Peyton Manning's golden opportunity

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I've never been the biggest Peyton Manning fan.

I've long admired his dedication and the dignity with which he treats the game and its history. But even now I remain skeptical of his postseason legacy, which has never measured up to a status I conceded three years ago: Greatest Regular-Season Quarterback Ever.

Of course, for Peyton Manning, whose little brother Eli has two Super Bowl wins (over Tom Brady!) to Peyton's one (over Rex Grossman?) while Eli has also led the NFL in interceptions three times, Greatest Regular-Season Quarterback must be starting to feel like a consolation prize.

But now, the mouth of Seattle Seahawks cornerback  Richard Sherman has opened and out has flown, like a fire-breathing dragon, the greatest opportunity Peyton could have ever wished for: a Super Bowl foe who's a nine out of 10 on degree-of-difficulty scale. This challenge is much closer to the 1985 Chicago Bears than the 2006 Bears with backup-caliber Grossman at quarterback and a fifth-ranked defense. Seattle's defense is ranked No. 1 in fewest yards allowed, in interceptions (28) and in total takeaways (39).

Unlike the 1985 Bears -- the greatest defense ever -- Seattle's was built from the back end to stop what a Peyton Manning does best. Peyton is about to throw into the teeth of the Legion of Boom. The '85 Bears mostly terrorized passers before they threw. Sherman & Co. more often make QBs and receivers pay after the ball has been thrown -- with interceptions and concussions.

So, with Sherman relegating Peyton to Best Supporting Actor next week -- with the sports world hanging on Sherman's every word about how devastating Seattle's secondary can be -- the credibility of Peyton's challenge will rise by the sound bite. With Sherman's game-saving pass breakup in the NFC title game, he cinched his status as pro football's best cornerback -- precisely the kind of long, strong, headstrong corner who can match physicality and downfield speed with Peyton's favorite target, Demaryius Thomas, who's longer on speed than quickness.

Yep: For Peyton, Seattle is a IX in Super Bowl degree of difficulty.

For now, I rank him no higher on my all-time list than sixth, behind (in order) Joe Montana, Brady, John Elway, Roger Staubach and Brett Favre. After all, Peyton is only 11-11 in playoff games, with eight first-game exits -- four of those as a top-two seed playing at home after a bye. Until his two recent home wins over the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, Peyton had lost three straight playoff games. I'm sorry, but, by Peyton Manning standards, that's sorry.

But what if he added IX exclamation points to his regular-season record 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards by lowering the boom on the Legion of Boom in Super Bowl XLVIII and forcing Sherman to say Peyton made him look mediocre? What if Denver wins, say, 38-10 and DeMaryius catches three TD passes?

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