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Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, the final chapter

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If this season is Peyton Manning's last rodeo, it's only fitting that he will have to conquer Tom Brady to reach the fourth Super Bowl of his illustrious 18-year career.

The two greatest quarterbacks of the 21st century will square off for the 17th -- and perhaps final -- time next Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.

Brady's Patriots have emerged victorious in 11 of the previous 16 clashes with Manning's Colts and Broncos. Neither NFL legend has won on the other's home field in the postseason, which would seem to favor Denver.

This unrivaled rivalry began losing its luster, however, the last time the two did battle in November of 2014. With a stunning edge in arm strength and pocket movement, Brady thoroughly outplayed his aging counterpart as nagging injuries and Father Time joined forces to accelerate the erosion of Manning's Hall of Fame skill set.

Since that decisive 43-21 victory, the chasm between the two quarterbacks has only widened.

While Brady remains a legitimate MVP candidate playing at a higher level than he was five years ago, Manning has been a liability at the helm of Gary Kubiak's offense.

Manning has managed just one touchdown versus eight interceptions in five home games this season. After throwing a touchdown pass in 56 consecutive games stretching from November of 2010 through November of 2014, he has been kept out of the end zone in eight of his last 16 games.

Quarterbacks can only absorb so many hits, undergo so many surgeries and come out on the losing end of so many thrillers before their bodies break down. In Manning's case, that point was driven home Sunday when he willingly surrendered in the pocket for an untouched sack, only to be bailed out by a missed call when he popped up for a flutter ball to Emmanuel Sanders.

Brady, on the other hand, just finished carving up Kansas City's defense like a surgeon with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup.

"Nobody is above Tom," Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib conceded to NFL Media's James Palmer after Sunday's game. "Nobody."

Denver will enter the Manning-Brady showdown with home-field advantage and a superior defense, but New England has an undeniable edge at professional sports' most important position.

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