Are Manning and Brady Cheating? How Rule Changes Have Helped Extend a Rivalry

Charles Krupa/AP

Did you enjoy the misleading headline we came up with to generate traffic and rig Google results, only it’s a complete misrepresentation from what I wrote this week? What a farce, right? We’ll never do that again, right?

Websites rarely pulled those shenanigans in 2002, but in 2014, they do it all the time. Things evolve … and conversely, things devolve. Just look at football. Earlier this century, ESPN’s NFL studio show aired a weekly segment called “Jacked Up” that celebrated every time a player got demolished by a tackle. Earlier this century, NFL fans believed you won Super Bowls with defense and running backs. Earlier this century, an NFL commissioner suspended a player two games for knocking his fiancée out cold in an elevator, then changed the length of that suspension a few weeks later without any new facts and without anyone thinking this was illegal.

Fine, that last example didn’t work. The point is — THINGS CHANGE. So when I receive a mailbag question like this one from RK in Nashville:

“How about Collinsworth’s quote in MMQB? ‘Here’s the amazing thing about Peyton Manning: He’s an ascending player at the age of, what, 38 years old? I have never seen a great player on that level ascending at that age.’ If this quote doesn’t make the mailbag then that tells me your testicles are resting in a glass jar and being guarded somewhere in Bristol.”

… part of me wants to defend the immortal Mr. Manning, part of me cringes at the thought of my testicles living in a glass jar, part of me cringes for the security guard in this scenario, and part of me wants me to click over to Baseball-Reference.com to confirm that, yes, 38-year-old Barry Bonds DID hit a career-high .370 with 46 homers and a 1.381 OPS.

Cris Collinsworth is totally right. He’s also totally wrong.

Peyton Manning IS getting better at playing regular-season professional football. Check out his pre-2013 career highs for every major passing category versus his numbers in 2013 and 2014 (through seven games):

Highs: 4,700 yards, 49 TDs, 9 INTs, 9.17 YPA, 87.2 QBR,1 121.1 rating.

2013: 5,477 yards, 55 TDs, 10 INTs, 8.32 YPA, 82.9 QBR, 115.1 rating.

2014: 2,134 yards,2 22 TDs, 3 INTs, 8.47 YPA, 90.1 QBR, 119.0 rating.

But Manning is also getting worse at playing football. His post-surgery noodle arm transformed into Greg Maddux The QB — less velocity, better precision. He paints the plate with every throw. He keeps defying his aging body’s inherent limitations. It’s been astounding to watch.

We beat every story line into the ground these days, to the point that we can’t even see some of them clearly because we spent so much time beating them. Just look at LeBron’s “homecoming,” relentlessly marketed as a back-to-Cleveland decision when it was really a basketball decision. (Anyone who thinks LeBron was “coming home” in his prime to a team that didn’t have Kevin Love and/or a chance to win titles immediately is fooling themselves.) In Manning’s case, his triumphant return from four neck surgeries was beaten into the ground, but now it’s glossed over because everyone already knows the story. He’s not the same physically, and it just doesn’t matter. At least in the regular season.

So why does it SEEM like Peyton Manning is still “ascending,” as Collinsworth said? Because the rules kept drifting in his favor, yet another sports topic that was pummeled into the ground and now gets taken for granted. You can’t hit QBs high, you can’t hit QBs low, you can’t hit QBs within 0.25 seconds after they’ve released the football, and it’s unclear whether you can even make a mean face at them. Remember when QBs were injured all the time? Remember when you NEEDED a backup QB? These are better and safer times — and they should be — but quarterbacks don’t get injured anymore unless it’s a freak injury (RG3 earlier this season), a freak hit (Romo on Monday night) or an unexpected concussion (which we’re diagnosing much better these days). You also can’t handcheck receivers, touch them after five yards, head-hunt over the middle or hit them when they’re defenseless. It’s much, much, much easier to throw and catch the football.

Check this out:

Yards Per Game:

2002: 0 QBs over 300, one over 275, four over 250

2006: 0 QBs over 300, one over 275, six over 250

2010: 0 QBs over 300, four over 275, 10 over 250

2014: 3 QBs over 300, 11 over 275, 15 over 250

ESPN’s QBR:

2006: 1 QB over 75, one over 69, eight over 60, 14 over 50

2010: 1 QB over 75, four over 69, 11 over 60, 15 over 50

2014: 6 QBs over 75, nine over 69, 16 over 60, 24 over 50

The performances of 38-year-old Barry Bonds and so many other baseball stars from that era were enhanced because, you know, they took performance enhancers. Maybe it didn’t totally make sense in the moment. And maybe we were worried someone was going to grow Jay Leno’s chin or break out the first ever size-12 baseball cap. But it certainly makes sense after the fact.

The recent performances of Manning and Brady (one year younger) have been enhanced in a different way. Passing rules changed so dramatically that it threw everyone’s numbers out of whack. Imagine figuring out the last eight years of NBA numbers if, in 2006, the league moved the 3-point line to 20 feet, allowed offensive goaltending and made it legal to take three steps after a dribble. (Well, MORE legal.) That’s basically what happened in the NFL. Just look at the best Brady/Manning seasons in three-year quadrants: 1999-2001, 2002-04, 2005-07, 2008-10, 2011-13, then 2014 (eight starts for Brady, seven starts for Manning).3

2000 Manning: 4,413 yards, 33-15 TD-INT, 7.73 YPA, 94.7 rating
2001 Brady: 2,843 yards, 18-12 TD-INT, 6.88 YPA, 86.5 rating

2004 Manning: 4,557 yards, 49-10 TD-INT, 9.17 YPA, 121.1 rating
2004 Brady: 3,692 yards, 28-14 TD-INT, 7.79 YPA, 92.6 rating

2006 Manning: 4,397 yards, 31-9 TD-INT, 7.89 YPA, 101.0 rating, 87.2 QBR
2007 Brady: 4,806 yards, 50-8 TD-INT, 8.32 YPA, 117.2 rating, 87.1 QBR

2009 Manning: 4,500 yards, 33-16 TD-INT, 7.88 YPA, 99.9 rating, 82.8 QBR
2010 Brady: 3,900 yards, 36-4 TD-INT, 7.93 YPA, 111.0 rating, 77.0 QBR

2013 Manning: 5,477 yards, 55-10 TD-INT, 8.31 YPA, 115.1 rating, 82.9 QBR
2011 Brady: 5,235 yards, 39-12 TD-INT, 8.57 YPA, 105.6 rating, 73.0 QBR

2014 Manning: 2,134 yards, 22-3 TD-INT, 8.47 YPA, 119.0 rating, 90.1 QBR
2014 Brady: 2,059 yards, 18-2 TD-INT, 7.33 YPA, 104.7 rating, 75.4 QBR

Instead of PEDs, they were injecting QB-friendly rules into their bodies. And it has reinvented a rivalry that …

A. Would have gone down as the NFL’s Russell-Chamberlain battle even if Manning retired in 2011.

B. Has seen both players grab the invisible “lead” multiple times.

C. Means infinitely more to fans and media members then it does to either of them. (I wrote about that theme in the 2010 season.)

It’s hard to imagine Manning squandering pole position at this point; his recent Denver resurgence coupled with his touchdown records — season and career, his MVP awards (five), his win-loss record (173-74) and the career passing yard record (it’s coming) make him the most successful QB ever by any calculation. But only 30 months ago, when Manning’s career hung in the balance during the spring of 2012, Brady owned the Manning/Brady championship belt. He had just appeared in his fifth Super Bowl, thrown for over 6,000 yards (including playoffs) and sat on a career record of 124-35 (regular season), 16-6 (playoffs), one 16-0 season and three Lombardis.

And in my opinion, he could have kept the belt had he been wired just a little differently.

(WARNING! One of my ridiculous theories is coming.)

(Repeat: It’s just a theory. Brace yourself.)

Growing up, Manning was the son of a famous QB, the overachieving middle brother, the eventual golden boy, someone who always had something to prove. Ever seen three little brothers hanging out together? They’re fighting and competing all the time. It never ends. It’s a constant battle for the upper hand. Eventually, one of them wins it. That was Peyton. He spent his childhood ordering Eli around, and he spent his football career ordering everyone else around. Remember when he whipped out watermelon-size balls by shockingly signing with Tennessee over Ole Miss (his father’s alma mater)? That set the tone for everything that followed: Peyton wanted the best possible situation at all times. It can’t be a coincidence that, for the vast majority of his 16-year career, he’s been flanked by legitimate weapons. Manning would never be happy playing for a team that didn’t allow him real input — not just the weapons on hand, but the offensive scheme itself.

And by all accounts, everyone loves working with him. He’s a great teammate. But he’s also in charge. All the time. That was Wes Welker’s biggest takeaway after playing with Brady and Manning. He told friends that while both players were incredible — for many of the same reasons (work ethic, competitiveness, likability, etc.) — he couldn’t believe how in charge Manning is. In New England, Bill Belichick’s fingerprints were everywhere; Brady had significant input, but still, he worked for Belichick (and not vice versa). In Denver, Manning’s fingerprints are everywhere. He tells the front office what he needs/wants; he tells the offensive coordinator what system he wants to run; he runs meetings; he orders people around in the locker room; he does everything. Welker, who always bristled at Belichick’s authoritarian nature, wondered if the Patriots would be better off had Brady been given that same leadership leash.

Then again, you have to fight for that level of input. And Brady grew up differently than Manning … as the baby brother of three older sisters.

Repeat: THREE OLDER SISTERS.

I have two children — a 9½-year-old daughter and a son who turns 7 this weekend. My daughter OWNS my son. They might be best friends, but they do what she wants to do 95 percent of the time. She orders him around like they’ve been married for 30 years. And it’s not just my house — I am still waiting to meet the family with the older daughter or daughters whose youngest son runs the show. Doesn’t make the son less competitive. Doesn’t mean he has a greater chance of failing as an athlete. Just means that, fundamentally, he spent the majority of his time agreeing, nodding and following. If you’re a little boy with an older sister, she owns your ass.

(See? I told you this was one of my most ludicrous theories! I swear, I believe in this one 100 percent.)

But THREE older sisters who also happened to be terrific at sports? According to a 2012 Yahoo.com piece called “Sister Pact,” Brady remembers, “They were the best athletes in my house — certainly a better athlete than I ever was. I just loved tagging along and I was living and dying with every loss they had.”

Read that Yahoo piece and you come away thinking, Wow, that’s really the All-American family. But could you say that Brady, for 15 seasons and counting in New England, is still tagging along to some degree? If you believe Belichick and Bob Kraft took the Brady era for granted — especially these last few years — you wouldn’t be wrong. Because they did. Especially the last third of Brady’s career. (We’ll get to this later.) But if you believe that, you also have to believe that Brady allowed it to happen.

His best quality? He puts the team ahead of himself at all times.

His worst quality? He puts the team ahead of himself at all times.

Like every other Boston fan, I always wondered why Brady wouldn’t rebel publicly every time the Patriots screwed him over with his “weapons.” He won his first Super Bowl throwing to Troy Brown (superb that season), David Patten and Jermaine Wiggins. In 2003 and 2004, he won two more Super Bowls without any Patriots receiver catching 60 passes or tallying more than 900 yards in either season. From a career standpoint, it’s the worst thing that ever happened to Brady. It made Belichick believe, for better and worse, that the 53-man roster mattered more than riding a once-in-a-lifetime QB. If Brady could win three Super Bowls without any dangerous weapons, then that could keep happening … right?

But here’s where Belichick — one of the great football coaches ever, and the best Boston coach of my lifetime — kinda sorta maybe screwed up. The Patriots traded Deion Branch for a first-round pick in 2006, leaving Reche Caldwell (760 yards), Ben Watson (643 yards), Troy Brown (384 yards) and Kevin Faulk (356 yards) as Brady’s top four receivers.4 The ’06 Patriots blew an 18-point lead in the AFC title game and failed to convert a game-clinching third-and-4 because, again, Brady’s top targets were Caldwell, Watson, Faulk and a washed-up Troy Brown. So there’s one Super Bowl they absolutely gave away.5 Belichick atoned with an uncharacteristically brazen Welker/Randy Moss/Donte’ Stallworth/Sammy Morris transaction spree, the only time New England ever definitively said, “WE HAVE TOM BRADY ON OUR TEAM AND WE ARE TAKING ABSOLUTE ADVANTAGE OF THIS!”

Also not helping: From 2003 through 2009, Belichick whiffed every time he spent a high draft pick on a “weapon,” whether it was Bethel Johnson, Ben Watson, Chad Jackson, Laurence Maroney, David Thomas, Brandon Tate or OhmygodIwanttoslammyheadagainstthewall.6 Everything flipped in 2010 (the Gronk/Hernandez draft), although the Patriots blew that February 2012 Super Bowl partly because Gronkowski was hobbled and Belichick never splurged on a reliable second receiver. I have two enduring images from that game: Welker sliding into open territory for a game-clinching TD and Brady overthrowing him by a hair (I can’t unsee it), and Chad Ochocinco’s carcass spread wide for the entire second half, covered by a single cornerback and that’s it, as the Giants willfully ignored him (I can’t unsee that, either).

The bizarre set of circumstances from 2013 (the Amendola-for-Welker switcheroo, Gronk’s body breaking down twice, Hernandez going to jail) left Brady effectively weaponless again, even after he signed for less money under the assumption they’d spend the extra money on help. (Think again, Tom Brady!) Last spring, the Patriots saddled him with another bullpen-by-committee of “weapons” that, except for Gronk If He’s Healthy, you wouldn’t start in your fantasy league unless your better players were on a bye.

That’s where we are right now. And so it’s difficult to compare Brady’s career and Manning’s career for two reasons that even the world’s biggest Manning fan would concede. First, Manning spent his first 12 seasons playing every home game indoors. (I was too lazy to look this up, but I’d bet anything that Manning played at least 100 more dome games than Brady during their careers, and Brady played at least 60-65 more cold-weather games than Manning did.) And second, Manning was blessed with better weapons from 2001 through 2006 (it wasn’t close), then it swung Brady’s way in 2007 (16-0) and 2008 (Brady played less than eight minutes), then it was probably a draw from 2009 through 2011, then Manning grabbed the upper hand again in 2012 and blew Brady’s weapons out of the water in 2013 and 2014.

Of course, you could argue that New England’s teams (three Lombardis, five Super Bowls, eight AFC title games) performed better than Manning’s teams (one Lombardi, three Super Bowls, four AFC title games) because, in the salary-cap era, Belichick favored roster balance over roster imbalance. In Manning’s last few Colts seasons, especially, Indy’s commitment to offense ended up hurting it everywhere else. There’s a middle ground that the Patriots successfully exploited for Brady’s entire run. But they never stacked the deck, either. Even the Moss/Welker bonanza only happened because Belichick decisively won the trades, giving up a second- and seventh-rounder for Welker and a measly fourth-rounder for Moss. He operates the Patriots like someone scouring a flea market for the best possible deals. Rarely, if ever, will Belichick pay full price for a free agent or trade up for an impact rookie. And that’s just how it is.

Remember when New England barely beat the pathetic Jets two Thursdays ago? Afterward, Brady gave a secretly fascinating interview to the overcrowded NFL Network postgame show. Any die-hard Pats fan has learned to dissect the subtleties of Bradyspeak; he never says anything controversial, never complains about his owner, never makes any teammate or coach look bad or says anything glaringly negative. He’s less Franchise Player and more Kid Who Just Happens To Be Tagging Along. That’s just his DNA.

But when something genuinely bothers him? In the right interview, he might passive-aggressively bring up something in the vague vicinity of the real problem, allowing any media member to run with it … only he does it so subtly, most of them miss his cues. In that post-Jets interview, multiple times, he said things like We’re still building, or I’m still getting to know my receivers, or When you’re starting from scratch again and Our offensive line just needs to jell. (Sadly, it’s not on the Internet, so I’m writing this from memory.) But as a 14-year BradySpeak student, I could tell he was BEGGING them to ask one specific question …

“Tom, how frustrating is it for you to start over every single year?”

Because that’s what the Patriots have done to him, year after year, with no sign of it ever changing. He took less money with his last contract — presumably so they could find him more help — and yet they’re something like $9 million under the cap (with five or six new offensive starters, depending on the game). He never really says anything, and he never, ever, ever, ever complains. Shit, he wouldn’t have even answered that aforementioned question had they taken the bait. Brady would have done the whole, Well, you know, it’s always better to have a little consistency from year to year, but I’m proud of how the guys … and babbled that answer away.

But getting the question asked — that’s what he wanted. He just wanted it out there.

I NEVER HAVE ENOUGH HELP. I START FROM SCRATCH EVERY FREAKING SEASON. I AM 37 YEARS OLD. MY WINDOW IS CLOSING ON ME. I’M NOT THE ONE PASSING 506 TOUCHDOWNS THIS WEEKEND FOR A VERY SPECIFIC REASON.

He would never say ANY of that. For a lot of reasons — he’s a good guy, he’s a great teammate, he doesn’t want to undermine the team in any way, he wants everyone around him to think that they’re better than everyone else, and also, he’s the youngest brother of three sisters and he’s just tagging along.

Meanwhile, the Broncos lost Eric Decker in free agency last spring. What happened? They went out and signed Emmanuel Sanders. He’s been fantastic. Why spend on Sanders with the Thomases (Julius and Demaryius) coming up for massive extensions? Two reasons …

Reason No. 1: Denver’s window with Manning could end anytime. Like, tomorrow. Like, five minutes from now. Who knows? He’s 38. He’s coming off four neck surgeries. Coming into this season, he had played 240 regular-season games and 23 playoff games. There’s no real track record for a QB succeeding in his forties. The Broncos were thinking “Super Bowl or Bust” in 2014, and they’ll think that way in 2015, and in 2016, and for however long they can drag All-Pro seasons out of Manning. When Sanders wanted $18 million for three years ($6 million guaranteed) to spurn a sitting offer from Kansas City, they didn’t blink.

Reason No. 2: Because Peyton Manning — at age fucking 38, after four neck surgeries, with Father Time eyeballing him 24/7 — wasn’t going to accept replacing Decker with someone who wasn’t a sure thing.

So the Broncos signed Sanders, while the Patriots landed Brandon LaFell for exactly half the money: three years, $9 million, $3 million guaranteed. That’s a classic Belichick move — always do what’s best for your cap and your future, no matter what — and if Brady hadn’t kept rolling over publicly like he had these past 10 years, maybe he’d have Sanders7 instead of LaFell right now (yes, I am fully aware that LaFell has looked terrific lately). Maybe he would have had Deion Branch for that third-and-4 in Indy in 2006. Maybe he would have been looking at Anyone But Chad Ochocinco during Super Bowl XLVI. Maybe he wouldn’t have completed 105 passes to a seventh-round draft pick/punt returner last season. Maybe he would have won five Super Bowls instead of three. Maybe we’d be thinking differently about Brady and Manning right now.

It’s weird to complain about a Belichick-Brady regime that’s been so absurdly successful. The Patriots have won 12 games or more in eight of the last 11 seasons, never dipping below 10 wins (which seems impossible, but it’s true). They’re 85-15 at home (regular season) since Gillette Stadium was built. Since 2003, they’ve won the AFC East every year Brady was the starter, and they’ve lost 20 percent as many playoff games (eight) as regular-season games (40). And Brady has started 199 games … and won 77 percent of them.

They’re built to finish 12-4, year after year after year, no matter who’s on the team. I would not trade teams for anyone else in the league. It’s been an honor and a privilege to follow the New England Patriots. A blessing, even.

And with that said … I can’t believe how strangely they’ve handled the final trimester of Brady’s career. Odds are, we (and I’m using “we” because I have loved this team since I was 4 years old and Randy Vataha and Mack Herron were scurrying around, so if you have a problem with that, I don’t care) will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER have another quarterback like this again. He’s also 37. With 201 regular-season games, 26 playoff games and one reconstructive knee surgery under his belt.

And I get it. I get that Belichick’s philosophy looks something like this …

Rule No. 1: Never stack the deck for any one season.

Rule No. 2: Never become too attached to a player.

Rule No. 3: Always flip an asset into a better asset.

Rule No. 4: Always sell high.

Rule No. 5: Build your 53.

Rule No. 6: Try to win 11 to 13 games year after year after year.

He’s never bottoming out. He’s never enduring one of those 2011 Colts seasons, where everything collapses just because of one injury. Of all the achievements that make him most proud, I’d bet winning 11 games with Matt Freaking Cassel ranks right up there. Belichick lost one of the best quarterbacks of all time, in his prime, not even nine minutes into Week 1. AND HE STILL WON 11 GAMES.

Belichick knows the NFL playoffs are a total crapshoot. He probably did the math and figured out that eight teams can win the Super Bowl every year; he just wants to be one of the eight. It worked in 2001, 2003 and 2004. It almost worked in 2007 and 2011. It’s simple math, and it makes total sense.

But he also employed one of the best five or six quarterbacks ever. In a 32-team league, the odds are stacked against stumbling into someone this good even once. It might happen once a century if you’re lucky. Like a freaking comet or something.8 The majority of NFL teams have never employed a QB even 75 percent as good as Tom Brady. Could Belichick have risked his time-proven philosophy by bending, say, 20 percent more these last few years? Would we not be discussing this if Hernandez hadn’t been arrested, or Belichick had just taken Keenan Allen instead of Aaron Dobson, or any of the other hit-or-miss stuff that fairly and unfairly defines an NFL team?

Here’s what I know: When Rob Gronkowski is healthy and doing Gronk things, Brady’s offense goes to another level. These past four games (with healthy Gronk): 158 points, 13 passing TDs for Brady. Gronk played six healthy games in 2013 (197 points), 10 healthy games in 2012 (358 points) and all 16 in 2011 (513 points). Other than 2007 Moss, he’s the best weapon Brady has ever had. As long as he’s 100 percent, or close, the Patriots have a chance against anyone. And if he’s not 100 percent or close, they’re screwed.

That’s the bed that Tom Brady made for himself. Peyton Manning’s bed has more weapons in it. It’s not a coincidence. Barring another unexpected flip-flop, that’s why history will remember Manning as being “greater” than Brady — one guy rolled with the punches, the other guy dictated those punches.

Of course, they could keep playing and playing and playing, maybe even for the rest of this decade, if only because of the rules. I met Manning at the 2014 ESPYS, talked to him and his wife for a few minutes and eventually asked him about that.

How many more years do you think you have in you?

The short answer: He didn’t know. Manning believed the rules had swung unquestionably in his favor, that quarterbacks just didn’t take the same punishment anymore. He specifically mentioned not having to worry about anyone diving at his knees, what a relief that was. But he worried about his health and any unexpected bad luck, ultimately playing the you-never-know card and making a point to mention his four neck surgeries. He also mentioned the grind of just getting ready to play — the day-after-day demands of the offseason — and how that’s the most underrated factor that normal people don’t realize. When that day-to-day fire started waning, that’s when he would know.

Dirk Nowitzki mentioned that same stay-or-go reason on one of my podcasts once. And Steve Nash, too. It’s the one thing great players always want us to know — at some point, the physical and mental grind of preparing to play surpasses everything else. We only see the games. We don’t see 6 a.m. every day, day after day after day, when the alarm clock goes off and they have to keep chasing something they’ve already caught. I spent maybe eight minutes with Manning, but my takeaway was that as soon as that alarm clock goes off and he’s lying in bed, with his body aching, with all of these records already in hand, wondering why it’s even worth it — that’s when Peyton Manning will quit football.

Tom Brady? Now that’s a slightly different story. He has played 43 fewer games than Manning.9 He’s one year younger. By all accounts, he lives and breathes football and that’s it. Doesn’t have any other hobbies or vices. Goes to sleep early every night. Can’t really think of anything else he even wants to do other than spend time with his family. One night earlier this year, I ran into friends in New York who happened to be with Julian Edelman. After a breakout season, Edelman had been debating whether to re-sign or leave for a bigger offer … which meant he’d be leaving Tom Brady. And his friends were busting his balls about it. Go ahead, leave Brady — see what happens. It was actually pretty funny.10

Edelman knew what I did for a living. He had a couple of drinks in him. He was feeling emotional about Brady — again, it was unclear whether they were done as teammates — and launched into an endearingly genuine monologue about Brady’s brilliance. What an unbelievable teammate Brady was. What an unbelievable quarterback he was. How he worked harder, day in and day out, than any teammate Edelman had ever had. How he owed everything to the guy. We joked that Edelman almost sounded like a religious fanatic discussing the Cult of Brady or something. But that’s how he felt.

I asked him how long Brady could keep playing, and without hesitation, Edelman said, “As long as he wants.”

“Like, 43?”

Edelman nodded. He described Brady as a “football machine,” adding, “He’s in bed by eight thirty every night!” He had never seen anything like Tom Brady. He couldn’t imagine Brady NOT playing football. Six more years, at least. That’s what he believed.

(And yes, Edelman re-signed with the Patriots just a few weeks later. Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised.)

If Brady played into his early forties, that would mean he was cheating — and by “cheating,” I mean “cheating Father Time.” Could a quarterback really play at an All-Pro level at 40 and beyond? Seems insane. Absolutely insane.

But with the current rules, why not? Why couldn’t Manning AND Brady knock down that 40-and-over door?

You can’t rule it out. And because of that, you can’t yet say that Manning officially prevailed in the Brady-versus-Manning rivalry. We know we’re in the later rounds … we just don’t know if it’s the 12th, 13th, 14th or 15th. Yeah, Manning leads on every scorecard. For now. Just make sure you don’t count out the little brother with three sisters yet.

(And by the way — I’m picking the Pats on Sunday. 38-37. May the rivalry never end.)

Filed Under: NFL, Tom Brady, New England Patriots, Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos

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Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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