So when ESPN posted a poll on Twitter on Wednesday asking “Does Tom Brady or Peyton Manning have a better chance of winning another Super Bowl?” with a link to vote live on their Facebook page, with Brady coming off one of his worst statistical years ever and Manning smoking Brady’s previous single-season touchdown pass record, surely Manning wins this in a landslide, right?
To quote the great Dikembe Mutombo, “NO NO NO”.
Strange things are afoot at the Circle K – 56% of ESPN poll voters have more confidence in TB12 winning another Super Bowl title before Peyton Manning does. What gives?
On paper, this makes zero sense. While Tom Brady spent most of the year yelling at Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, and the rest of the Patriots’ merry band of misfits at wide receiver, Peyton Manning threw down a season that most Madden players couldn’t match with a record 55 touchdown passes (5 more than Brady’s previous record), sliced through the regular season with a 13-3 record, and most notably, got his revenge against Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game after losing to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium earlier in the season. (Personally, your author switched from beer to liquor after the first quarter during that one).
And even after all that, America still has more faith in Tom Brady hoisting the Lombardi again before Peyton Manning does. Why? Here’s a few guesses.
New England’s 2014 Secondary
Aqib Talib plays beast-mode first half, suffocates opponent’s most dangerous threat (see: Graham, Jimmy).
Aqib Talib takes a shot in the 2nd quarter, goes down, leaves field with injury.
Talib doesn’t return, quarterbacks feast on weaker cornerback.
Put simply, Talib was the best cover corner New England has seen in years, but not being able to stay on the field shredded the Patriots backfield. If you think things will be any different in Denver, I want some of whatever you’re drinking.
Compare that with the brand-spanking-new secondary acquisitions this offseason: New England replaces their Boss 302 Mustang (Talib) with a Shelby Cobra in Darrelle Revis, signs a receiver-jamming bruiser in Brandon Browner, and can look forward to Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Alfonzo Dennard, and don’t forget Devin McCourty’s All-Pro performance at free safety last year. Compare that to the backfield that lost Brady’s 5th Super Bowl in 2012 (blame Welker for the drop if you want, but it’s the defense’s failure to make stops that put the Patriots in a position where the offense had 57 seconds to put together a final touchdown drive), and the Pats’ swiss-cheese backfield of a couple seasons ago might give just a few offensive coordinators nightmares on Saturdays this year. Denver, on the other hand, should get a boost from Cowboys stalwart DeMarcus Ware, and from Aqib Talib when he plays, but there’s no question who the stronger backfield is, on paper.
Good Old-Fashioned Coaching
Peyton’s played with some Hall of Fame receivers and a slew of solid running backs and tight ends in his career, but when his game plan of slicing and dicing with a quick snap goes wrong, the track record for his coordinators and coaches adjusting is, well, sketchy at best. It’d be way too easy to say Manning throws picks in crucial end-game situations; interceptions don’t happen in a vacuum, and while Peyton’s the one hucking the ball, play-calling and the rest of the offense’s performance are just as important. Aside from his dagger of a pick in the 2009 Super Bowl against the Saints, look at the 2014 Super Bowl; take away a couple options with consistent pressure and jamming receivers at the line, and the entire offense falls apart.
Put it another way: After watching Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Danny Amendola, and pretty much everyone except Julian Edelman struggle with the pass game last year, New England’s offense took a complete 180, transmorgrifying into a ground-and-pound, short-completion machine with help from Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden, and put a team held together with duct-tape and popsicle sticks back to the AFC Championship. When it’s the 4th quarter and anyone’s ballgame, who do you want calling your shots, Belichick or Fox?
Call it simplistic, but if America’s going to put their money on Tom Brady getting his 4th ring before Peyton Manning gets his 2nd, basing your bets on history sure ain’t a bad place to start. In the 15 times these guys have played head-to-head, including the AFC playoffs, Brady owns a whopping 10 victories over Peyton, and that counts the 2013-2014 AFC Championship, where the scoring-machine Broncos put up a dominant…26 points. If you expect a Bill Barnwell-style statistic buffet here, you’re in the wrong place; people remember who wins, period, and this will be the best AFC slugfest of the year every year until these two hang it up. But think of it this way: if these two teams play once every regular season (unlikely) AND meet each other in the AFC playoffs EVERY year (quite likely), it will STILL take Manning 3 more seasons if he wins EVERY one of those contests to even out the win totals. And the dude is 38 now.
I’m just going to go ahead and apologize in advance to whoever’s at whichever bar I happen to be at on November 2nd, 2014; I’ve got a hunch that I’ll have a happier reason to switch from beer to liquor this year.