Yes, we can all agree that Peyton Manning has faced a fair amount of “good” quarterbacks this season as a Bronco. Big Ben Roethlisberger came to town with the Steelers and was embarrassed at Mile High. Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub then turned the tables on Manning, handing him a pair of losses. Neither quarterback can be considered a pushover by any means, but they are a far cry from the top of the quarterback ranks. Week 4 did bring Manning and the Broncos a fairy-tale-win over the Raiders in a 37-6 rout, the biggest victory-margin in more than 50 years of the storied rivalry. But let’s face it, Carson Palmer isn’t exactly the most impressive quarterback in the league right now.
This week brings a wind of change. Manning no longer has time to break in his new offensive unit against some “pretty good” teams. No, this is big-boy football now. The Broncos will travel to the east coast to visit Tom Brady and the big, bad Patriots, last season’s runners-up in the Super Bowl. Yes, I know, these Patriots have struggled early in the season, but what team hasn’t? They still have the same Aaron Hernandez who burned the Broncos twice last season, the always-dangerous Rob Gronkowski and of course Tom Brady, the superstar quarterback with, not one, not two, but three Super Bowl victories. That doesn’t even count the Super Bowl appearances where he didn’t come out with the W.
Now Manning has the opportunity to face another quarterback of his same elite status. Between the two of them, they have a combined four Super Bowl victories, 277 regular- and post-season wins, more than 700 touchdowns and nearly 100,000 passing yards. Those stats alone are more than enough to solidify both quarterbacks’ positions in the ranks of the elite.
Brady and Manning both enter this game with something to prove. Brady and the Patriots have some wounds to heal after losing to the Cardinals and Ravens in Weeks 2 and 3. Manning and the Broncos offense still have yet to silence all of their critics, though the convincing win over the Raiders have set them on the right track.
But both quarterbacks have one thing working in both of their favors – their refusal to settle for anything less than perfection. Manning has had only two seasons with six wins or less, and Brady’s worst was a 9-7 season in 2002.
Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium is guaranteed to be full of drama and juicy storylines. It’s time for the Broncos offense to be effective early, because a team cannot start slow against the Patriots and expect to win. And the defense will be expected to show what they truly have against a top-tier offensive front. Yet, it is the battle of the elite quarterbacks that is sure to top everyone’s list. The question is, who can be “more” elite that day?