• Christian Ponder
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • Vikings 37, Packers 34
  • 16-for-28, 234 YD, 3 TD, 0 INT
  • Watch Highlights
  • Peyton Manning
  • Denver Broncos
  • Broncos 38, Chiefs 3
  • 23-for-29, 304 YD, 3 TD, 0 INT
  • Watch Highlights

The Pregame Pressure

Christian Ponder didn't hide the fact that the Minnesota Vikings' regular-season finale on Sunday would double as a seismic moment in his career. If he played well and the Vikings beat the favored Green Bay Packers, Minnesota would be heading to the playoffs, and the team's faith in its young quarterback would be rewarded. If he faltered -- as he did the last time he played Green Bay -- coach Leslie Frazier would have a difficult time selling Ponder as the quarterback of the future in Minnesota. With Adrian Peterson in iconic mode, all Ponder needed to be was efficient. The Vikings were doomed if their signal-caller couldn't deliver a clean performance.

Does Peyton Manning actually feel pressure? We suppose it's possible. The Denver Broncos certainly had plenty to play for on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. A Broncos victory would clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC, ensuring that the road to Super Bowl XLVII would go through Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Manning had some personal stakes as well. Another big performance would further solidify his chances of winning an unprecedented fifth league Most Valuable Player award.

The In-Game Performance

Ponder lit up the Packers for three touchdowns, the same amount of scoring throws he had in the previous five games combined. Even better, Ponder played a turnover-free game, preventing Aaron Rodgers and Co. from getting to work with a short field. With Ponder holding up his end of the bargain, Peterson filled in the gaps, rushing for 199 yards in a 37-34 win that sent Minnesota to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. Ponder's 120.2 passer rating was a career best. That was what you'd call a "statement game."

Manning was casually dominant, finishing 23-of-29 for 304 yards and three touchdowns before giving way to backup Brock Osweiler early in the fourth quarter. By the time Manning jogged off the field, the Broncos were cruising to a 38-3 win and the conference's top seed. This was a dynamic performance even by Manning's standards, as the future Hall of Famer finished with a season-high 144.8 passer rating. His three touchdown passes gave him 37 for the season, the second-best total of his career. Manning was as good as ever, and the Chiefs never stood a chance.

The Post-Game Pick

Both quarterbacks stepped up in a big way, but Ponder made the biggest statement. If he had pulled a no-show against the Packers, he would have headed into a long winter facing plenty of questions about his status as the future in Minnesota. His clutch performance will stick in the heads of teammates, fans and management. The genius of Manning is that he makes the extraordinary look ordinary, and that's certainly deserving of our respect. But this Sunday was about Ponder. -- Dan Hanzus