ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry is great, it's fun and it makes for fascinating fodder in the week leading up to a great AFC championship matchup.
Manning won't be facing Brady on Sunday. He'll be drinking Gatorade and checking still photos on the sideline when Brady is playing, and vice versa.
The real matchup – it's just as monumental, between two of the game's all-time greats – is between Manning and Bill Belichick.
Manning is celebrated as the most cerebral quarterback in the game, maybe ever, and perhaps the greatest quarterback ever to play in the NFL. Belichick is celebrated for being a defensive genius, and is perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history.
Manning thinks the latter is true.
"Coach Belichick is the best coach I’ve ever competed against," Manning said. "I think it’s safe to say he'll go down as the greatest NFL coach of all time."
Manning never went against Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh or Don Shula, but Belichick's accomplishments put him near the top of any all-time list.
One would imagine that the chess match for each Manning-Belichick game excites them both.
Belichick, as a defensive coach, is a chameleon. The Patriots can change dramatically from week to week, or at very least invent new wrinkles for every opponent.
And Manning seems to enjoy the strategy of the game as much as anyone, in his preparation and in the way he can expertly change plays at the line of scrimmage based on what the defense shows.
"I don’t see them run a lot of bad plays into plays that just have no chance," Belichick said.
It can't be easy for one to outsmart the other.
Manning spoke with reverence about Belichick, even bringing up old battles when he was much younger and Belichick was defensive coordinator of the Jets, the job he had before becoming New England's head coach.
He said you can count on Belichick's teams being well prepared, disciplined and competing for the entire game.
"Those things jump out every single week," Manning said. "That speaks to his coaching."
And even though his fight is primarily with Belichick and the Patriots defense, and the 10-4 record that's given to Brady vs. Manning probably belongs more to Belichick vs. Manning, there were the inevitable Brady questions during Manning's Wednesday press conference.
Manning refused to rank Brady among the quarterbacks he has played against, like he did for Belichick, but the respect for his longtime rival is pretty clear.
"I think the one thing that jumps out about Tom is his consistency," Manning said. "I feel he’s been a better player each year than he was the year before. That speaks to his work ethic in the offseason, his refusal to be complacent or satisfied. He always feels he can step his game up one level higher, which, after some of the seasons he's had you say, how can you do better than that? But he has done that."
Wes Welker has become the spokesperson for the comparisons between Brady and Manning, considering he spent so many years with Brady before coming to Denver to play with Manning this year. He even joked on Wednesday about finding a new way to answer the old question. Really, it's hard to compare them because they're so similar.
"They are obviously not too many differences," Welker said. "They’re great quarterbacks. They do a great job keeping guys accountable with their leadership skills. If there’s two guys you want quarterbacking your team, it’s a toss up between those two."
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