XLVI Preview: Quarterbacks

We’ve been making Brady-Manning comparisons for nearly a decade. And while those have almost always involved Tom Brady and Peyton¬†Manning, Eli might be hot enough to put up a fight in the tale of the quarterback tape for Super Bowl XLVI.

Because while Brady’s the golden boy with the supermodel wife and the three Super Bowl rings, the “What have you done for me lately?” ethos favors Peyton’s awkward little brother.

Eli has won seven of his last eight playoff games, including a victory over Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Brady, on the other hand, has lost three of his last five playoff games, and hasn’t won the Super Bowl since 2004. After winning his first 10 playoff games while throwing only three picks, Brady has thrown 16 interceptions and posted a record of 6-5 in his last 11 postseason affairs.

Comparing their playoff stats since 2007:
Brady: 67%, 257 YDS/GM, 16 TD, 10 INT, 6.8 YPA, 90.8 rating
Manning: 60%, 243 YDS/GM, 14 TD, 4 INT, 7.2 YPA, 93.2 rating

Neither quarterback is coming off a fantastic outing, as both Brady and Manning struggled to sustain drives against stellar defenses in conference title games. Manning posted an 82.3 rating but didn’t turn it over in poor conditions in San Francisco, while Brady posted a 57.5 rating while throwing two uncharacteristic interceptions in ideal conditions at home.

So Manning is still clearly coming off of a stronger overall performance, but that could be a bad omen because Brady very rarely has back-to-back rough outings.

As far as the 2011 season as a whole goes, Brady got a lot more attention for hitting the 5,000 passing yards mark. But Manning fell only 67 yards shy of 5,000. As per usual, Brady was more accurate and slightly more consistent than Manning was, completing 65.6 percent of his passes (to Manning’s 61.0) and throwing only 12 picks (to Manning’s 16).

But something has to be said for what Manning did in clutch situations this year. Brady wasn’t shabby in the fourth quarter, but Manning led the league with six game-winning drives and six comeback victories during the regular season. The most famous of those comebacks came against this very New England team, in Foxboro in Week 9. On that day, Manning threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 15 seconds on the clock as the Giants became the first team to beat Brady at home in the regular season since 2006.

Brady made more big throws in that game, but Manning made the biggest. And Brady turned it over three times and took two sacks, while Manning had just a lone pick and wasn’t sacked at all.

Pressure was also a key factor in that Super Bowl meeting. Manning got away from the New England rush on the famous, game-saving play to David Tyree, and he generally was able to avoid sacks better than Brady, who was taken down five times and fumbled once.

Manning has never really been able to outperform Brady on paper, but he’s been within close enough range and made enough plays in crunch time to compensate for Brady’s greatness. Both of these quarterbacks are coming off of historically good seasons despite a lack of support from their running games and lapses on defense.

On Super Bowl Sunday, we’ll be watching two of the top five quarterbacks in football. And more importantly, we’ll be watching proven winners.

Edge: Too close to call.