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Manning vs. Brady XV closely examined in AFC Championship preview

Of all of the rivalries in the NFL, none is more intriguing than the individual rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. These two quarterbacks, arguably the two best passers in the NFL, meet this Sunday for the 15th time in their careers with Super Bowl implications on the line.

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos greet each other at midfield following the game on October 7, 2012 at Gillette Stadium
Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos greet each other at midfield following the game on October 7, 2012 at Gillette StadiumPhoto by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

"This is tantamount to Ali-Frazier one more time. This is Palmer-Nicklaus. This is Bird-Magic," CBS commentator Jim Nantz said. "Again, I’m not trying to create some sort of synthetic drama here, this is what it is. This is as big as it gets and we’re going to savor it because you don’t know how many more times you’re ever going to get again."

Brady has owned the matchup with a 10-4 record against Manning dating back to 2001; his overall record also includes a 2-1 record in the postseason, but are even at one-a-piece in AFC Championship games. While history is on Brady’s side, Manning and the Broncos are the early favorites going into Sunday’s game.

While the best quarterback matchup in football is good for NFL ratings, there are many other aspects of Sunday’s AFC Championship that should not go unnoticed. If the Broncos defense over prepares for Tom Brady’s arm, they could get burned by LaGarrette Blount’s legs. The 250 lb. running back scored four touchdowns, including a 73-yarder, and tallied 166 yards against the Colts en route to the Pats’ third consecutive AFC Championship game. In their 43-22 win against the Colts, Brady threw for only 198 yards and had zero touchdown passes.

Blount and the other Patriots running backs face a Denver defense that ranked as the eighth best run defense in the regular season, but Brady and the Patriots receiving corps face the sixth worst passing defense; perhaps even worse after the loss of cornerback Chris Harris.

The Broncos must run the ball against the Pats in order to advance to the Super Bowl. In their previous meeting in the regular season, Knowshon Moreno ran for 224 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots run defense is among the worst in the NFL, ranked third behind the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons. Establishing the early lead and controlling the time of possession will put the Broncos in their seventh Super Bowl, especially if they can hold the lead this time around.

The Patriots have a chance at winning every game so long as Tom Brady is their quarterback. With his receiving corps decimated by injury or arrested for murder, Brady continues to perform as one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks.

The AFC Championship kicks off in Denver on Sunday at 1 p.m. Mountain time, 3 p.m. Eastern.