By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - A Super Bowl berth will be on the line when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, but there is even more at stake for the renowned quarterbacks.
The legacies of the two greatest signal callers of their time may also be affected by the AFC championship outcome, says Gary Myers, author of New York Times bestseller "Brady vs Manning".
Myers believes Manning, the National Football League's regular season giant, sorely needs another Super Bowl title to elevate his status, while Brady would reign as the league's greatest ever quarterback should he raise the Lombardi Trophy once more.
"I think it’s huge, I really do," Myers, a longstanding NFL columnist for the New York Daily News, told Reuters about the opportunity for Manning.
"Right now, part of the narrative of Peyton’s career is he’s the greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history.
"But nine times his team has been knocked out of the NFL playoffs in their first game. That's a bad stat."
Despite his record haul of five National Football League most valuable player awards, the 39-year-old Manning has won only one Super Bowl and finished runner-up in two other trips.
Manning has an overall playoff record of 12-13 during a 17-year career spent with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver.
"Quarterbacks and coaches are really judged by how many rings they have. The fact that he only has one ties him with Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson," said Myers, referencing QBs who won Super Bowls with the defensive-minded Ravens and Buccaneers.
"I think the second ring will quiet a lot of the criticism Peyton’s faced over the course of his career."
Brady, meanwhile, has been defined by success on the big stage with four Super Bowl titles in six trips. His four rings tie him on the all-time list with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, who are both 4-0 in the title game.
"Incorporate January and the first Sunday in February as how quarterbacks are measured and Brady separates himself from Peyton, who is going to have all the important NFL (regular season) records.
"But Brady is going to have the rings. That is what I think their legacies will be," said Myers.
"I think it would be unquestioned that Brady is the greatest quarterback ever if he wins the Super Bowl this year, if he gets his fifth."
The Brady-Manning rivalry is the NFL's best, said Myers, although injuries have taken a toll on Manning in recent years and sapped the power from his throws, while Brady has rolled on.
Brady, 38, leads their head-to-head series 11-5 going into the remarkable 17th meeting between the future Hall of Famers - a clash that Myers believes will likely be their final encounter.
"He almost looks like he’s held together with Scotch tape now," Myers said about Manning, who threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions this season. "I would be really, really surprised if he attempted to play next year."
As for Brady's bid to repeat as Super Bowl champion after last season's controversy over the Patriots using under-inflated footballs in the AFC title game, Myers is not surprised.
"This is just a continuation of playing with a chip on his shoulder that he brought into the NFL because of where he was drafted," Myers said about Brady, drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round, the 199th player taken in the 2000 draft.
"And he’s done pretty well, taking nothing for granted, cherishing every game, always trying to prove people wrong and the whole thing with Deflategate certainly reinforced that mindset all these years later though he has nothing to prove in terms of what a great player he is.
"He is out to prove this year that Deflategate was a bunch of nonsense."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Andrew Both)