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Peyton Manning-Tom Brady: Craving a classic, fearing a clunker

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So here we are again, and it's amazing.

It's Peyton Manning against Tom Brady on Championship Sunday. The football gods are smiling on us. It's all sorts of awesome.

Also, it would be a huge shocker if the Manning-led Broncos beat Brady and Bill Belichick.

Forget the Ali v. Frazier comparison. Think Buster Douglas against Mike Tyson.

Truthfully, I'm going to really enjoy this week. I love history. And my mindset is that this will indeed be the last time we ever get to see Peyton Manning and Tom Brady square off in the playoffs. I'm going to soak up every memory, every nugget about this legendary clash between two of the greatest quarterbacks -- or the two greatest quarterbacks? -- in NFL history. And selfishly, yes, it's my era of football, personified. I live for this.

I just hope the final chapter lives up to the billing on game day, because Denver is very fortunate to be here in the first place.

Against Pittsburgh, Manning was ... fine. He didn't throw an interception -- and that's noteworthy, considering the last time he started an NFL game, Nov. 15 vs. Kansas City, he chucked four picks and was unceremoniously benched. While the Broncos beat the Steelers on Sunday, it was the defense that guided Denver to the win. With the Broncos down a point in the fourth quarter and the Steelers driving, Denver CB Bradley Roby knocked the ball out of a third-string running back's arms. DeMarcus Ware recovered. And Denver proceeded to go on a clock-killing, 13-play, go-ahead touchdown drive, giving the Broncos a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Overall, though, it was hardly a crisp -- or particularly impressive -- win over the depleted Steelers. The Broncos needed Roby's forced fumble to hold off a Pittsburgh team with no Antonio Brown, a less-than-100-perent Ben Roethlisberger and someone named Fitzgerald Toussaint in for an injured DeAngelo Williams, who was in for an injured Le'Veon Bell.

Bottom line: You have to be better than "fine" to compete with the Patriots.

Please don't misinterpret: I give the Broncos and Manning credit for a playoff win. They earned it. But how is this version of Peyton Manning going to beat Bill Belichick and the Patriots? How is this Manning going to outscore a version of Brady who's still firing on all cylinders?

Manning and Brady have met 16 previous times, including the postseason. Brady has been victorious in 11 of those games, including four of the last five.

Manning, obviously an all-time great, is 7-12 versus the Patriots since 2000 (when Belichick took over).

Manning, obviously an all-time great, is 12-13 in the playoffs over his career.

These are important facts to keep in mind.

And in the worst and likely last season of Manning's epic career, why would I believe that, suddenly, everything would click?

Meanwhile, the Patriots are healthy on offense and, as the Chiefs found out Saturday, that's a scary thing. Brady has Julian Edelman back in the fold, and after Edelman shook off the rust, the pair proved dominant once again (see: 10 connections for 100 yards). Rob Gronkowski is a force of nature (see: two touchdowns). Run game? Who needs it? Going up against the Chiefs' outstanding defensive backfield, New England threw on its first 14 offensive plays, establishing a tone that served the Pats well all afternoon.

The Patriots' defense has been underrated all year. The front seven -- led by Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower -- is big, physical, playmaking and athletic. In conjunction with Belichick's mind, the Pats should be able to get to Manning and dominate Denver's underwhelming offensive line. (Yes, Jones and Collins both left Saturday's game with injuries -- we'll have to wait and see if either ailment is severe enough to affect AFC title game availability.)

Brady's had a sensational year. The revenge tour we predicted in the preseason has been real and spectacular. Plus, Brady's 22-8 in the playoffs over his career. It's his time to shine.

Want more than stats and scores? Head to Sidelines, where NFL Media reporters dig deep to find the compelling, thoughtful stories that are the heartbeat of this game.

And like I've argued in this space countless times, Belichick is the greatest coach in NFL history. His Patriots are in the AFC title game for the 10th time in the past 15 years. In the salary cap/parity era, that's out of this world.

Peyton Manning is nearing the end of the line. Father Time is undefeated.

As a huge Manning fan -- as someone who appreciates and adores his legacy -- I'm hoping Peyton has one final turn-back-the-clock game.

Dealing in reality, it's tough to imagine that happening.

All things considered, if Manning were to win this game, it arguably would be his second-biggest postseason win ever, behind only his Super Bowl XLI triumph.

But logic and reason say he won't have much of a chance.

Whatever happens on Sunday, though, let's all just enjoy this week of buildup for another playoff showdown between two all-time greats. We will never see it again.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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