Tom Brady is quarterback of the noughties
Lounging around the house, playing with my children and attempting to eat my own body weight in chocolates has given me a great deal of time to think over Christmas.
And being a true NFL anorak, it hasn't taken long for my thoughts to turn to the latest news and views from across the pond. One subject has really caught my attention as the decade draws to a close with a thrilling 2009 campaign.
The NFL will soon be announcing their Team of the Decade for the noughties and it will be fascinating to see who gets the nod at quarterback.
Usually, you can find a clear winner, but not this time. Peyton Manning, of the Indianapolis Colts, and Tom Brady, of the New England Patriots, are not only the dominant quarterbacks of the past 10 years, they are among the very best in NFL history.
Separating these two outstanding players is going to be very difficult. I could make a strong argument for both. I think whoever wins will be justified in taking such a coveted prize but the loser can also feel pretty aggrieved not to have been selected. And they will probably wonder what more they could have done.
In terms of pure passing yardage, touchdown strikes and the artistry of throwing the football, Manning is head and shoulders above his contemporaries and ranks right up there with the likes of Dan Marino in delivering pass after dynamic pass right on the numbers.
A first round draft pick in 1998, Manning has been an ever-present in the Colts line-up and has earned a reputation as a strong-armed passer with a quick release designed to frustrate the speediest of defensive linemen.
But he brings much more than physical skills to the table. Manning has earned a reputation as one of the most cerebral quarterbacks in the game's history. No other quarterback in the NFL today has as much freedom as number 18 when at the line of scrimmage.
Manning and Brady have won four Super Bowls between them
The Colts often call three plays in the huddle and then let Manning decide which one to run when he sees how the defence is lined up. That kind of freedom is not afforded to many quarterbacks in the NFL - even the likes of Brady, Brett Favre and Drew Brees tend to be guided by their coaches and coordinators.
In terms of numbers, Manning has the decade pretty much sewn up. He has played 10 seasons and thrown for 42,159 yards, 314 touchdowns and 137 interceptions. He has been voted to eight Pro Bowls, picked up three NFL Most Valuable Player awards, one Super Bowl ring and one Super Bowl MVP crown.
Not a bad decade of work.
Brady has only played eight seasons. He took over from the injured Drew Bledsoe one game into the 2001 campaign and played the opening quarter of the 2008 season before having that year wiped out through a knee injury.
So Brady was always going to fall behind on the numbers. Still, he has thrown for 30,658 yards, 225 touchdowns and 98 interceptions. Brady has been voted to five Pro Bowls, won one NFL Most Valuable Player award and set the single season record for touchdown passes with 50 in 2007, breaking a mark of 49 set by Manning in 2004.
But it's what Brady has done in big games and during the playoffs that makes me think he will have a shot at the All-Decade Team, even with inferior regular season numbers when compared to Manning.
Brady has a record of 14 wins and three losses in the post-season, has won three Super Bowls and lost another thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime fourth down catch inside the game's final minute, is a two-time Super Bowl MVP and has saved some of the best performances of his career for the playoffs.
Manning has won a Super Bowl but he has also played some of the worst football of his career when the stakes have been at their highest in the playoffs. He has a distinctly average record of seven wins and seven losses in the playoffs. He even posted a quarterback rating of 31.2 during a miserable 41-0 playoff loss at the hands of the New York Jets in 2002. The Colts have also been knocked out of the playoffs twice by Brady's Patriots (in 2004 and 2005) and have been eliminated at the first attempt during the 2005, 2007 and 2008 seasons.
Brady's play in the post-season has seen him compared to arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana. He has twice led New England on game-winning drives late in Super Bowls and he set an NFL record with 10 playoff wins in a row. No quarterback in NFL history has completed more Super Bowl passes than number 12.
Some of his greatest performances have also been in the playoffs. Brady threw for 312 yards in a blizzard to defeat the Oakland Raiders and in the 2004 AFC Championship Game he faced a tough test on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who boasted the league's top defence. Brady shredded them to pieces and posted a passer rating of 130.5 en route to a 41-27 victory.
In terms of supporting casts, I would also say that Brady has done more with less.
Manning spent large parts of the noughties working with two future Hall of Fame running backs in Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James. And his receiving trio of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark could all end up in Canton, Ohio, some day.
Brady handed off to Antowain Smith and a well-past-his-prime Corey Dillon in New England. And the receiving corps of David Givens, David Patten, Deion Branch, Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown and Jabbar Gaffney was particularly average.
Much is made of the duo of Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but it should be pointed out that Brady has only enjoyed those guys as targets since 2007 and won his three Super Bowls with the journeymen mentioned above.
What the arrival of Moss did once and for all was end the talk that Brady could not throw the deep ball. Anyone who saw that pair in 2007 will recall that Tom is just fine at airing it out downfield.
Brady also has the edge in the meetings between the two quarterbacks. The pair have stepped on the field 11 times and Brady has won seven, although Manning has won four of the last five games, including a 35-24 thriller in Week 10 of this season.
Like most other quarterbacks in the NFL, Brady cannot come close to matching the numbers Manning has posted in the noughties and if it comes down to statistics and pure passing skill, Peyton will get the nod.
But I think playing quarterback is about much more than just posting big numbers. It is about playing your best football at the most important time of the year - the playoffs. Brady wins games, pure and simple. He has the best winning percentage of any quarterback with 100 starts or more in the Super Bowl era and he delivered three titles in four years in a supposed era of parity.
I don't get a vote, but if I did, I would cast it in favour of Tom Brady.