In public, they express respect for each other’s prowess on the field. They say all the “right,” bland things during the pre-game build up, admire the other’s accomplishments, and after the final whistle walk to the center of the field for the custom congratulatory handshake before turning to their locker rooms to either stew in defeat or relish in the glee of vanquishing their equal.
This is a routine that Denver’s Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady have gone through 15 times, and the build up to their 16th career showdown in Week 9 Sunday at Gillette Stadium has really been no different.
“Certainly, I think a quarterback’s job first and foremost is to be out there,” Manning said to NESN. “Brady is always there. He is always there. He had his one season where he was injured on the first play of the first game of the season, I think. He couldn’t be there to help his team, but since then, he’s been back and of course playing like Tom Brady does since then. I think that’s one of his real strengths is always answering the bell.”
Brady’s comments to Boston.com were filled with just as much admiration, and also mentioned the fact that each matchup always comes down to whoever can sling it the best.
"He's a great player, and I think that you just know you're going to get one of the best offenses in the league," Brady said. "So what that means for me is that our offense has to be at our best. You can't think you're going to go out and score 10 points and win the game. I don't think any of our games have ever really come down to that."
And the latest installment of their rivalry in fact does figure to be an epic barrage of touchdowns. Denver’s first in the NFL with 32 points per game, and New England third at 29.8 per contest. Manning’s once again at the top of the league with 22 touchdown passes, and an NFL-best 119 passer rating. Brady recovered from a slow start and has fired off 14 touchdowns in the last four games, upping his total to 18 for the season.
Still, as of now it’s a fair argument to make that Brady has actually done far more with less compared to Manning. The Broncos already possessed wide out receiver Demaryius Thomas, and further bolstered last year’s record-setting offense by signing receiver Emmanuel Sanders away from Pittsburgh. Manning’s also continues to hit top tight end Julius Thomas, who’s scored nine touchdowns through seven games.
Brady has his own superstar tight end in Rob Gronkowski, who’s also recovered from a slow start to compile 27 receptions for 411 yards and four touchdowns over the last four weeks. And Julian Edelman became the No. 1 receiver almost by default, with very little production from the likes of Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins before Gronkowski found his groove. But outside Gronkowski and Edleman, Brady had to find ways to get receivers like Brandon LaFell and tight end Tim Wright into the offense, not to mention an offensive line that gave up nine sacks in the first four weeks of the season.
Yet what might gets lost in all the talk of Manning vs. Brady is the major improvement both teams have made on the defensive end. The Patriots are now second in the league against the pass, allowing 210.9 passing yards per game compared to a secondary that was ranked No. 18 in the NFL last year. That uptick is due in large part to the trade that brought corner back Darrelle Revis to Foxboro, but also to the development of second year corner Logan Ryan. The former Rutgers standout is among three New England defensive backs with three passes defended, second only to Revis’s six.
Apart from the signing of Sanders, the Broncos spent much of their offseason adding defensive stars. They quickly signed former Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware after he was released, placing him next to the already established Von Miller, and the pair have combined for 16 of the team’s 23 sacks. Last year the Broncos were No. 23 in the league with 41 total sacks, and now their sixth in the league.
But Denver really needed help in the secondary, and it swiped cornerback Aqib Talib, a Patriot last season, in free agency to the tune of $57 million over six years, with $25 million guaranteed. Just like with Miller and Ware, the Broncos found a running mate for cornerback Chris Harris and now he and Talib are the only teammates ranked in the top 10 in passes defended with 21 combined.
Just as Brady and Manning will say the all the right things in public, neither the Pats nor the Broncos front office will admit that their offseason moves were made specifically shutdown the other’s future Hall of Famer.
But we can all see through the routine by now.
Start Time: 4:25 PM ET
TV Channel: CBS
Betting Odds: Denver -3.5
Over/Under: 55 points
Prediction: New England over Denver, 30-24