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Ranking the Games: Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are about to lace up against each other for the 16th time. Here's a breakdown of the results.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

On November 2nd, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will star in the sixteenth match-up between the two first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Brady and the Patriots hold a series edge of 10-5, although Manning holds the lead in conference championship games 2-1.

The Patriots currently stand at 6-2, the Broncos 6-1. Brady just posted the 4th best October by a quarterback all time. Peyton matched step with the 6th best. Both teams are playing their best football and preparing for the back stretch of the season.

This game will undoubtedly shape the outcome of the AFC.

Sixteen games. We're about to have a full season's worth of games between these legends. There has never been a rivalry that matches Brady and Manning, with respect to the level of greatness and magnitude shared in every game. Maybe Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick will reach that point as Divisional Rivals- but both Brady and Manning are mentioned in the ranks of the top quarterbacks of all time; it will take some time before any rivalry can come close.

And looking at the history, Brady and Manning have shared some pretty incredible games with each other, and it could be argued that every single game has a key moment that ranks in the lore of the league. Let's go through all fifteen games that have occurred and rank them based on their significance in the rivalry and on the face of the football history.

15. October 7th, 2012 - Patriots win 31-21. This game is fairly nondescript when looking at the box score. The Patriots ran out to a 31-7 lead. Peyton scored some garbage time points; his statline a deception for how weak he looked. But that's the story line. It was Peyton's 5th game back from potential career-ending spinal surgery. This was the return of a great quarterback- it was also the last time the Broncos would lose during the regular season. They secured home field advantage and were one-and-done, a victim of Raheem Moore and the Rocky Mountain Rainbow to Jacoby Jones.

14. October 21st, 2001 - Patriots win 38-17. This is the game David Patten scored by running, receiving, and passing for a touchdown. Patten stole the show and became the 6th player to ever accomplish the feat. It was early on in the rivalry, but Patten's production makes this a notable game in the annals of history.

13. January 19th, 2014 - Broncos win 26-16. A conference championship game will generally be ranked higher when looking at a legacy. Perhaps its the Seahawks stomping out the Broncos that lessened the value of this game. Maybe it was the Broncos record-setting offense against the dismantled Patriots defense, missing three (Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Aqib Talib during the game) of New England's four All Pro defensive players (Devin McCourty survived). Patriots fell behind and never seemed like they had a shot to win. Broncos were the better team. Maybe it's a testament to the history that this is ranked so low; maybe it's my bias. But wait until you see the remaining games.

12. November 7th, 2005 - Colts win 40-21. Peyton led the Colts to scores on seven of the team's nine drives, while Brady countered with 3 of his own touchdown passes. Still, this game is important as it marked Peyton's first victory in the Brady-Bill Belichick era. It showed that Manning was capable of getting over the hump and would also push Brady from a time where he could help win games to where he would have to win games.

11. November 5th, 2006 - Colts win 27-20. Manning won back-to-back games against Brady and Belichick and there was a sense of panic. Were the Patriots done? They didn't have any weapons on the Reche Caldwell-fueled offense (no player cracked 1000 yards from scrimmage), while Peyton was playing with multiple first round picks in Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Joseph Addai. But in this game, Brady imploded. Four interceptions, with one at the end to stifle any chance of a Patriots comeback. This game featured rosters that are a microcosm for this entire rivalry.

10. November 11th, 2010 - Patriots win 31-28. The Patriots had carved out a 31-14 lead, but the defense left no one confident. This is the year after one of the higher ranking games (keep reading to see!), so the Patriots victory was more-than euphoric. Manning led two comeback drives to get within a field goal and was leading one final drive. Peyton had the ball in field goal range, but decided to go for the victory with 37 seconds left in the game. The ball went up, but Patriots safety James Sanders came down with the game sealing interception.

9. September 9th, 2004 - Patriots win 27-24. It's been a long time since the Patriots and Colts played each other before the middle of the season, but the Patriots hosted the season opener against Peyton and the Colts. The Patriots were coming off a Super Bowl victory and in the midst of a 15 game winning streak. The Colts were down three, but had the ball with 1:43 left in the game. Peyton chucked a pass that picked up 45 yards and into the Patriots red zone on the first play of the drive. Willie McGinest managed to sack Manning to push the line of scrimmage back and the Colts kicker, Mike Vanderjagt, missed the potential game-tying 48 yard field goal.

8. September 30th, 2001 - Patriots win 44-13. This game is ranked so highly purely based on the fact that Tom Brady's first career start was against Peyton Manning and the Colts. That's destiny. Enough said.

7. November 4th, 2007 - Patriots win 24-20. Undefeated. A season for the ages. A title that very well could have gone to the Colts. The Patriots (8-0) and the Colts (7-0) met for the right be the last undefeated team in the league. The Patriots would go on to break Manning and the Colts historic production in 2004, but this game solidified the Patriots' greatness. Down 20-10 with under 10 minutes to go in the game, Brady engineered two consecutive touchdown drives to take the lead. With one final drive, Patriots defensive end Jarvis Green forced a fumble from Manning at midfield to seal the Patriots victory.

6. November 30th, 2003 - Patriots win 38-34. The Patriots ran out to a three score lead (common thread in these games?), before Peyton scored three touchdowns in the span of four minutes to tie the game. Luckily, Brady and Deion Branch connected for a touchdown to extend the lead to 38-31 and the defense forced the Colts to punt, but a Kevin Faulk fumble on the Patriots 11 yard line gave the the Colts an easy field goal. A Ken Walter 18 yard punt later and the Colts were knocking on the goal line with four downs and 40 seconds to score. Two run stuffs and an incomplete pass later, the Patriots had to hold on a fourth down to secure the win. Willie McGinest and his sprained knee made the stop and his celebration run to midfield became iconic for the Patriots' defense.

5. January 16th, 2005 - Patriots win 20-3. Another playoff game, and one that could be considered ranked too low. Manning was held to 238 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception on 42 attempts. The Patriots completely grounded the best offense and the best year of quarterback play the league had ever seen (up until this point). They also stopped them with Troy Brown playing offense (2 receptions, 13 yards), special teams (2 punt returns, 28 yards), and defense (primary nickelback).

4. November 15th, 2009 - Colts win 35-34. Of all the calls that will go down in history, this game will have Belichick's most memorable. 4th and 2. The Patriots had a three score lead in the 4th quarter, only for Peyton to lead three drives of 2:04, 1:49, and 1:47 to steal a one point lead and win a game they never should have won. The crucial part of the game was Bill Belichick opting to go for the first down on 4th and 2 from the team's own 28 yard line (so forgive Patriots fans for being overly excited about James Sanders interception at rank #10). The play was ultimately called short, giving Manning a short field to win the game.

3. November 24th, 2013 - Patriots win 34-31. Read Alec Shane wax poetic about this game here. Not sure what more could be said. The Patriots were down and out, until they weren't, and then Belichick "took the wind" in probably a top five coaching decisions in his career, ultimately ending the game in overtime on a punt where former-Patriot Wes Welker was on the receiving end of a bad play. Go read Alec's article. It's perfect.

2. January 18th, 2004 - Patriots win 24-14. The 2003 AFC Conference Championship Game. Also Peyton's third worst day of quarterbacking in his career with a passer rating of 35.5 (although surprisingly not his worst playoff game; he posted his worst-ever passer rating of 31.2 as the Colts were blanked by the Jets 41-0 in the first round of the 2002 playoffs.). This game lent credence to Belichick's ownership of Manning and Ty Law's three interceptions (Rodney Harrison produced a fourth interception) elevated him to Patriot legend. The Patriots went on to beat the Carolina Panthers for the team's second Super Bowl championship in three years.

1. January 21st, 2007 - Colts win 38-34. The magnitude of this game is what ranks it first. Manning came back, down two scores, in the conference championship game. Much like how the the Patriots versus Broncos conference championship game in 2013 was merely for the right to lose to whichever powerhouse won the NFC, this game was for the right to win the Super Bowl against whatever mewling team the NFC produced. And yes, we will forever blame Reche Caldwell for losing the right to win Super Bowl #4.

This is probably the most important game in both Brady's and Manning's career trajectories. It led Manning to his Super Bowl victory, a requirement (however you feel about it) to be considered part of the "Greatest Quarterback of All Time" discussion. It also led to the Patriots reworking their offense, to create the 2007 Patriots, the greatest offense the NFL has ever seen.

No matter how you spin it, this is most memorable game of the Brady-Manning rivalry. Let's see how they try and top it.


Of the eleven regular season match-ups, seven have come in the month of November. This game will mark the eighth mid-season match-up.

The Patriots have hosted seven of the regular games, with this game marking the eighth. The Patriots are extremely fortunate to have their home field advantage for two-thirds of these match-ups.

The Patriots have broken the 30 point barrier eight times against Peyton's teams, while Manning's offenses have broken 30 five times. On the flip side, Brady has failed to break 20 points just once (this past conference championship game in 2013), while Manning's offense has fallen below that mark four times (albeit none since the 2004 playoffs).

Manning has posted four touchdowns three times and has just one touchdown-less game (the 2003 Conference Championship). Brady has no four touchdown games and two touchdown-less game (although one of those games came in his first ever start). Brady has hit three touchdowns six times, while Manning has two additional games, bringing his total games with 3+ touchdowns to five.

Brady went 16/20 for 202 yards and three touchdown passes in his second game against the Colts, back in 2001 (remember they used to be divisional foes). His passer rating of 148.3 in that game is the highest by either quarterback during the rivalry.

Peyton has exactly 100 more pass attempts than Brady in their face-offs (600 to 500). Brady's completion rate is 66.8%, Manning's is 62.7%. Brady's yards-per-attempt is 7.4, while Manning's is 7.3. Manning has 31 touchdown passes to Brady's 27. Brady has 12 interceptions to Manning's 20.

Brady has posted the better passer rating in 11/15 match-ups, a testament to not just his ability, but also how well Belichick has coached up the Patriots defenses.