If you're not from Houston or Baltimore, you're looking for one thing and one thing only this weekend, and that's for Houston or Baltimore to pack up and go home. Because if they do, you get what you want ... what most of America wants ... and that's not Houston and Baltimore.
It's not just that these are two of the best quarterbacks in the business or two of the best to play the game, period. It's that they comprise one of the NFL's premier rivalries, with Brady-Manning reruns producing a 24-hour marathon of unforgettable moments -- like The Comeback in the 2006 AFC championship game ... or fourth-and-2 ... or the Four-Pick for the 2003 conference title.
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And unforgettable moments are what the NFL needs right about now.
Look, last weekend's wild-card games weren't exactly riveting, and that's being generous. If there was drama, it was only in the Seattle-Washington contest, and the question there wasn't who would win but how long RG3 would last. The league needs something, anything, to spike interest, and rolling out Houston and Baltimore isn't the answer.
As if that's supposed to happen.
No, this weekend's AFC games are virtual locks, with New England a 9.5-point favorite and Denver an 8.5-point choice. New England walloped Houston by 28 last month. Denver walloped Baltimore by 17 ... in Baltimore. New England has Brady, who rarely loses at home. Denver has Manning, who rarely loses to Baltimore. In fact, he won his last nine starts over the Ravens, including twice in the playoffs.
I think you get the idea. We're talking walkovers, which is why I suggest we just cut to the chase. Enough of the dress rehearsals; give us what we want.
Give us Manning-Brady.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are NFL legends, and it's not enough to acknowledge their greatness. What we want is to measure that greatness, and having them play each other makes that happen. The two met 14 times in their careers, with Brady winning 10, and on behalf of a football audience that craves magnificent play from its quarterbacks, I'd like to say thank you to the NFL schedule makers.
But that's not enough.
Nope, I subscribe to the Todd Rundgren philosophy that "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing," which means bring these two back while we still can. I mean, why not? This is Russell vs. Chamberlain, Ali-Frazier, Bird-Magic, Borg-McEnroe, Nicklaus-Palmer, Koufax-Marichal. It's a generation's best two quarterbacks paired in the most competitive of environments, and isn't that what we want from sports?
Brady has five Super Bowl appearances. Manning has two. Manning has an NFL-record four MVP awards. Brady has two, including the league's only unanimous vote. Manning has a regular-season record of 154-70. Brady's is 136-39. Manning has been named to 12 Pro Bowls. Brady has been named to eight. Manning is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. So is Tom Brady.
Enough already. When you want a meaningful game with quarterbacks, you want a meaningful game with these quarterbacks.
Manning raised the Titanic by resuscitating the last-place Indianapolis Colts. Now he's resurrected his career, putting together a season worthy of a fifth MVP award ... and that happened at the age of 36, after he underwent four neck surgeries and after he missed over a year and a half of football. There isn't much left for Peyton Manning to accomplish, except for one thing.
Beating Tom Brady.
Brady is the most successful quarterback in today's game, and that includes his glittering record vs. Manning. He beat him earlier this year. He's beaten him twice in the playoffs. But he hasn't beaten Denver with regularity. In fact, he's 4-6 against the Broncos, the only opponent with a winning record against him -- and that wasn't vs. quarterbacks like Manning. It was guys like Jake Plummer and Brian Griese and Kyle Orton.
Denver is a trap door for Brady. Brady is a trap door for Manning. Something has to give, and something usually does when these two meet -- like TV ratings. A Peyton-Brady rematch would captivate the public, and that's what the NFL likes.
It's also what it needs.
The league has been through a difficult year, beginning with Bountygate and the referees' lockout and continuing with the death of Jovan Belcher and the knee injury to RG3. People are tired of arbitrators, Mark Sanchez buttfumbles and Drew Brees commercials, and they want something more.
So give it to them. Give them Manning vs. Brady, and do it now.