LOL. I actually posted this same question several days ago.
On the other hand ... isn't this really what fantasy football is all about? Suspend your disbelief, dear reader, and imagine a ubiquitous Brady shilling on television for cars and pizza, while Manning lounges at home with his supermodel wife -- because she makes more than he does.
Let's mull these mind-melting possibilities:
If Manning had spent his career with the Patriots, would Bill Belichick be considered the towering genius he is today? Or might he have five Super Bowl rings as a head coach? Some among our experts insist the answers are no -- and yes.
If Polian and the Colts had gotten Brady with the 199th pick of the 2000 draft, would Brady be destined to finish as the most prolific quarterback of all time, somewhere well past Brett Favre? Yes, a number of our experts believe.
Most important, what would the bottom-line championship count be? Would Manning have locked down those three Super Bowls for New England? Would he have achieved a different result against younger brother Eli in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI? Would Brady's tenure in Indianapolis have produced more than one title? There is a sharp division in this category.
NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, who has three Super Bowl rings from his 23 years working in Washington's front office, thinks that Manning -- who has a famously spotty 10-11 playoff record -- has sometimes been a victim of his own spectacular ability.
THE PEYTON MANNING IMPERSONATOR
Damon Huard was half hoping to get a call from Bill Belichick earlier this week.
He's 40 years old and has been out of football for four seasons now, but in the week leading up to the 2003 AFC Championship Game, his scout-team performance as Peyton Manning, complete with frantic hand-waving and all those spirited audibles, was spot on. After the game, which the Patriots won 24-14, Belichick honored his backup quarterback with a game ball.
"I didn't even play in the game," said Huard, now the chief administrative officer for the University of Washington football program. "He told the team, 'Hey, Damon played Peyton Manning better in practice than Peyton played in the game.'"
Huard, as it turned out, was on the opposite sideline when Manning started his first game for the Colts in 1998, and the ninth, too. Both were Indianapolis losses to the Miami Dolphins.
"Right away, you knew he was going to be the man," Huard said. "He threw a lot of interceptions as a rookie but had an incredible command."
After his time with the Dolphins, Huard played three seasons behind Brady in New England, where he won two Super Bowl rings.
"I had never been around someone as competitive as him," Huard said of Brady. "Whether it was blackjack on the airplane, backgammon in the locker room or pickup basketball. The guy was ferocious; he would get pissed if things didn't go his way. And I never saw a young player better at building relationships with veterans. He was a special leader of men. You're talking about two of the top three quarterbacks, with my man Dan [Marino], in the history of the game."
Sure, but what if they had each played with the other's organization?
"Man, I hate dealing with the hypotheticals," Huard said. "But I think Peyton puts up massive numbers no matter where he is. Gosh, we've seen that he's not the greatest cold-weather guy, so do we win the "Tuck Rule" game? Not sure.
"When we won that first Super Bowl, we did it with the worst rankings ever for offense and defense. It was the ultimate team victory. At the end of the day, the two guys went in different directions. If they had switched places, we can never know exactly what might have happened."
-- Greg Garber
"Peyton's unique," Casserly said. "He's usually flawless at executing, OK? But the Achilles' heel he faces comes in playoffs. My feeling is that too many times it comes down to Peyton to make the right read and the receiver to make the right cut. It's tough when you're in the playoffs and you are slicing it that fine.
"There's been too much on Peyton's plate, too much responsibility. Brady never had that kind of pressure in New England. He always had a defense and a running game to support him."
In other words, Manning would have done just fine in New England.
Polian, who ran the Colts from 1997-2011 and is now an ESPN analyst, made the ultimate decision to draft Manning.
"Teams win football games, not individuals," Polian said. "The Brady teams that won the Super Bowl were the preeminent teams of the era. Hard as it is for me to admit it, they were just better than we were.
"The Patriots are decimated on defense, but week in and week out they have the best game-specific plan of attack. Under Belichick, they are the best-prepared team in the league. That might have more to do with the final outcome than who the quarterbacks are."
Tom Manning? Peyton Brady?
What if it had been Tom roughhousing with his brothers, Cooper and Eli, in the front yard of the Manning's grand yellow house in the Garden District on New Orleans? What if Tom had received the DNA of a gifted NFL quarterback and gone to Tennessee instead of Michigan? Would he have developed into the No. 1 overall pick?
How would it have gone if Peyton was a Bay Area kid, weaned on Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers? If he'd scuffled and strained at every level to develop a football IQ? Been drafted after such legendary players as Hofstra's Giovanni Carmazzi and Southwest Texas State's Spergon Wynn? Would he have developed the fierce fury to prove everyone in the NFL wrong?
Cornerback Ty Law was a Brady teammate for five years and finished his career with nine interceptions of Manning, the most by any player.
"In the beginning, we weren't expecting Tom to play well," Law explained. "The defense just told him, 'We got this. Just don't turn the damn ball over.' I think if Tom's on the other side, we would have shown him what defense was.
"Peyton would have more support on our team and that would have leveled the playing field. We had so many leaders, particularly on defense. Tom didn't have that pressure to lead. On our team, Peyton would have relaxed a little bit more.
"What drove Tom was being the forgotten guy, and that's why he approaches the game the way he does. When we need one play and you ask me, 'Who do you want to have the ball?' for me, Tom has the edge."
Through the miracle of cinematic license, imagine that the Patriots hooked up with Manning in 1998 and the Colts took Brady two years later.
"Well, I do know they would be facing each other in this championship game," said Herm Edwards, an ESPN analyst and former Jets and Chiefs head coach. "Both of these guys have the ability to elevate their teams, get them to the playoffs time after time.
"It's who you got around you. I say Peyton wins those three Super Bowls in New England."
Some of our experts, at the very least, agree.
A shared work ethic
Under Belichick, the Patriots have always tooled their offense to fit its particular parts. With a terrific defense, Brady didn't have to throw as much. When that defense deteriorated, he compensated in 2007 by setting a league record with 50 touchdown passes, breaking Manning's single-season mark at the time by one. Then, the Patriots featured Moss and Welker. Now, Brady's back to handing the ball off, to LeGarrette Blount.
Manning has always been a passer first. As a rookie, he threw for 3,739 yards and set a rookie record (since tied by Russell Wilson) with 26 touchdowns. It is worth noting that the seasons the Patriots won their second and third Super Bowls, 2003 and 2004, Manning was the league MVP. This year, Manning reclaimed the touchdown record with 55 and likely will wind up with all the important career passing marks; Brady, by a wide margin, should finish with the best winning percentage ever by a quarterback.
In the comfort of the Belichick cocoon, Brady won each of his first 10 playoff games, but he is 8-7 since. Manning started 3-6 and has gone 7-5 since. If Manning had been a Patriot, would early success have created a different postseason mindset? Would he have thrown those four interceptions if he had been playing against the Colts instead of for them in the 2003 AFC title game? With that database of confidence, could Manning have found a way to beat the New York Giants in one or both of those Super Bowl losses?
"Wait, I know the answer to this," said Doug Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner. "All the people in New England would hate Tom Brady, and all the people in Indy would hate Peyton Manning. All by itself, that would be kind of weird."
HEAD TO HEAD: BY THE NUMBERS
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have faced off 14 times in their careers. Would these head-to-head numbers be reversed if they'd traded places?
BradyManning -- ESPN Stats & InformationWins 10 4 Team PPG 30.0 24.6 Comp pct. 67.1 61.8 Yds/att. 7.4 7.1 Pass YPG 243.1 283.6 TD-INT 26-12 29-20 Sacks 22 28
Then he laughed. Flutie played professional football for 21 years and finished his career with the 2005 Patriots.
"Bill always had a knack for getting there," Flutie said of Belichick. "Maybe he would have gotten there with Peyton. Maybe."
Off the record, anyway, most of our experts chose sides.
"Peyton the Patriot gets five Super Bowls rings," said one particularly emphatic participant. "Four at the worst, six at best. Brady maybe doesn't get any without Belichick." "Wrong," said another. "Brady doesn't throw four picks in the 2003 championship game. The Colts win with him in there. Give them both two rings. Hey, maybe Brady gets three if he beats the Saints in the Super Bowl."
One panel member wondered, "What's the count right now, Brady three, Manning one? I'd say it would be exactly the opposite."
"If they'd switched," said Dick Vermeil, who coached the Eagles and Rams to the Super Bowl, "you might have seen a couple of 19-0 seasons."
He wouldn't say if he was referring to a Manning-led Patriots team or the Colts with Brady.
Newsome, who opened this piece and had a Hall of Fame player career in Cleveland, thinks it would be a wash.
"Nothing would change," he said. "They are who they are."
The last word goes to Polian, the architect of those great Colts teams.
"When you think about it," Polian said, "it's almost as though the two quarterbacks cancel each other out. They [the Patriots] were ascendant when they won their three. We [the Colts] were ascendant when we won our one. Not sure there would be any difference at all."