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Manning, Brady: 2 Guys You Want QB-ing Your Team

AFC Championship Game: Patriots @ Broncos is profiling each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the AFC Championship Game to be played Sunday afternoon:

(2) NEW ENGLAND (13-4) at (1) DENVER (14-3), 3 p.m. ET, CBS

Story Lines

We all know there are 22 players on the field at any time, 92 who could play during the game.

We also know this one is about the quarterbacks. Tom vs. Peyton. Manning against Brady.

With a win, Manning would become the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to lead the NFL in passing yards and TDs and also advance to the Super Bowl that season. Simultaneously he would demonstrate the Broncos' wisdom in acquiring him from the Colts for the 2012 season despite his neck issues.

"It's the Broncos vs. the Patriots," Manning reminded. "Certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot. But when you get to the AFC Championship Game, it's about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there."

On the other hand, Brady, with the win, would surpass John Elway for the most conference championship wins by a starting quarterback and would make his sixth Super Bowl appearance, most by a starting QB in league history.

"It's a great achievement for our team," Brady, who returned from an illness that kept him out of Wednesday's practice, said about advancing to another conference title game. "I know people have counted us out at times during this year but I think we have a locker room full of believers. Hopefully we can go out and play our best."

Playoff/Rivalry Histories

The game is also about the coaches. With a win over NE, John Fox will become just the sixth coach in NFL history to lead two different franchises to the Super Bowl. With a win over DEN, Bill Belichick will join Don Shula as the only head coaches to lead their teams to six Super Bowls.

The Broncos lead the all-time series, 27-20, including POs, but the Patriots have won four of the last five, including this year's 34-31 overtime verdict at New England in Week 12. Belichick teams have prevailed over Fox teams in six out of seven meetings, including Super Bowl XXXVIII when Fox coached Carolina. The only Foxy win was by the Panthers over the Pats in 2005.

In the 14 head-to-head matchups between Brady and Manning, Brady's teams lead, 10-4.

New England is 25-17 all-time in the postseason, 7-2 in AFC Championship Games, and with a win would tie Dallas and Pittsburgh with its eighth Super Bowl berth.

Denver is 19-17 all-time in the playoffs, 6-2 in AFC title games, and with a win would tie NE for for the third-most SB appearances with seven.

Statistical Picture

So who has the edge, Peyton or Tom? Here's an analysis from someone who should know, WR Wes Welker, who starred with Brady for six seasons, then teamed with Denver and Manning this season for a career-high 10 touchdowns, and returned to action last week after sitting out three games with a concussion.

"There aren't too many differences — they're great quarterbacks," Welker said. "They do a great job of keeping guys accountable, with their leadership skills and everything else. They are two guys you want quarterbacking your team. It's a tossup between those two."

We could post many charts here, but this one is exclusive to that captures one of the QBs' common traits, which is the ability to lead touchdown drives. Every season for the last 10 years, either Manning or Brady or both have been among the NFL's top three QBs in touchdown drive percentage. Here's how they've fared unofficially each year since '04, keeping in mind that a percentage of .200 is just above average and .300 is outstanding:

Welker is part of Manning's superb receiving corps that includes Demaryius Thomas (92 recs., 1,430 yards, 14 TDs in the RS), Eric Decker (87-1,288-11) and TE Julius Thomas (65-788-12). Julian Edelman is a versatile player for the Patriots — Brady's most reliable receiver (105 recs., 1,056 yds.) and also a dangerous punt returner with a 10.7-yard average.

Two of the featured RBs in this game have been rejuvenated this season. The Broncos' Knowshon Moreno, who played his high school ball at Middletown South by the Jersey shore, cleared 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his fifth year as a pro. And LeGarrette Blount, acquired in trade by the Pats from the Bucs in April, has erupted in his last two games: 189 rushing yards in the regular-season finale and 166 plus four TDs last week vs. the Colts.

Pats K Stephen Gostkowski hit 38 of 41 FG tries this season and last week vs. IND was the first game this season that he didn't convert at least two FGs in a game. Broncos K Matt Prater is 26-for-28 this season, including his NFL-record-long 64-yarder and 14-for-15 overall from 40+ yards out.

Jet Fuel

You can't blame CB Marquice Cole if he's a little bit dizzy this week. Cole, who played his first three seasons with the Jets from 2009-11, spent most of the last two seasons as a Patriot, was cut the day after Christmas, then signed with the Broncos this Tuesday.

"It's an opportunity for me. It's better than being at home," Cole said Wednesday. "I'm no longer on that team, haven't been for a couple of weeks now. I'm on this team, and if my name is called, I'm going to go out and contribute as much as I can."

Two ex-Jets TEs could contribute in this game. Matt Mulligan is collecting quite a few city stickers for his Winnebago. He made camp stops with Miami and Tennessee before getting on the field with the Jets from 2009-11. Since then he signed with St. Louis and Green Bay before joining the Patriots permanently last Sept. 10. He had two catches for 16 yards, one for a TD from Brady, during the regular season and started vs. the Colts.

Joel Dreessen also debuted with the Jets as a sixth-round pick in the 2005 draft and played that one season for the Green & White. Then he moved on to the Texans from 2007-11 and to the Broncos the past two seasons. This season he has seven catches for 47 yards and a TD from Manning. He was inactive last week vs. SD.

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