In Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — two of the best quarterbacks of their generation — will face off for the 17th time, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl 50. It’s the fifth time the two future Hall of Famers have met in the postseason, and the fourth time they’ve opposed each other in the AFC title game. Here, ten things to know about Sunday’s showdown.
1. Brady’s teams have gotten the best of Manning’s, though they’re even in the playoffs.
Through 16 head-to-head matchups, Brady’s Patriots have won 11 games, while Manning has won five with the Colts and Broncos. The results in the postseason, though, look far better for Manning, who’s won two of the three meetings in the AFC title game. Overall in the playoffs, the two quarterbacks each have two head-to-head victories. (Sports Illustrated compiled a mega box score of all the games between the two, and Brady’s team lead Manning’s 479 points to 392.)
2. Brady-Manning XVII was supposed to happen in November.
The Broncos and Patriots have already played this season, and it was expected that the two quarterbacks would square off in that Week 12 game. But Manning was out with a left-foot injury at the time, and instead Brock Osweiler got the start in a Broncos overtime victory that ended the Patriots’ hopes for an undefeated season.
3. Sunday’s game will make history for the two quarterbacks.
The fifth postseason matchup between Brady and Manning will set a record for the most times two quarterbacks have squared off in a playoff game. At the moment, their four showdowns are tied with three other pairs: Terry Bradshaw and Ken Stabler, Steve Young and Brett Favre, and Tom Brady and Joe Flacco.
4. This could be the last meeting between the two.
Fifteen years after making his NFL debut, Brady is still putting up fantastic numbers. But Manning could be nearing the end of his career: Because of his foot injury, his start last Sunday was his first since November 15, and the 39-year-old showed his age. (Gary Myers, the NFL columnist and author of a book about the Brady-Manning rivalry, wrote after the Broncos beat Pittsburgh that Peyton “was ineffective and looked old for much of Sunday’s game until the Broncos recovered Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fourth-quarter fumble at the Denver 35 with the Steelers up 13-12 and driving.”) The Broncos are scheduled to play the Patriots next season, but some have speculated that Manning may retire after this season is over.
5. The Broncos have been trash-talking Brady …
Denver defensive end Antonio Smith was asked earlier this week if Brady was “a crybaby.” His response?
“That would be an accurate statement. I’ve never seen any quarterback look to the referee right after he gets sacked more than Brady,” Antonio Smith said with a smile. “Every time he gets sacked he looks at the ref like, ‘You see him sack me? Was that supposed to happen? He did it a little hard. Please throw a 15-yard penalty on him. Get him fined.’”
And then, later in the week, defensive end Malik Jackson piled on, calling the Pats’ quarterback “one of those whiners that whines.” Said Brady, when asked if he worked the officials more than other quarterbacks: “I’m not sure. I’m not sure what the other quarterbacks do. If the refs want to throw the flag, I love when they throw the flags on the defenders, absolutely. It advances our team. So that’s just part of football.”
6. … But the two quarterbacks are pretty respectful of each other.
Brady vs. Manning may technically be a rivalry because their teams have met so frequently, but there isn’t a lot of bad blood between the two. Said Manning of Brady this week: “I’ve just got great respect for the way he plays the position.” Said Brady of Manning: “He’s just been an incredible player, incredible leader for his team.”
7. Brady was critical of Manning in an email made public during Deflategate, though.
During a 2014 email exchange with a friend about an article comparing the two quarterbacks, Brady wrote that “I’ve got another 7 or 8 years. He has 2. That’s the final chapter. Game on.” The next day, Brady’s Patriots would rout Manning’s Broncos, 43-21. At the time, Manning was having a fine season, but Brady’s remark about Peyton’s career winding down may turn out to be prescient. (Brady texted Manning to apologize after the email became public as part of the federal Deflategate lawsuit, though Manning called the gesture unnecessary.)
8. Sunday’s best quarterback matchup is actually in the other game.
The NFC’s title game pits the Panthers against the Cardinals, and while Brady and Manning are future Hall of Famers with a long history, Cam Newton versus Carson Palmer is the stronger matchup right now. Newton is having a breakout MVP season, while Palmer had the best campaign of his career for Arizona, finishing with the third-best passer rating in the league.
9. The home team has had success in past Brady-Manning matchups.
The Patriots are favored on the road Sunday, but via ESPN, the home team has won all four of the the postseason meetings between Brady and Manning. There are lots of variables to consider this Sunday, like the fact that Manning is no longer in his prime, but for what it’s worth, there’s been a stark difference between Peyton’s numbers at home and on the road during games against Brady’s Patriots. At home, Manning’s posted a 97.9 passer rating in this admittedly small sample; on the road, it’s 51.5.
10. Brady’s one of the few quarterbacks to consistently beat Manning.
Via Fox Sports, counting both the regular season and playoffs, only three quarterbacks have faced Peyton Manning at least five times with a winning record: Drew Bledsoe, Jay Fiedler, and Brady. Incidentally, only one quarterback has faced Brady at least five times and has a winning record: Peyton’s brother, Eli.