Fauber: Dream matchups on tap in NFL playoffs

I’ve never been the world’s biggest NFL fan. I root for the Ravens, but I don’t feel that same connection with them as I do with Virginia Tech or the Baltimore Orioles. But I have to admit that I’m pretty excited about Sunday’s two NFL playoff matchups.

This weekend presents two dream games for the NFL and its fans — aside of any game featuring their favorite team, of course. Honestly, I can’t think of a more intriguing pair of matchups.

First there is the much-hyped Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry, as the Broncos and the Patriots square off the in the AFC title game. I don’t usually buy into all of the hype that networks like ESPN always put into this rivalry because the two don’t actually compete against each other on the field at the same time, but you simply can’t ignore the fact that Manning and Brady are the greatest quarterbacks of this generation, and easily rank among the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. For that reason alone, this game is a must-watch, and if we’re lucky it will be a game that sports fans talk about for a long time.

The argument has been raging for years about which one is the better quarterback between Manning and Brady, and Sunday will provide a clearer picture about who is indeed the better signal caller. (To note, Brady is 10-4 all-time against Manning, including 2-1 in the playoffs.) The outcome also will play a major role in the legacies that these two quarterbacks leave behind.

If Brady isn’t already considered the greatest postseason quarterback to ever play in the NFL, he could very well meet that status with a win over the Broncos. If Brady leads the Patriots to a win in Denver on Sunday, he will reach the Super Bowl for the sixth time, topping the current all-time record that he shares with Denver’s own John Elway. And if Brady reaches the Super Bowl and wins, he will tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl wins (4) by a QB.

Brady also has the most playoff wins (18) ever by a quarterback, and he is three short of Montana’s all-time mark of 45 touchdown passes in the playoffs.

Manning’s legacy is little more complex than Brady’s. As far as pure passing numbers go, Manning looks like he very well could be the greatest quarterback to ever step foot on a football field.

He owns a ton of passing records, including the NFL regular season records for passing yards (5,477), touchdown passes (55) and games in a season with at least four touchdown passes (9) — and Manning set all of those records just this season at the age of 37. The fact that Manning might still be improving this late in his career is an incredible thought.

Manning also has won an NFL-record four MVP awards, and he should win his fifth this year when the award is announced on Feb. 1.

But for all of the regular season success that Manning has had, his playoff success just doesn’t stack up. As far as in-game statistics go, Manning’s numbers are actually very good. But he owns just a 10-11 record in the playoffs in his career, and has just one Super Bowl win in two tries (baby brother Eli has more Super Bowl wins).

Peyton Manning has a chance to silence his critics by beating the Patriots on Sunday, and a win in the Super Bowl would make him the only starting quarterback to win a championship with two different teams.

Sunday’s second game, the NFC title game, features a couple of West Coast teams in the Seahawks and the 49ers who, ironically enough, are better known for their physical defenses than for high-flying offenses.

At the beginning of the season, I hoped that these two NFC West rivals would meet with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, and that’s exactly what the NFL gave me.

There is just something about watching a defensive battle on the gridiron. It may not make for the most entertaining television viewing, but it’s nice to sometimes get away from all of the pass-happy, videogame-type offenses that have taken over the sport.

Seattle and San Francisco are going to grind it out for four quarters, and the game should provide a great contrast to Sunday’s opening act. It also pits two of the league’s rising stars against each other in quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

Wilson, already a fan favorite due to his underdog status, has a chance to blast into true superstardom by winning the Seahawks’ last two games, and Kaepernick could set the tone for his own legacy by making his second straight Super Bowl appearance with a win on Sunday.

Neither quarterback lights up the stat sheet like Manning or Brady, but they are both effective in a unique way and have proven they can lead championship-caliber teams.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD