The game that fans in New England, Denver and throughout the NFL had circled when the schedule came out last spring in finally upon us.
Sunday Night Football gets the latest installment of the Brady vs. Manning rivalry as Tom Brady’s Patriots (7-3) host Peyton Manning’s Broncos (9-1) at Gillette Stadium.
If it were a pay-per-view cable TV event it would be hyped as Brady vs. Manning XIV. And it would cost $74.95. But thankfully it’s on broadcast television for all the world to see for free.
Interestingly the game comes after each quarterback faced his toughest defensive test of the season.
Manning dispatched the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense last Sunday night with a 27-17 victory at Mile High Stadium.
Brady and his retooled and finally healthy offensive moved the ball well against a Panthers defense that was No. 2 in the NFL in points allowed before to Monday night’s 24-20 Carolina victory that ended on a controversial non-call in the end zone with New England looking for the comeback as time expired.
Still, the effort by a Patriots offense that has struggled for much of the season has some believing the attack is back.
That could set up a shoot-out atmosphere in Foxborough, despite a forecast for cold, windy conditions.
Both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks will remain in primetime as they prepare to do battle in a game that, as is so often that case in what seems like annual November meeting between the two, may have major postseason seeding ramifications in the AFC.
Denver’s win over Kansas City gave the Broncos a shot at the No. 1 overall seed, with another matchup with the Chiefs on the horizon following this Sunday’s trip to New England.
Given that the second place team from the AFC West will fall to the No. 5 seed in the conference, the Patriots are very much in the mix for the No. 2 seed and the ever-important bye that comes with it.
“We have another big one coming up this week,” Brady said simply after the loss in Charlotte.
A couple days later he was asked the usual question in this matchup, in regards to what it’s like going up against another great in Manning.
“I don’t have (to) play against him,” Brady said. “I think that’s the thing. It’s more of the defense that plays against him. You realize that when you play a good team, another good quarterback, that you’re going to have to score a lot of points.
“We try to score points anyway, but this is a very good football team, led by a great quarterback, one of the best of all time. I’m excited to see how we do.”
Running back Stevan Ridley was a bit more honest in his assessment of a matchup. Apparently it wasn’t just the fans and TV executives making note of this late November matchup.
“Looking forward to it,” Ridley said. “It’s going to be a challenge. We circled this one on our schedule a while back,” Ridley said. “It’s going to be two greats going at it.”
Two great quarterbacks and, with Brady getting his weapons back, maybe two great offenses looking to put up big points against a couple suspect secondaries. Brady and all the Patriots know the challenge at hand.
“I think we realize the caliber of team that we’re playing,” Brady said. “They’re 9-1, they’re playing really well. They do a lot of good things offensively. They have some explosive, dynamic players defensively. They have 13 or 14 interceptions, something like that.
“They have, the kick returners, you watch them return kicks. They have a great field goal kicker. This team is one of the best teams in the league. They were one of the best teams in the league last year; they’re one of the best teams in the league this year. It’s going to be a good game.”
If so, it will be the next chapter in the long, storied rivalry between Brady and Manning.
SERIES HISTORY: 44th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead all-time series 25-18. While heading to Denver has been tough task for the Patriots dating back to the start of this series in 1960 when the American Football League was founded, the Patriots have a 10-9 record against the Broncos in games played in New England. The Patriots beat Peyton Manning’s Broncos, 31-21, last October at Gillette Stadium and New England has won the last three games in the series, including blowing Tim Tebow’s squad out of the postseason in January 2012. Things were pretty ugly for a stretch for the Patriots when New England lost 10 straight games to Denver from 1984 to 1998.