For years, the narrative has been simple: "Tom Brady owns Peyton Manning in the playoffs." Of course, it would be more accurate to suggest that Tom Brady's teams own Manning in the playoffs, or that Bill Belichick owns Manning in the playoffs. Regardless of how you say it, though, here's the thing: that narrative is simply not true.
It is a classic case of how the narrative is determined early on and then nothing can change it. It you remember, early in Manning's career the Colts had some ugly playoff losses. They lost at home in 1999 after getting a first round bye and then lost in overtime the following year on the road the Dolphins. Two years later, the Colts lost 41-0 on the road against the New York Jets. Manning's playoff career, then, got off to a very rough start, but in the 2003 NFL playoffs, the Colts put together two impressive wins in a row - first a home blowout of the Broncos (Manning had a perfect passer rating that day) and then a road win over the Chiefs (Manning's passer rating that day was 138.8). It all came crashing down in the AFC Championship game in New England, however, as Manning threw four interceptions in a loss to Brady and the Patriots. The following year, it was the same old story - a wild card win over the Broncos (Manning's passer rating: 145.7) and then a divisional round loss in New England. The narrative very quickly emerged: Manning was a fantastic quarterback who couldn't beat Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots in the postseason (or any time, really).
The problem, however, is that the story doesn't end there, though the narrative may seem to suggest that it does. The Patriots have remained Manning's nemesis, as they are 11-6 against Manning under Belichick. In the regular season, the Patriots are 9-3 against Manning's teams. In the playoffs, however, it's a different story. Despite the two early playoff losses to the Patriots, Manning has turned the narrative around to the point that he now boasts a winning record against Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots in the playoffs.
On Sunday, Manning and the Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 in the AFC title game to advance to the Super Bowl. It was the third time in the last ten seasons that a Peyton Manning-led team has knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs in the AFC Championship game. The first came in the 2006 season, as the Colts hosted New England and mounted an 18-point comeback to win a thriller 38-34 and advance to their first Super Bowl. Several years later, in the 2013 season, Manning's Broncos hosted the Patriots and won 26-16 behind 400 yards passing and two scores from Manning. Then this year, the Broncos hosted the Patriots and won 20-18. This time around it was the defense that led Denver to the victory, but that didn't matter for the narrative back in 2003 and 2004 with Brady.
Peyton Manning is fantastic. Tom Brady is fantastic. Both players are first-ballot Hall of Famers who are two of the all-time greats. Brady's postseason resume dwarfs Manning's and there's no debating that, but don't let that confuse you: Brady doesn't own Manning in the playoffs when we're talking head-to-head meetings. In fact, it has been over a decade since the Patriots beat Peyton Manning (or a Manning in general) in the postseason. Since their win over the Colts on January 16, 2005, the Patriots have gone 0-3 against Peyton Manning (all three in AFC Championship games) and 0-2 against Eli Manning (both in the Super Bowl).
In the end, head-to-head playoff records don't mean much of anything when talking about quarterbacks. But for years the narrative has been that Brady and the Patriots own Manning in the playoffs, and we can definitively say that isn't true and hasn't been for a decade.