A twisted look at the great QB rivalry

"Well, I do know they would be facing each other in this championship game," said Herm Edwards, an ESPN analyst and former Jets and Chiefs head coach. "Both of these guys have the ability to elevate their teams, get them to the playoffs time after time.

"It's who you got around you. I say Peyton wins those three Super Bowls in New England."

Some of our experts, at the very least, agree.

A shared work ethic

Under Belichick, the Patriots have always tooled their offense to fit its particular parts. With a terrific defense, Brady didn't have to throw as much. When that defense deteriorated, he compensated in 2007 by setting a league record with 50 touchdown passes, breaking Manning's single-season mark at the time by one. Then, the Patriots featured Moss and Welker. Now Brady's back to handing the ball off, to LeGarrette Blount.

Manning has always been a passer first. As a rookie, he threw for 3,739 yards and set a rookie record (since tied by Russell Wilson) with 26 touchdowns. It is worth noting that for the seasons the Patriots won their second and third Super Bowls, 2003 and 2004, Manning was the league MVP. This year, Manning reclaimed the touchdown record with 55 and likely will wind up with all the important career passing marks; Brady, by a wide margin, should finish with the best winning percentage ever by a quarterback.

In the comfort of the Belichick cocoon, Brady won each of his first 10 playoff games, but he is 8-7 since. Manning started 3-6 and has gone 7-5 since. If Manning had been a Patriot, would early success have created a different postseason mindset? Would he have thrown those four interceptions if he had been playing against the Colts instead of for them in the 2003 AFC title game? With that database of confidence, could Manning have found a way to beat the New York Giants in one or both of those Super Bowl losses?

Choosing sides

"Wait, I know the answer to this," said Doug Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner. "All the people in New England would hate Tom Brady, and all the people in Indy would hate Peyton Manning. All by itself, that would be kind of weird."

Then he laughed. Flutie played professional football for 21 years and finished his career with the 2005 Patriots.

"Bill always had a knack for getting there," Flutie said of Belichick. "Maybe he would have gotten there with Peyton. Maybe."

Off the record, anyway, most of our experts chose sides.

"Peyton the Patriot gets five Super Bowls rings," said one particularly emphatic participant. "Four at the worst, six at best. Brady maybe doesn't get any without Belichick."

"Wrong," said another. "Brady doesn't throw four picks in the 2003 championship game. The Colts win with him in there. Give them both two rings. Hey, maybe Brady gets three if he beats the Saints in the Super Bowl."

One panel member wondered, "What's the count right now, Brady three, Manning one? I'd say it would be exactly the opposite."

"If they'd switched," said Dick Vermeil, who coached the Eagles and Rams to the Super Bowl, "you might have seen a couple of 19-0 seasons."

He wouldn't say if he was referring to a Manning-led Patriots team or the Colts with Brady.

Newsome, who opened this piece and had a Hall of Fame player career in Cleveland, thinks it would be a wash.

"Nothing would change," he said. "They are who they are."

The last word goes to Polian, the architect of those great Colts teams.

"When you think about it," Polian said, "it's almost as though the two quarterbacks cancel each other out. They [the Patriots] were ascendant when they won their three. We [the Colts] were ascendant when we won our one. Not sure there would be any difference at all."

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