There have been many articles written this past week about the showdown between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. This isn't one of them.
Yes, football fans have been spoiled for more than a decade by this rivalry. Manning and Brady are two of the best to ever play the game, and their match-ups have usually carried great significance, running the gamut from simple bragging rights to playoff seeding to a trip to the Super Bowl. It doesn't get any better than watching two sure-fire Hall of Famers facing off when the stakes are high.
With both of these warriors in their late 30's, though, it seems that this weekend might be the last chance for football fans to enjoy this match-up. Will football fans ever see the likes of this again? If so, who will be the quarterbacks involved? Here are some possibilities.
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Russell Wilson vs. Cam Newton
This is shaping up as a possible long-time rivalry. Each team has beaten the other in the playoffs in recent years, and both quarterbacks seem to be improving. Wilson already has a Super Bowl ring and was mere yards (and some questionable play-calling) away from a second.
Newton will almost certainly win the league's MVP trophy this year and has a very realistic chance to lead his team to the title. Both men are still in their 20's, and it would seem that their best football is ahead of them.
Andrew Luck vs. Andy Dalton
It's too bad that both of these QB's suffered year-ending injuries this year. Although Luck looked like he had regressed a bit, Dalton appeared to have finally matured enough to avoid the costly mistakes he had committed in past seasons (the horrible decision on the play that ended his season being a notable exception).
These are two teams, though, that can reach the postseason yearly, and both of these guys are still in their 20's. Both will have to raise their level of play to even approach a Brady/Manning level of anticipation, but there's a chance their teams will play many meaningful games over the course of their careers.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Carson Palmer
Rodgers is an elite talent who was hamstrung this year by a group of receivers who either couldn't separate from defenders or couldn't catch the ball when they did. Palmer, who is finally healthy, reminded football fans why he was the top pick in the draft in 2003.
If Jordy Nelson returns healthy next year and the Packers find one more viable receiver, Green Bay should return to form as one of the most explosive offenses in the league. The Cardinals are already there.
Palmer still has a great arm, and he is surrounded by offensive talent galore. Although both of these guys are in their 30's, they are still at the top of their games. Palmer's age (36) will likely limit such a rivalry (should it develop) to two or three years, but football fans can expect some epic shoot-outs over the next few years if the Packers return to form and Palmer stays healthy.
There are plenty of other possibilities. Could Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, or Jameis Winston develop a rivalry with another young QB? It's entirely possible, but none of their teams seemed poised to join the NFL elite anytime soon. How about Ben Roethlisberger? He could join Dalton or Luck in the match-up listed above, but his age is a factor. Is Kirk Cousins about to emerge as an elite quarterback? Maybe, but the jury's out.
Any of these scenarios might play out to give fans the drama and entertainment that Manning and Brady have provided over the years. The most likely scenario, though, is that none of them will. Fans may just have to accept the fact that the past decade has treated them to a perfect storm of two of the best ever playing high stakes games at the heights of their careers.