EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning grimaced this week at the mention of the Manning Bowl, and he probably isn't the only one to have done so, not even in his own family. There isn't much new to say about the Manning brothers as they prepare to play each other for the third time in their careers Sunday, and that was painfully apparent when reporters spent nearly a half hour scrounging for a fresh nugget out of Eli.
Instead, Eli and Peyton Manning, separated by a few thousand miles and two time zones, delivered the same bromides we've been hearing since their first meeting in 2006: They try to appreciate the uniqueness of their situation, they sometimes steal a glance and a nod at each other across the field during the national anthem, they are really -- really -- much more focused on the team's preparations for the game than they are on their extraordinary circumstances. The reality is that the brothers seem almost embarrassed that the focus of these games seems to fall exclusively on them, all but imploring people to pay attention to the opposing pass rush, to the running game, to anything other than their sibling dynamics. It was not an accident that both brothers on Wednesday -- at separate news conferences given, respectively, from the New York Giants' and Denver Broncos' facilities -- said they were happy the game was scheduled for Week 2 rather than Week 1 or at a later, higher-profile date in the season, to limit the build-up they'd have to endure.
Still, because of the NFL's scheduling formula and Peyton's age (37 years old), this is very likely the last time the brothers will face off, unless they meet in a Super Bowl that would probably require their dad, Archie Manning, to have his own dais at media day. That tinges the game with some melancholy, particularly because less than two years ago, there was very real doubt that they would ever play each other again.
During Peyton's long struggle with the neck injury that eventually required four surgeries and an entirely lost season, he threw with Eli in their hometown of New Orleans. Peyton was at his lowest physical state then, before it became clear that he would need the spinal fusion surgery that would save his career. Eli told Peyton then that it looked like he could not complete his throwing motion.
"I was obviously hoping that Peyton would be playing football again and rooting for him and doing everything I could to support him, and try to give him feedback on his rehab and give him support as he was going through a tough time, and kind of a time of unknown of what he was going to be able to do," Eli said.
While Peyton was recovering, he turned into Eli's biggest cheerleader -- and an occasional advance scout. Before the Giants' overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 NFC Championship Game, for instance, Peyton and Eli discussed the 49ers defense -- they covered the very defense that San Francisco wound up running in a fourth-quarter play that ended with Eli throwing a touchdown pass on a post pattern to Mario Manningham.
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The Super Bowl victory that ensued gave Eli one more ring than Peyton, capping a season that was probably Eli's finest, in which he became particularly adept at moving around in the pocket and sliding away from pressure. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is the same skill for which Eli lauded Peyton this week.
That is not all that will look familiar on Sunday. Incredibly, the brothers had the same number of attempts and completions in Week 1. They were both 27-42, with Peyton (462) rolling up 12 more yards than Eli (450). The difference, of course, was that Peyton threw for an astounding seven touchdowns and no interceptions in helping the Denver Broncos trounce the Baltimore Ravens. Eli had four touchdown passes and three interceptions in the Giants' loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Which is why Eli was so quick to say that it is important to get a win in the friendly confines of MetLife Stadium on Sunday -- to get the Giants to 1-1, not to push his personal record against Peyton to 1-2. But even amidst the familial feel-good story, know that they are keeping score.
"Those moments are the things you remember and we'll remember for a long time," Eli said. "Hopefully, when I think back on these games that we played against my brother, I can think back and remember at least one win."
And here are 10 more things to watch this weekend:
1) How much more rust can Robert Griffin III chip off against a Green Bay Packers team that now knows the limits of his explosiveness on the ground?RGIII's passing looked much better in the fourth quarter of the Washington Redskins' Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles than it did in the first three, when he threw two interceptions. Still, Griffin clearly was not fully himself Monday night, with some suggesting he should not have been on the field at all. The Redskins have declared Operation Patience over, though, and Griffin's readiness is going to a theme for several weeks, at least.
2) It's Week 2 -- so naturally, quarterback controversies are percolating. Keep an eye on the Jaguars, Vikings, Buccaneers and Browns; awful performances by the respective starters of these teams have opened the door for second-guessing. Jacksonville will be the first to switch, with Chad Henne starting against the Oakland Raiders in place of the injured Blaine Gabbert -- and Henne has a good chance to keep the job, after a season opener in which the Jaguars couldn't get past midfield until midway through the fourth quarter. The most drama, though, is emanating from Tampa Bay, where there is speculation that the coaching staff rigged the captain's vote to keep the honor from going to Josh Freeman. He is in a contract year, he was not drafted by coach Greg Schiano, he was underwhelming against the Jets and he's thrown 10 interceptions in his past four games, the most in the NFL. And now Freeman has to outduel Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Paging Mike Glennon?
3) The 0-1 teams. All of them. But especially the Falcons, Redskins, Bengals, Ravens and Packers, all of whom entered the season with significant playoff expectations. None of the teams that started 0-2 in 2012 went on to make the playoffs. Since 1990, when the playoffs expanded to include 12 teams, just 11.6 percent of teams that started 0-2 made it. No team has started 0-2 and made the playoffs since 2008, when the Vikings, Chargers and Dolphins all did it. The good news: The entire AFC North can't go 0-2 -- the Steelers play the Bengals and the Browns play the Ravens this week.
4) Just nine months after Adrian Peterson nearly broke the single-season rushing record, will the complete obliteration of the running game continue? In Week 1, quarterbacks combined to throw 63 touchdown passes -- the most, by five, in any week of any NFL season, ever. They also combined to put up more passing yards than in any week in history. Meanwhile, just 11 teams ran for more than 100 yards, and the average total rushing yards per game was 93.4 -- down a stunning 22.5 yards per game from last season's average.
5) Is retaliation in store for Ndamukong Suh? Some fellow players were surprisingly outspoken in their distaste for the low hit Suh made in Week 1, which drew a $100,000 reprimand. (Suh is appealing the fine.) That has raised the question of whether opposing players might try to police Suh themselves -- with dirty hits that could put Suh at risk of injury. What happens with Suh, particularly after the whistle and when he is away from the ball, should make for required viewing.
7) In what condition will Michael Vick be by Sunday night? The pace of Chip Kelly's offense was breathtaking on Monday, but by the time it was over, Vick was already hobbling (he ran nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown) and lots of Eagles players were gasping. Then Kelly said he wants to go even faster. The question still remains: Is this sustainable for the long haul without college-sized rosters and with 30-year-olds -- instead of 19-year-olds -- trying to recover between games?
8) What becomes of the Steelers' offense? Center Maurkice Pouncey is lost for the season, and the running game all but disappeared -- to the tune of 32 yards, the lowest rushing total put up by the Steelers in seven years -- against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. Much of the burden will fall on Ben Roethlisberger, but will the mangled offensive line -- which will be anchored by a center (Kelvin Beachum) who has never started a game at that position at any level of football -- be able to offer him better protection? The Bengals' Geno Atkins has three sacks in his past two games against the Steelers, who, by the way, haven't started 0-2 since 2002.
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9) Can New York Giants running back David Wilson get a grip on his fumbling problem before Tom Coughlin loses a grip on his sanity? Wilson is already in Coughlin's doghouse after fumbling twice in the season opener against the Cowboys, but the Giants don't have the luxury of benching their best running back. Against the Broncos, they'll need Wilson to be part of an effective running game that can bleed the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field. How do you know the Giants are desperate here? They signed an admittedly-humbled Brandon Jacobs, who had exactly five carries before being released by the 49ers last year.
10) The "What's Your Deal?" Bowl.Niners-Seahawks might feature the NFL's best teams and could be a very early preview of the NFC Championship Game. Will Seattle's "12th man" crowd noise dim the chances that Colin Kaepernick can duplicate the explosive passing connection he had with Anquan Boldin in Week 1? After a relatively subdued performance against the Carolina Panthers, can Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and his offense keep up? Can we get cameras focused on Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll for their hyperkinetic sideline performances?