During the 2002 season, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning finished first and second in the NFL in passing touchdowns. While both were already established NFL quarterbacks, 2002 was the first time both spent a full season as starters, giving NFL fans a glimpse of an epic quarterback duo that would go on to dominate the AFC for years and define a generation.
From 2002 to 2014, Brady and Manning combined for 23 playoff appearances, 21 division titles, 12 conference title games, seven Super Bowl appearances and 793 touchdown passes.
But this season Manning- - now 39 years old -- has battled through multiple injuries, as well as some of the worst performances of his career. Brady is still going strong at age 38, but this is his 16th season in the NFL.
During the last month, two quarterbacks who are more than a decade younger than Brady and Manning have risen to elite levels.
Are Wilson and Newton poised to dominate the NFC the way that Manning and Brady dominated the AFC?
Over the past four weeks, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton rank first and second respectively in Total QBR. The Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers have gone a combined 8-0 in that span, outscoring their opponents by more than 21 points per game.
Wilson has thrown 16 touchdowns without an interception during the past four weeks. According to Elias, he is one of three quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 16 touchdowns and no interceptions in a four-game span in a single season.
The other two quarterbacks are Brady and Manning, who accomplished the feat during the same seasons in which they broke the single-season passing touchdown record. Wilson’s Total QBR of 95 is the best of the three during their respective four-game stretches.
Newton has also been on a serious hot streak with 13 passing touchdowns in his past four games. Elias Sports Bureau research notes Newton’s 13 touchdown passes are tied for second-most in any four-game span in Panthers history.
Newton has thrown a touchdown on slightly less than 11 percent of his pass attempts in his past four games, nearly doubling his touchdown percentage from his first nine games.
During the past month, Newton and Wilson have each thrown for five touchdown passes in a game on two occasions. According to Elias, this marks the third season in NFL history in which multiple quarterbacks have had multiple games with five passing touchdowns. The other two seasons where that happened were 2011 (Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford) and 2004 (Manning and Daunte Culpepper).
Stretching the field
One of the biggest reasons for their success has been their improved downfield passing in the past month.
Entering Week 11, Wilson was completing 48 percent of his passes that traveled 15 yards or more downfield and Newton was completing 38 percent of such throws. In the past four weeks, Wilson ranks first (65 percent) and Newton ranks fourth (56 percent) in the NFL in completion percentage of throws of 15 or more yards.
They have combined for 12 touchdowns and no interceptions on those passes.
Wilson leads the NFL in Total QBR from inside the pocket over the past four weeks at 98.5. Newton ranks second during that span at 93.3 inside the pocket.
Wilson has 15 touchdowns from inside the pocket since the start of Week 11, the same number he had all last season from inside the pocket in 16 games. He has been the most accurate quarterback on passes from within the pocket over the past four weeks. Wilson has been off-target on 9 percent of his pocket passes, three percentage points lower than the next quarterback.
Newton has 26 passing touchdowns from inside the pocket this season, more than he had in a full season from inside and outside the pocket combined during his first four seasons in the NFL.