Here we go again.

Tom Brady will face Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship in Denver on Sunday afternoon. It will be the 17th time they match up against one another, with Brady holding a commanding 11-5 lead in the series.

Things are a little more even between these superstar quarterbacks in the playoffs, where Brady and Manning have split their four postseason meetings. In fact, Brady hasn’t beaten Manning in a playoff game in more than 11 years. Brady notched playoff wins over Manning in 2004 and 2005 while Manning returned serve in 2007 and 2014.

Underlying the 2016 matchup is the very real possibility that it’ll never happen again. Manning is 39, a year older than Brady. At least that’s what the birth certificates say. In reality, Manning is looking much older than Brady as the two try to lead their teams to the Super Bowl.

It’s been a long, challenging year for Manning, who appeared to have lost his job to Brock Osweiler before Manning came off the bench to rescue the Broncos in their regular-season finale. His once squeaky-clean reputation has been tarnished by allegations of PED use, and there’s talk he won’t be the QB in Denver next season.

Not that Manning will get any sympathy in New England. Brady knows all too well what it’s like to have your reputation come in question. He’s been dealing with it since Deflategate took the nation by storm last January. While six states rallied around TB12, the rest of the world seemed hellbent on proving he cheated. They’re still trying to prove it – and they’re still lacking evidence.


Manning, meantime, has gotten the benefit of a forgiving national football media. Networks have not had much to say following the Al Jazeera report that Manning’s wife allegedly accepted delivery of human-growth hormone shipments.

All of this seems to have taken its toll on Manning. This season, he’s thrown nearly twice as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (nine). He hasn’t thrown a TD pass since taking the job back from Osweiler.

In Sunday’s win against Pittsburgh, however, Manning reminded us he still knows how to deliver when his team needs it most. He engineered a come-from-behind scoring drive in the fourth quarter, taking the field with 9:52 remaining and leading Denver to a touchdown with just 3 minutes to go. The biggest play on the drive was his 31-yard completion to Bennie Fowler on third-and-12.

Brady, meantime, was in vintage form this weekend. He went 28 for 42 with 302 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in Saturday’s 27-20 win over Kansas City. Brady has thrown just one pick in the last five games, and has a chance to win a fifth Super Bowl ring. Who knows, maybe he’ll pick up a fourth Super Bowl MVP award along the way.

He’s just a year younger than Manning, but Brady has shown no signs of slowing down. Brady is an incredible 22-8 in the playoffs, compared to Manning’s 12-13 postseason record.

Brady has spent this season proving the doubters wrong, and will now spend Sunday trying to show us all he is the better quarterback in this remarkable rivalry.

We know Father Time is undefeated. There will come a day when age catches up with Brady, a day when we’re left with the memories of the greatest playoff quarterback we’ve ever seen.

That day isn’t here yet. But a good performance by Brady on Sunday could mean it’s sunset for Manning’s brilliant career.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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