Both Manning and Brady have defied the odds. I wrote in 2011 that a lot of the reason they are both still able to compete at such a high level is because they have each other. Their work is never done because the other one is always on their heels, and they are both borderline psychotically competitive. Brady and Manning are in a league unto themselves They are each other's only true peer. Even the other elite quarterbacks of the last decade- Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning - have never perennially performed with such consistent success as Manning and Brady.
You can never truly tell which one will come out on top in a game between two first-ballot Hall of Famers. But you can make your most educated prediction, so that's what I'm going to break down for you today.
Manning's penchant for turning the ball over in big situations has haunted him far more in the postseason than it has in Week 9; but in seasons like this it could make all the difference. In their Week 12 match up last season, Manning only threw one interception. That one interception gave the Patriots the ball on the Denver 30-yard line and they quickly converted it into a 14-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. That game was won by the Patriots by a field goal in overtime, meaning that one interception probably cost the Broncos the game.
The Patriots once again lead the NFL in turnover differential at +11. They've lead or been among the top of the league in that stat for the bulk of their time under Belichick; but most especially over the last seven seasons. Turnover differential is one of the best indicators of playoff chances and success in playoffs that there is. Denver is currently at +4, a decent number that has them tied for 8th best in the NFL.
Along that line, the Patriots and Broncos have two of the most talented secondaries in the league right now. The Broncos starting secondary consists of Aqib Talib (CB), Rahim Moore (S), TJ Ward (S) and Chris Harris (CB). The Patriots starting secondary is made up by Darrell Revis (CB), Patrick Chung (S), Devin McCourty (S) and Brandon Browner (CB). It's hard to say which one of those groups is better, so suffice it to say that most teams would be very happy with either of those lineups.
It goes without saying that Brady and Manning will play well in this game. They rarely don't, but they always step it up a notch for next level competition like this. Yet this battle between the two most elite offenses in the league will most likely come down to the guys that are defending them. The way it stands right now, the quarterbacks and their offenses are as evenly matched as it can get. That may have sounded crazy at the start of the season, considering the plethora of high-octane weapons on the Broncos. Now, it's not so far off.
The general consensus is that the elite Denver receivers are a better group on paper, but Tom Brady and his crew have closed the gap in recent weeks. Rob Gronkowski is indisputably the hardest player in the league to defend. Brandon LaFell is having a breakout year on the other end of Tom Brady's passes, partly due to the coverage demanded by Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Tight end Tim Wright has earned his stripes as a reliable end zone target by catching three touchdowns already, and don't forget that Shane Vereen is one of the better receiving backs in the NFL.
The final thing to factor into this prediction is the weather. The current late afternoon/evening forecast for Foxboro has the temperature at a cold and windy 37 degrees, with a low of 31. Peyton no longer plays in the comfort of a dome most of the time, so his fear of playing in inclement weather has been dialed back. Even still, he's only played in five games in weather below 40 degrees since joining the Broncos and he's gone 2-3. In his career , Manning is 8-11 in games below 40 degrees. Tom Brady is 32-4. That's a staggering number.
If both teams play to their equal offensive potential, this game comes down to defense and protecting the ball. In that situation at home, the Patriots should be your pick every time.