INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Polian and Jeff Saturday are two people who know Peyton Manning better than many. Polian drafted Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in 1998 and Saturday was Manning’s starting center throughout most of his career with the Indianapolis Colts.
They both believe people should hold off on saying Manning, who missed six games due to injury this season, has no chance to outduel longtime nemesis Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.
“I don’t accept the fact that Peyton’s not playing at a high level,” Polian said. “All you had to do is see that game last week. He had six drops. He’s playing at a high level still. ... Brady is not playing better than him. When Peyton is healthy, he’s played exceptionally well."
Sunday's game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots will mark the 17th head-to-head meeting between Manning and Brady, with the latter leading the series 11-5. Twelve of those games were when Manning was with the Colts.
“The way Brady and Manning have both carried themselves on the field, they’ve both been champions for our game and made it one of the best things to watch and be a part of,” Saturday said. “It’s been a ton of fun. Back when Peyton was in Indy, we were probably the two best teams in the AFC and we were going to battle each other in the regular season and then you knew whichever team won in the regular season you would most likely face each other at their home in the postseason. Early on they got us and we flipped it and got them a bunch in a row. It was a true rivalry.”
This has been a challenging season for Manning because he missed seven starts because of a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel. The 39-year-old has only thrown nine touchdowns with 17 interceptions. Brady, on the other hand, has thrown for 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season.
The debate over who the better quarterback is will always linger. Manning has won one Super Bowl, while the 38-year-old Brady has won four. But it’s a pointless debate, according to Polian.
“They’re two great quarterbacks and as far as I’m concerned you can leave it at that,” Polian said. “Brady has more Super Bowls, so that puts him on top. I can accept that. But they’re the two best of their generation. Period. End of story.”
Sunday’s meeting could be the final one between Manning and Brady because it’s uncertain how much longer Manning, who will turn 40 in March, will continue to play.
“It could be, you never know with Peyton,” Saturday said. “I would never venture to guess. At the end of the day, he’ll look at what’s happened this year and he’ll decide whether he wants to come back. But he won’t make an emotional decision. It’ll be one that he’s really thought out and given a lot thought to.
"He said the other day that this is as good as he’s felt in a year and half. Peyton Manning will decide when to hang it up. Until then, I’ll keep pulling for him and hope he plays well."