It's Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, winner goes to the Super Bowl, loser goes home to wallow and be chided by various talking heads. Sure, there will also be other players on the field--offensive linemen, linebackers, running backs, safeties, etc.--but the narrative this week has been almost entirely concerned with the quarterback matchup and how the outcome will affect how both players will be perceived by history, fair or not.
So who has the edge in the 15th edition of Manning-Brady? It's not hard to like the Broncos' chances. They have been the stronger team this season, earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the strength of NFL's all-time highest scoring offense. Manning has an embarrassment of riches to throw to, as well as a deep stable of running backs behind him. His defense ... well, it had its struggles at times, but if there is any team built to outscore its problems it's Denver.
Brady has had to do more with less than he has had in a very long time. A revolving door of pass catchers and devastating injuries on defense kept the Patriots from finding a rhythm until late in the regular season. They still managed the No. 2 seed in the conference, however, and Brady remained consistently good. Now the Patriots are peaking just in time for a matchup of apocalyptic proportions.
Whatever happens, expect the narrative machine to be working over time next week.
For more on the AFC and NFC Championship games, check out Matt's full breakdown for Sunday.