs. Troy Aikman (1992, 1993, 1994).
5. Manning-Brady XVII is cool and all, but it’s still four games shy of Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. Kelly won 14-of-21 meetings and was undefeated against Marino in the playoffs. Alas, neither Hall of Fame quarterback ever won a Super Bowl ring. One caveat? They played in the same division their entire careers.
6. Back to that Manning game-manager thing. Here’s one to ponder — Brady has more touchdown passes in Denver this season than Peyton Manning. Brady threw for three touchdowns in the Patriots’ Week 12 meeting. Manning has only one touchdown in the six games he’s played at home this season, including playoffs.
7. Brady and Manning have combined for 55 career postseason starts, the most of any opposing starting players — regardless of position — in a playoff game. They will pass last year’s matchup when Brady faced Peyton’s old target (and Patriot for a summertime cup of coffee) Reggie Wayne.
8. Including the postseason, only three quarterbacks have faced Peyton Manning at least five times and have a winning record — Brady, Drew Bledsoe and Jay Fiedler.
9. Only one quarterback in NFL history has faced Brady five times and has a winning record — Peyton’s brother, Eli Manning (3-2).
10. Only 12 players in NFL history have career winning records against Brady. Eli Manning is one, the others are Drew Brees, Jake Plummer, Kyle Orton, Brian Griese, Patrick Ramsey, Colt McCoy, Kevin Kolb, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Brock Osweiler.
11. Peyton Manning, 39, is the second-oldest quarterback to ever start a playoff game — behind only Brett Favre, who was 40 in the 2010 playoffs.
12. Manning will be the first quarterback to start a conference championship game after throwing fewer than 10 touchdown passes in the regular season since Jeff Hostetler in the 1991 playoffs (Hostetler backed up Phil Simms for the bulk of the 1990 regular season).
13. Aside from Manning and Hostetler, only five quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era started in conference championship games with fewer than 10 touchdown passes in the regular season. Those names: Bart Starr (9 in 1967), Len Dawson (9 in 1969), Terry Bradshaw (7 in 1974), Vince Ferragamo (5 in 1979) and David Woodley (5 in 1982).
14. Tom Brady has lost six career games in Denver (2-6 record including the postseason). The only visiting city that he’s lost more games in is Miami (eight). His .250 winning percentage in Denver is his worst of any city in the NFL that he’s played in more than once.
15. Brady has only lost in the same road stadium twice in the same season on one occasion — that was the 2005 season when he lost a pair in Denver (one in regular season, one in playoffs). The Broncos can do it again with a win on Sunday.
16. Peyton Manning has lost to Bill Belichick 12 times. Only one other coach has beaten Manning more than five times. That man? Jeff Fisher, with seven wins over Manning.
17. When Manning and Brady squared off for the first time in 2001, there were five quarterbacks on NFL rosters over the age of 37. How’s this list? Mark Rypien, Doug Flutie, Randall Cunningham, Vinny Testaverde and . . . Jim Harbaugh.
There you go — 17 amazing facts. Toss those around at the water cooler. Thanks again to Steve Owens, FOX researcher extraordinaire and a Manning-Brady historian to the highest order.
Now, on to my picks.
New England at Denver: Well, this is it. I took New England to win the Super Bowl before the season, haven’t picked against them all year, and think a healthy Gronkowski and Edelman make them an awfully tough team to beat. Remember, for as much success as Denver had against the Patriots the first time the two teams played, neither Julian Edelman nor Danny Amendola suited up for the game. All that understood, and yet I find myself leaning toward Denver on Sunday. Manning isn’t what he once was. But this version — the one we saw last week — may be good enough to win this weekend. With the turnovers kept to a minimum, Manning found a way to take a back seat to the defense and let Wade Phillips’ unit control the game. This isn’t a Gary Kubiak over Bill Belichick pick, and it’s not a Manning over Brady. It’s a Wade Phillips pick. I’m taking the Broncos, the home field and a No. 1-ranked defense that has had all the answers all season long.
The Pick: Broncos 19, Patriots 17
Arizona at Carolina: I’ve loved watching both these teams all season and believe this is the Game of the Year to this point, with the winner going on to win the Super Bowl. Now that that’s out of the way — I have to pick one team. And I feel like we saw the worst of both teams at different points of last weekend’s games. I’m confident that both teams have gotten those low moments out of them (Carolina in the second half last Sunday; Arizona’s start-and-go offense at points on Saturday), and Arizona is too fast and too agile on the outside for Carolina. Yes, the weather may be bad, and sure, this game could be determined in the trenches. But watching both of the divisional-round games back this week, I just don’t see how the back of Carolina’s defense can handle Arizona’s wide receivers and the Cardinals’ deep game. Furthermore, I like Arizona’s defense against Carolina’s power offense. This will be a game for the ages and a true classic. But this Arizona dream season isn’t ending Sunday. Arizona wins on a game-winning field goal as the clock expires. On to the Super Bowl.