For the 17th and perhaps final time, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will face off. It will be the fourth time the two have met with the Super Bowl on the line, and the winner of next week's Broncos vs. Patriots game will advance to Super Bowl 50. You couldn't really write it any better than that.
It wasn't pretty, but the Broncos came up with a key turnover and mounted a scoring drive when they desperately needed it late in the fourth quarter to defeat the Steelers 23-16. Manning was 21 of 37 (with a number of drops) for 222 yards, and while those numbers aren't anything special, he didn't turn the football over, instead keeping the Broncos in the game long enough to come away with a key score late. He did better than I expected, however, and you probably can't ask for much more from him at this point in his career.
The Patriots defeated the Chiefs on Saturday 27-20, though in a different format. While the Broncos' win was an ugly, hard-fought one, the Patriots controlled the game for much of the game. Brady completed 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Patriots advance to their fifth straight AFC title game.
Let's be very clear that the game is between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, as head-to-head quarterback matchups or quarterback win/loss records can get way overblown. But at the same time, it'll be great to see one of the truly great rivalries in NFL history for one last time. Manning hasn't yet said anything publicly about his future, but many are expecting this to be his final run. So while we missed out on a Manning vs. Brady matchup in the regular season (Brock Osweiler started for Denver), we'll get one final one in the AFC title game.
The two quarterbacks have met 16 times before in their career, including four in the postseason. This will be the fourth AFC Championship matchup between their two teams, with Manning's teams holding a 2-1 advantage. The Colts lost to the Patriots in New England in 2003 24-14 as the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl, and the Colts won the 2006 game in comeback fashion 38-34 to advance. Both teams went on to win the Super Bowl after those respective wins. Then, years later, Manning's Broncos defeated the Patriots at home 26-16, though they went on to lose the Super Bowl. Manning's teams are 2-1 in those games, while the home team has won all three times. The Broncos will host the game next weekend.
Nobody knows how the game will turn out, but it's safe to say that Manning is nowhere near where he one was. So the Patriots will be favored in this game and rightfully so, but regardless of your opinions about Manning, Brady, the Broncos, or the Patriots, you have to appreciate the matchup We are truly watching history with this rivalry, and we'll get to see it one last time with the Super Bowl on the line. Regardless of how it turns out, it's a very fitting matchup in what could be Peyton Manning's final season.