Peyton Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, with his name all over NFL record books. Yet it's his playoff record, and in particular the perception of his playoff performances against the New England Patriots, that is the darkest black eye on his Hall of Fame career.
That can all change this Sunday.
Despite leading the NFL in career wins by a quarterback (186) and a 70 percent regular-season win percentage, Manning has a losing record in the playoffs at 12-13. It's hard to argue Manning hasn't been a contributing factor to his playoff woes, failing to post a winning playoff record with the Indianapolis Colts or the Denver Broncos. In 10 of those 25 games he's failed to complete more than 60 percent of his passes (he's completed over 65 percent in his NFL career).
How badly does the public perceive Peyton Manning as a playoff quarterback? The betting line on the game was set at Patriots minus-3 and immediately jumped to Patriots minus-3.5, which means bettors jumped heavily on New England. When has a No. 1 seed with the league's No. 1 defense ever been the underdog by a field goal in a playoff game against a team they already beat that season? That's largely on Manning, who despite being No. 1 in career passing yards and passing touchdowns is considered a liability once January hits (and the Broncos' win over the Patriots earlier this season was led by quarterback Brock Osweiler).
Manning's performance on Sunday against the Steelers, passing for only 222 yards and zero touchdowns while completing 57 percent of his passes (with some drops by receivers), certainly didn't help.
That can all change this Sunday. While the perception is that the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have "owned" Manning in the playoffs, the two QBs are 2-2 against one another, each quarterback beating the other in the playoffs in every home game. Yes, neither one has beaten the other on the road in the playoffs. Plus, the Patriots haven't beaten Manning in the playoffs since a snowy afternoon in Foxborough in 2005. And Broncos fans take heart: The Brady-led Patriots are 0-2 at Denver in the playoffs (2005 & 2013).
Brady is to Manning what Rafael Nadal is to Roger Federer: The lone asterisk in the "greatest of all time" talk.
If Manning can get a win on Sunday, he'll have a winning record against the Patriots in the playoffs and get that monkey off his back forever. While a loss in the Super Bowl two weeks later would certainly fuel the naysayers, a win in the Super Bowl would put an exclamation point on what is quite possibly his final playoff salvo.
It's supposed to be cloudy and mid-40s at kickoff in Denver next weekend. Let the GOAT win.
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