One question that seems to be most talked about in the days leading up to the 2012 Super Bowl is who is the better quarterback between the New England Patriots' Tom Brady and the New York Giants' Eli Manning.
Brady is always ranked among the NFL's elite quarterbacks, while Manning is typically overshadowed by his older brother Peyton. Even though it is Eli's Giants and not Peyton's Colts that are in the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning has essentially overshadowed his younger brother throughout the two weeks leading up to Sunday's Super Bowl.
Brady is the pretty boy, GQ quarterback married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, while Manning is the more laid-back, media-shy Southern gentleman. Eli has appeared in commercials with his brother in the past -- the Oreo commercials are particularly entertaining -- but mostly flies under the radar when the top quarterback conversation is had.
In fact, it was when Manning finally spoke up about his credentials that he created a media firestorm. In the off-season Manning said he considered himself a first-rank quarterback in the same class as Tom Brady. The media ran wild with the comments and derided Manning for thinking he was anywhere near Brady's class, but the former Ole Miss standout easily proved this season that he is one of the elite.
Manning threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns in his most successful season as a NFL pro. Those numbers don't exactly compare to Brady's 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, but there is more to Manning than simply statistics.
Looking at an athlete's intangibles is one of the most cliché things any sportswriter can do, but there is something about Manning that separates him from the rest of the pack. In guiding the Giants to their recent five-game winning streak leading into the Super Bowl, Manning has emerged as one of the most clutch performers in the NFL.
He has performed so well at the end of games that it'd be a bigger surprise for Manning to falter than to succeed, which few would have been able to predict a few years ago when he was heavily criticized in the New York sports backpages.
In wins over the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, and San Francisco 49ers; Manning has performed fantastically. He has thrown for 923 yards, eight touchdowns, and a single interception in the three playoff games -- good enough for a 103.1 quarterback rating.
Brady manages to top that number - he has a 105.8 quarterback rating in the playoffs - but seemed to really struggle against the Baltimore Ravens' defensive schemes in the AFC Championship game. Brady threw for zero touchdowns and two interceptions in a game that he plainly admitted he didn't play well in and would have likely sent the Patriots home had Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff not missed a short field goal at the end of regulation.
That's not to say one game eliminates all of the good that Brady has done over his 10 seasons as the Patriots starter, but it's clear that he's had struggles in high-pressure game situations. Since losing Super Bowl XLII to the Giants, 17-14, he hasn't been very successful in the playoffs.
In 2009 he threw three interceptions in a 33-14 Wild Card playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. In 2010 he was unable to figure out the New York Jets defense in another disappointing playoff loss.
Brady has shown clutch late-game heroics in the past -- he is a two-time Super Bowl MVP -- but something seems to be amiss in recent years. He's easily still one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the game, but Manning is the more trustworthy quarterback at this time and place.
That's not to say the Giants are guaranteed to win on Sunday, in fact the 2.5-point underdogs would have to overcome some fairly significant talent deficiencies order to knock off the Patriots.
But for the first time in years, the safer bet is on Eli Manning to deliver in a big game than it is on Brady.