- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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But which one? Which of those Super Bowl-winning, record-setting quarterbacks would you want on your team?
In essence, who's the better quarterback?
Definitely a tough call. Maybe too tough.
"I would go with Peyton due to hmmm," an NFC scout said, his voice trailing off. "I'm going to take that back. I would take Brady."
OK, so what if you had to choose -- for instance, if you had the first pick in a supplemental draft that featured Brady and Manning?
Even then, the pick is not so clear-cut.
"Wow, if you had the first pick of that draft, you would trade the heck out of it for the second pick," an AFC defensive coordinator said. "Because you can't go wrong with either one of them and you could pick up a little extra."
For years, Manning produced the superior stats while Brady collected Super Bowl championships. While Manning finally won a Super Bowl last season, Brady is the one on the stat binge now, tossing 30 touchdowns with two interceptions through eight games this season.
Each one has led his team to an undefeated record this season, and on Sunday they face each other for the 10th time in their careers, as the 7-0 Colts host the 8-0 Patriots at the RCA Dome. It'll be the first time in 10 years that two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks have dueled in a regular-season game (the last time was when Steve Young's 49ers beat Troy Aikman's Cowboys, 17-10, in 1997).
Brady's Pats own a 6-3 edge against Manning's Colts, although Indy has won the last three meetings. But finding stats to support a case for picking one or the other might be futile. Manning has a higher career passer rating; Brady has more Super Bowl rings. Manning has the single-season TD passing record; Brady is on pace to break it this year. You get the picture.
"You almost can't compare them strength to strength because they are both good at just about everything," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "If you had to pick a weakness, you would say neither one of them is a running quarterback. That's it."
To get a sense of how these two compare from a scouting standpoint,
ESPN.com asked three experts -- an NFC pro scout, an AFC defensive coordinator and an AFC quarterbacks coach -- to rate Brady and Manning across a range of criteria.
None would speak for attribution for fear of giving either quarterback incentive to single out his defense during future games.
Their evaluations follow:
Manning had all the physical tools coming out of college. That's why he was a near consensus choice as the No. 1 overall selection out of Tennessee. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Manning also is slightly bigger than the 6-4, 225-pound Brady, and would probably win an arm-wrestling match between the two.
"It's funny looking at [Manning] because the rest of their team is so small," the defensive coordinator said. "It's like watching the Little League World Series and the one kid is 12 and shaving, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with an 18-year-old girlfriend and throwing gas. That is what Peyton Manning is out there, like a man among kids."
The gap closes, however, when the experts analyze how arm strength translates to throwing a football.
"I think Peyton loses velocity because his balls are not pretty," the scout said. "Brady's spirals are always tight. It's picking on a guy -- Manning's throws are where they should be -- but they are not tight spirals."
Brady underwent shoulder surgery a few years back, but he can make the necessary throws -- and with ample authority.
"Against the Jets [in the season opener], he threw an out to Randy Moss across the field with a guy in his face, right on the money, from one hashmark to the wide side of the field," the quarterbacks coach said. "Then he throws a go route to Randy against Buffalo [two weeks later] and it is so perfect."
We leaned hard on the quarterbacks coach for this one. He analyzed both players closely coming out of college. He has studied both as professionals.
"Tom has tremendous mechanics, maybe the finest in the NFL for the last 10 years," the coach said. "I mean, he is different."
Some quarterbacks keep their feet moving. Brady sometimes appears to freeze from the neck down as he surveys the field. He plants both feet and wastes no movement.
"If you are standing there and looking where you should be looking, the quickest way to get rid of the ball is to have your feet set already," the quarterbacks coach said. "Otherwise, you have to reset your feet to throw. That is one of the reasons he gets rid of the ball so well."
Brady was the most fundamentally sound quarterback in the 2000 draft class, according to the coach. But general managers weren't willing to invest a high pick in Brady at least in part because he had shared time with Drew Henson at Michigan. That's one reason Brady wasn't selected until the sixth round, as the 199th overall pick.
"Tom is just naturally accurate and fundamental like Jim Kelly was fundamental," the coach said. "Some of those guys you can look back on and the reason they were so good was because they were so fundamentally sound."
The defensive coordinator also sided with Brady here.
"As a pure passer, Brady is better," he said. "If you did a competition of superstar quarterbacks, Brady would win on style points."
Not known as a hard thrower, Brady compensates with his accuracy. Meanwhile,
Manning commands so much attention with his pre-snap machinations that it's easy to take his accuracy for granted.
Suffice to say, both players can place the ball perfectly.
"Peyton's strength that is the biggest secret of all is his accuracy," the quarterbacks coach said. "He is just phenomenal that way."
Manning has worked with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark long enough to release the football with absolute trust, reducing the number of passes that appear off target. Brady has quickly developed a similar rapport this season with Moss and Wes Welker in particular.
Bottom line: Neither quarterback misses much.
Manning's ability to control a game separates him from every quarterback in the league -- including Brady -- the experts said.
"You would kill those video games if you could do what he does," the quarterbacks coach said. "[Colts offensive coordinator] Tom Moore does a great job of keeping him corralled and saying, 'Hey, I want these three [plays].' Tom calls the game, Peyton makes the choices."
Brady has become increasingly effective at changing plays at the line of scrimmage. He gets the Patriots into favorable running plays when defenses aren't in position to commit an eighth defender to the box, for example.
The Patriots' offensive package is more diverse in terms of personnel use and play count. But the Colts do more from within each play and formation. Their offense is more complex than it appears.
And nobody scares defenses at the line of scrimmage more than Manning, whose pre-snap gestures may or may not signal on-the-fly adjustments.
"Half the time I think he tries to bluff people," the scout said. "But when you see that, you're like, 'Ah, [shoot], we're in the wrong thing here.'
"He has an effect on people. It's almost like he knows what the defense is doing as soon as they line up. It's got to be his study habits, but I'm not sure Brady is much behind."
Brady screamed harsh words at his teammates following a false-start penalty last week, but the Patriots were so far ahead that it seemed calculated.
Manning has become demonstrably emotional when the Colts have fallen behind in important games. On Sunday against Carolina, Manning seemed flustered after struggling in the first half.
"You just don't see Brady get riled," the scout said. "Peyton seems like he'll almost lose his composure at times. I'll say Brady almost lets the game come to him, whereas Peyton tries to dictate more things."
The scout described Brady as more willing to settle for a 12-play, 60-yard drive than Manning, who tries to push the ball down the field.
"If you couldn't move the ball real well against a team, Peyton would get more frustrated whereas Tom would be, 'You know, we'll get them,'" the scout said.
Among active quarterbacks, Brett Favre, of course, has made the most consecutive starts in the regular season with a record 243. Second on that list? Manning with 151. Third on that list? Brady at 102.
Manning, in fact, has missed only one snap to injury in 151 regular-season games, and has played every snap in a season multiple times. Brady, who has taken more sacks in fewer games, occasionally has had to play through shoulder and elbow injuries.
Since Manning has done it longer, he gets the edge.
This season, Brady has taken eight sacks in eight games, compared to five in seven games for Manning. Manning has always been the toughest quarterback to sack, but he's taking more shots this season, usually after he releases the ball.
"Manning is seeing so much Cover 2 and he doesn't have as many answers, so he is holding it longer," the defensive coordinator said. "Therefore you get a chance to get hit a little more."
Brady possesses a "spider sense" in the pocket that allows him to avoid trouble as well as anyone, the defensive coordinator said. The scout gave Brady a slight edge in this category.
"He is absolutely beautiful in the pocket," the scout said. "That guy feels it from everywhere, whereas Peyton is more of a 'box' guy, like there is a box there and he'll hit all four corners.
"Brady can slide better to the left and right, he's more elusive. With his footwork, he never seems to be out of position to the point where he can't make a throw. If he needs to get rid of the ball right now, he can. But that is very close."
None of our panelists endorsed one quarterback over the other without some degree of waffling. They liked certain things about Brady and other things about Manning, but generally they expressed admiration and respect for both.
A general manager we consulted might have said it best: "The only thing I'm quite sure of is this -- Indianapolis would still pick Peyton Manning and New England would still pick Tom Brady."
Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
3dEric D. Williams
2dMel Kiper Jr.
2dEric D. Williams