Peyton Manning has a stormy history with the New England Patriots. No team in the NFL has given him more problems, denying him a chance at Super Bowl glory more than once.
As he returns to New England with the high-powered Denver Broncos this Sunday, here are five reasons to love Manning's rivalry with the team that has been his nemesis:
1. Battle of Wits With Bill Belichick
It is an overused trope when strategy in sports is likened to "a chess match." But for those who revel in mental gymnastics, the battle of wits between Manning and Pats' head coach Bill Belichick is as good as it gets.
Few quarterbacks in history have possessed Manning's speed of thought and knack for adapting to the intentions of a defense. Yet Belichick has often found the methods for frustrating Manning when nobody else could.
His reputation as a crafter of devilish defenses, not always obvious during recent seasons, usually comes to the fore against Manning.
Belichick has regularly moved his safeties around to disguise coverages and bait Manning into heaving deep strikes into deceptively heavy coverage.
His defenses have thrived by forcing Manning to forego his appetite for quick-fire big plays and accept the challenge of staying patient.
It is always the most fascinating aspect of these matchups to see what Belichick has in store for Manning. But this could be one time when even the coach's scheming can't save the Patriots.
The New England defense is ravaged by injury, while Manning is surrounded by the most dynamic cast of offensive weapons, including former Patriot Wes Welker, of his career.
Belichick will have to be particularly creative to slow Manning down this time. Seeing what he comes up with will be one of the game's highlights.
2. Controversial Calls
Whenever Manning and the Patriots get together it is safe to count on controversy. It has often come in the form of questionable calls that have decided titanic struggles.
In 2003, while Manning led the Indianapolis Colts, a decisive fourth-down stop by Patriots defensive end Willie McGinest decided a tense 38-34 shootout in favor of New England.
In 2009, it was Belichick's turn to suffer on fourth down. With the Patriots leading 34-28 deep in the fourth quarter in Indianapolis, Belichick went for it on 4th-and-2 at his own 28-yard line.
The ill-advised play was stopped short, giving Manning a short field and allowing the Colts to score the winning touchdown and take the game 35-34.
Aside from dubious play-calling, officiating has also been called into question. When the Patriots dumped Manning out of the playoffs in both 2003 and 2004, there were accusations that they were overly-physical with his receivers.
Controversy is never in short supply when Manning makes the trip to New England. With the Patriots facing their last chance to chase down the AFC-leading Broncos, expect some more on Sunday night.
3. Points, Points and more Points
Belichick and his hybrid defenses may have had the upper hand early in the rivalry, but recent meetings have been defined by points and lots of them.
Manning's last two games against the Patriots have produced a combined 111 points. His biggest win in New England came in 2005, when he directed a 40-point offensive output.
Given the state of their threadbare defense, the Patriots will trust their own prolific quarterback, Tom Brady, to go point for point with Manning.
4. The Manning-Brady Postgame Stare
There is an obvious respect between Manning and Brady, the two quarterbacks who have defined a generation of the NFL. But it is certainly a begrudging admiration.
That is always most evident during the postgame handshake. It is not often easy to tell who has won, based on the way Manning and Brady adopt stern expressions and try and avert each other's eyes.
The inevitable stare is usually as brief as the mumbled platitudes and obligatory handshake.
5. Another Chance to Ask the Question Who is Better?
Every time Manning meets Brady and the Patriots it is another chance to ask the question, who is the better quarterback? The two are intertwined in the debate over who is the best of their generation and perhaps even ever.
The extremes of the debate make it so intense. Manning is the polished athletic and mental marvel, seemingly created for the sole purpose of redefining the quarterback position.
Brady, by contrast, is the lowly sixth-round pick forced to scrap his way to the top of his field, and still playing angry about being made to wait so long in the draft.
Manning has the numbers, while Brady has the trophies. Manning owns the regular season, while Brady is clutch in the playoffs. Brady has nine wins out of 13 over Manning.
It is more than a mere debate. Manning versus Brady is one of the few sagas in sports that merits the hype.
No matter the outcome this Sunday, the argument will rage on.
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