Jason Whitlock has a point when he calls Brady vs. Manning "inorganic, a ratings-producing TV creation."
"It's not Bird vs. Magic or Chamberlain vs. Russell. Football, with all its variables — three platoons, offense, defense and special teams — does not lend itself to individual rivalries, particularly of men who never take the field at the same time," he writes.
That's true. But for better of worse, we're a society of this or thats, debates, and Top Tens, where there always has to be an ultimate in every field. We're never content just to have a handful of greats. There always has to be a top dog.
Still, it's fair to note that the one season Peyton Manning got past Tom Brady and the Patriots en route to the Super Bowl, Reche Caldwell was Brady's top receiver.
Of course, Brady has the rings, but Manning has the numbers, which Brady also has.
Both have lost their last playoff start; Manning in last year's wild card playoff against San Diego, Brady in the…you know.
Brady hasn't won a Super Bowl in almost five years. Manning hasn't won one in almost three.
Manning has the second-highest passing rating (95.3) in NFL history, but he's first among dome quarterbacks. Brady happens to be fourth on the list, 1.9 points behind Manning, but of course he gets to play in cold, windy, snowy New England. He also had Reche Caldwell one season.
Imagine that the two quarterbacks played for opposite teams, and dream what the results might be. Does Manning lead the Patriots down the field in the final moments of Super Bowl XXXVI? Does Brady look lost in the Foxborough snow for the Colts in the AFC title game? You also have to consider the monumental factor that Bill Belichick has had on Brady's career. Is Brady the Brady we know with Tony Dungy as his head coach? Is he even drafted?
It's a useless debate, sort of like dedicating a TV show to imagining Grady left Pedro in the game. Now that was "inorganic, a ratings-producing TV creation."
Sunday night is just a damned good football game with the two best quarterbacks of the decade, and it just so happens to be on TV. Nothing inert about that.
Who they're picking
Our roundup of picks for this week's Patriots-Colts game:
Mike Chappell, Indianapolis Star: Colts 30, Patriots 27. "Look for Bill Belichick to take away one of Manning's prime options -- that would be tight end Dallas Clark -- and make him look elsewhere. And look for the Colts defense to make just enough plays and get just enough pressure on Tom Brady." Phil Richards, Indianapolis Star: Colts 27, Patriots 24. "The Patriots have protected well, but Colts ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be the best pass rushers on the field and the difference makers. Sure, the Colts secondary is ravaged by injury. At this point a year ago, they were starting Keiwan Ratliff and Tim Jennings at cornerback and using safety Melvin Bullitt as their nickel. Don't sell short the Colts' resourcefulness." Phillip B. Wilson, Indianapolis Star: Colts 27, Patriots 24. "The Patriots line is banged up. The Colts are statistically better at rushing the passer. If the Colts get to Brady more, they win, or vice versa if the Patriots rattle Manning more. Beyond that, it's so close to call. When in doubt, go with the home team." Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star: Patriots 28, Colts 24. "If the Colts were a little bit healthier and deeper in their secondary, they'd be my pick. But I saw storm clouds gathering in those final 21/2 quarters against Houston. For Indy to win, they'd better turn every red zone trip into a touchdown. Just sayin'."
- Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Colts 38, Patriots 34. "All other Game of Week contenders curtsy in we're-not-worthy genuflecting as unbeaten Peyton Manning and way-hot Tom Brady prepare to duel in prime-time in a likely AFC Championship Game preview. Bonus: These are decade's two most winning franchises (Colts 109 W's, Pats 108). Think English might actually be a slightly better team at moment, but Colts know how to beat them (4-1 series run since 2005). That and venue (Horseshoes have won 10 straight home games) shape the pick, although it's a nervous one. Brady coming out smiling would not surprise the littlest bit. I'd have said Belichick, but even winning can't crowbar a smile outta THAT guy."
- ESPN.com staff: Split down the middle.
- Globe Staff picks: Patriots across the board.
- Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 30, Colts 26. "This game will be everything NBC's Dick Ebersol could have hoped -- a showdown between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning with both running games stinking it up, Peyton with the ball in his hands inside the two-minute warning with a chance to win it ??? and ??? and ??? well, I can't spoil all the suspense now, can I? But let's just say I think Brandon Meriweather is going to make a play that'll have Andrea Kremer interviewing him alongside Brady after the game."
- Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Colts 35, Patriots 30. "The game of the week features the two best quarterbacks in football: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Does it get any better? Those two will play well, so the deciding factor is which defense makes the big plays. At home, I look for the banged-up Indy defense to do it. Colts win."
- CBS Sports staff: Two out of six pick the Patriots vs. the 2.5-point spread.
- Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 23, Colts 20. "Defensively, the Patriots should focus on taking away tight end Dallas Clark with two inside linebackers and two safeties. Manning loves to throw to Clark in key situations, especially to move the chains. Once they watch the middle of the field, they need to give wideout Reggie Wayne some tough, physical coverage on the outside."
- Peter Schrager, FoxSports.com: Colts 31, Patriots 30. "Thought the Brett Favre media hype was a bit much two weeks ago? You ain't seen nothin' yet. Here comes everybody's favorite mid-November matchup and it shouldn't disappoint. The Colts have won a franchise-record 17 consecutive regular-season games and can tie the 2003-04 Patriots (18) for the second-longest such streak in NFL history. I think they do the job. Look for this one to come down to the final possession and for Mr. Manning to get the best of Brady and Belichick with 0:01 on the clock. Giddy up."
- USA Today staff: Seven out of eight go with the Patriots.
- Pete O’Brien, USA Today: Patriots 24, Colts 21. "Credit the Colts for plugging numerous holes this season, but the dam's got to break sometime. The Patriots are the Upset Special."
- Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times: Patriots 17, Colts 14. "If the Colts have a vulnerability, it's their rookie corners. With a healthy Wes Welker in the slot and Randy Moss to stretch the field, Tom Brady should take advantage."
- Yahoo! sports staff: Patriots across the board.
- Our pick: Patriots 29, Colts 27. Colts kicker Matt Stover misses a 48-yard field goal in the game's waning seconds. Injured Adam Vinatieri looks on from the sideline and sighs.