Nerds vs. Jocks: The Sequel
First, the fearsome history. For a decade, the chief rival of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots was Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts. Brady's first career start came against Manning's Colts, a 44-13 thrashing. They played each other 12 times from 2001 to 2010. Eight times the prettier quarterback won, including a 2-1 record against the Colts in the playoffs. The prettier QB is Tom Brady, but it's OK, Peyton, you've got … um … you're clean. Just a very clean man, generally speaking.
Manning didn't play in the 2011 season after multiple neck surgeries caused him to miss the first games of his career. Without Manning in his way, Brady and the Pats rolled into the 2011 playoffs and beat a Broncos team led by Tim Tebow in the divisional round of the playoffs, 45-10.
Which brings us to now. Manning is now with the Broncos, and Brady is still with the Patriots, and crack out the Nelly records because it's 2003 all over again this weekend.
The diametrically opposed personalities do make this a perfect rivalry in the making. Brady is the fun-loving, relaxed guy who just seems relentlessly cool at all times. (Ask Boston. They'll tell you all about him.) You hated him in high school because he was good at everything, and not a total jerk about it.
Manning is the football nerd, who pores over game tape in the dark, trying to find any possible edge. If you ever wondered what these two could discuss besides football, the answer: nothing. Since those first six losses to Brady's Pats, Manning has rebounded to win four of their last seven meetings. You also didn't like him in high school, but that's because he was good at everything, and also because his dad was a former NFL QB.
The Patriots are coming off of a 52-point effort over the Bills, putting them atop the NFL leaderboard in offense. Brady is as efficient as ever, completing 65 percent of his passes and throwing seven touchdowns to just one interception. New England has scored at least 30 points in three of their four games this season. They dropped to 1-2 early in the year, the first time they'd been under .500 in nine seasons.
The Broncos, meanwhile, revamped their offense under Manning and continue to feel their way out with the new quarterback. Manning has shown flashes of his former four-time MVP self – 30-of-38 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns last week helps the optimism – but he's also struggled enough that people are genuinely concerned about his arm strength following multiple neck surgeries.
This all adds up for what could be a true comeback game for Manning. A Revenge of the Nerd, if you will.
Bet on Peyton this weekend: 28-27, Broncos.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Tom Brady, Alien
He's so perfect he just doesn't seem real. But never forget that a large percentage of Boston secretly hates Tom Brady for not being gritty enough. Why can't he be dumber and crappier and sleazier? Nobody knows, Patriots fan. Nobody knows. New England will have to settle for Alien Joe Montana.
Wes Welker, White Guy
Say what you want about Wes Welker, but this is a guy who just grabs his lunch pail and hard hat and comes to WORK. Not the most talented player on the field, but he makes up for with his heart and football IQ. Grinder. Wants it so bad. There's just something about him, ya know?
Bill Belichick, Homeless Malcontent
I like to imagine he sleeps on a bed of newspapers underneath that random bridge they have at Gillette, grumbling at stadium employees who pass by stunned. Maybe this year Bob Kraft bought him an oil drum to start fires during the winter. GO PATS.
Peyton Manning, Robot
The Manningbot is malfunctioning. It's been in the field for more than a decade. How much longer can the Manningbot hold up? That shoulder just isn't rotating the way it used to. MANNINGBOT NEEDS MORE LUBE.
Von Miller, Hipster
Google a picture of Von Miller being a hipster ... Look, he's wearing a V-Neck cardigan with a Vespa on it. Thank God, Von Miller's one of the most terrifying humans on earth because otherwise he'd really need his ass kicked for outfits like that. (And, in fairness, he does have the best tattoo of all time.)
Joel Dreessen, Haha who?
Such a textbook Manningbot receiver.
BOSTON: The funniest words in the entirety of Wikipedia are "Boston is a humid subtropical climate." This is technically true, but so are the words "Danny Woodhead, NFL running back." They're both improbable, and yet both true.
The proud city of freedom and capybara-sized street rats will enjoy temperatures in the high 50s on Sunday. Showers will pass through the Boston area throughout most of the day, so ignore the advice of locals and bring rain gear even when they brag about how warm it is at 55 degrees. Have you ever seen a soaking wet Vince Wilfork rising from the mud in slow motion? On Saturday you will, and it will be the most beautiful thing you will ever see.
Ear poisoning is a real threat at Patriots games, however, since everyone in Massachusetts still loves the song "Headstrong" by Trapt.
Foodies, take note: you should feel safe eating the concessions at Gillette Stadium, since it does consistently earn the highest marks of any NFL stadium for food safety. (P.S. – Never eat in Florida stadiums, period.)
WHAT TO WATCH: PATRIOTS
Nickel and Dimed - How will the Patriots counter the Manning offense?
Yeah, I referred to the Broncos' offense as the "Manning offense," because that's what it is. At a press conference early in the week, Bill Belichick, the master of all things film and football, said that the Broncos' offense was virtually the same as the one Peyton ran in Indianapolis. As a result, the Patriots have watched film on Manning's 2012 campaign with the Broncos, as well as film of Peyton's time with the Colts. So how can we expect the Patriots to counter the "Manning offense"? Expect a lot of sub-packages. In the past, the Patriots have attempted to disguise their coverages, while keeping five or six defensive backs on the field. Of course, you never want to leave Manning too much time to operate, so assuming the Patriots have five or more defensive backs on the field for 60-80 percent of their snaps, the pressure generated by the front four will also be key.
Keeping Brady Upright = Struggling, hurting offensive line will need to bring "A" game
The Patriots offensive line has struggled in pass protection this year, and while the unit did have it's moments against the Bills vaunted front four, quarterback Tom Brady evaded several sacks by either throwing the ball into the turf, or surprisingly, making plays with his feet. Going against the Broncos' strong pass rush, which includes second-year sensation Von Miller and the rejuvenated Elvis Dumervil, the Patriots' offensive line will need to have a strong game for the offense to avoid the inconsistencies that have plagued them this year. Nate Solder, in particular, will have to have a strong game. The Patriots also hope that left guard Logan Mankins can return to action after missing week four against the Bills with a hip injury.
WHAT TO WATCH: BRONCOS
Size Matters: Broncos Wideouts v. Patriots Corners
The Broncos receivers have a huge advantage, literally, over the Patriots defensive backs. Demaryius Thomas is 6' 3, 229 while his counterpart Eric Decker stands 6' 3, 219. The Patriots starting defensive backs are much smaller, both standing 5' 10 195. The Broncos were unable to take advantage of that in 2011 with Tim Tebow at quarterback. In 2012, however, the Broncos have Peyton Manning and he will put the ball where his guys can get it, and the Patriots can not. I expect New England to counter this by playing a ton of zone coverage. They'll also try to disguise it – much like the Atlanta Falcons did to Manning in Week 2 – in an attempt to confuse Manning. The quarterback and his two young receivers are still trying to get comfortable with each other but every week it is getting better and better.
Avoid Being Gronk'd: How to defend the in defendable.
Bill Belichick is better than any coach in the NFL in making you uncomfortable, and I don't mean his post-game demeanor. Belichick is going to take you out of your comfort zone on offense and defense. They know what you want to take away and they game plan to use that player as a decoy. In 2011, the Broncos focused on Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots countered by featuring Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots went so far as to use Hernandez as a running back during their playoff win over the Broncos. This year, Hernandez is out with an injury. The Broncos will put Champ Bailey on Brandon Lloyd, and like use Tracy Porter or Chris Harris on Wes Welker. That leaves Gronkowski and the fact is the Broncos have no answer. What to do? Expect the Broncos to try and bracket Gronk, using a linebacker in front and a safety over the top to try and 'bracket' Gronkowski. Denver simply cannot afford to allow Gronkowski to run open down the seam. If Tom Brady is going to get the ball to Gronk the Broncos need to make sure there is no YAC or it could be a long afternoon.
1. Chris Kuper (Broncos G)
Denver's top offensive lineman broke his arm in August. He resumed practicing last week, and could possibly, maybe be there to offer a little moore umph in the middle of the Broncos offensive line this week.
2. Rob Gronkowski (Pats TE)
The Patriots uber tight end and hero to bros everywhere has been dealing with a bum hip. It might be a football thing, or it might have something to do with all those adult film stars who borrow his jersey. Only doctors and Bill Belichick know for sure. He practiced Thursday, and will be fine for the game.
3. Aaron Hernandez (Pats TE)
New England's two-headed tight end combo has been without its other half since Week 2, when Hernandez suffered an ankle sprain that may or may not have been a high ankle sprain. The Patriots did not, I repeat, did not stage a locker room walkthrough by Hernandez on Wednesday to engage in a little gamesmanship. He probably isn't playing this week.
GENTLEMEN PLACE YOUR BETS
Over/Under Updates to ManningFace.com: 4.5
ManningFace.com is quite a cultural phenomenon, and a really entertaining visit for any one that's a rival fan of a Manning-led team. The more updates to the site, the better the Patriots did. If you don't know what Manning Face is... Go. There. Now. And enjoy.
Over/Under Combined Jim Nantz/Phil Simms attempts at pronouncing Michael Hoomanawanui (Oh-man-nah-wah-nu-ee): 2.5
If Aaron Hernandez doesn't suit up, Hoomanawanui will play as the third tight end. This means he could see a couple of throws his way. The only question that would remain in such a scenario: Do either of CBS' announcing duo even attempt to pronounce his name, or do they simply refer to him as "Number 46"?
Over/Under On Tony Dungy References: 4.5
It feels as though Tony Dungy has been out of football for 10 years, but any game involving Manning inevitably goes to Manning's former head coach with the Colts. Dungy had little to do with the Colts offense, he didn't draft Manning and he wasn't there at the end, yet Dungy has become the expert on everything Manning.
Over/Under On Tom Brady Sideline Eruptions: 10.5
It just wouldn't be a Patriots game without Tom Brady screaming F-Bombs at an assistant coach or a member of his offensive line. Better yet, Josh McDaniels is a fellow master of the cursing arts meaning we could have a full-fledged bleep-fest if NFL Films has either one wired for sound.
STATGASM: WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE?
IN ANY EVENT
IN THE EVENT OF A PATRIOTS WIN
The Patriots are at 3-2 and the march to the top of the pile in the AFC is inevitable. Why not celebrate Patriots and patriotism? The Province of Massachusetts Bay was officially chartered by the English Crown on Oct. 7, 1691, less than 200 years before the Patriots' logo was born at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Spend the night celebrating the colony's founding. Monday morning commemorate Massachusetts' severance from the crown with a jaunt up I-95 to Minute Man National Historical Park ... ask for the Bill Belichick special tour.
IN THE EVENT OF A BRONCOS WIN
God will likely celebrate his Donkeys winning the game with a bitchin' orange sunset over the Rockies, or so a bumper sticker once proclaimed. As for your mortal self, get thee down to the Denver Beer Fest, rejoice and make thyself inebriated on any number of the craft brews purveyed by one of the city's many fine local brewers ... while you watch the sacred celebratory sunset.
IN THE EVENT OF A TIE
If you're a cynic, the most unlikely outcome signals a paradigm shift. Start learning to speak Texan, Houston Texan to be exact. If you're an optimist, a tie just means that both these teams, both these quarterbacks, are just too damn good to lose. It also might mean they've discovered a fountain of youth somewhere, likely the result of stem cell treatment for one's neck and the other's proclivity for bedding super models.
IN 140-CHARACTER CONCLUSION...
Brady v Manning. @SportsCenter. I hope they talk about who's more likeable. #ItsMe
Between Peyton Manning and Justin TImberlake, the Grizzlies are going to be great at hosting Saturday Night Live.
My gamer tag for ps3 is "aggie10whoop" anybody want to fifa
Hey bro @Chrisgronkowski ! Finally we get to play verses each other!