Peyton Manning Taking Tom Brady’s Throne as AFC’s Signature Quarterback

Peyton Manning Taking Tom Brady's Throne as AFC's Signature Quarterback Asked recently to choose between the Saints and the Colts in this year’s Super Bowl, Tom Brady said he’d like to see them both lose.

It wasn’t sour grapes – just a sign that the competitive juices are still flowing for the Patriots quarterback.

You know this eats away at Brady, this whole Colts-in-the-Super Bowl thing.  And it should.  Nothing tortures you more than watching the rival you once owned catch up to you. 

And that, folks, is exactly what has happened here.  The Colts are now the AFC’s signature franchise.  And Peyton Manning is the NFL’s signature quarterback.

Now, to be fair this debate has no right answer, just like back in the day when some were Joe Montana people while others swore by John Elway.  Flip a coin, really (I’ll take Montana for the record).

The argument against Manning was always Super Bowls – the discussion ended with Brady’s three rings.  And to an extent, it still does.  But what if Manning adds a second this year?  And after that? 

Looking ahead, the Colts clearly sit in better position than the Patriots for the simple reason that they’re getting more out of their young players. 

Austin Collie was a fourth round pick this year, four selections after the Patriots picked guard Rich OhrnbergerPierre Garcon was a sixth rounder out of Division III powerhouse Mount Union in the 2008 draft.  That’s doing your homework.  Seven picks before the Colts grabbed Garcon, the Patriots selected linebacker Bo Ruud; one round earlier, they drafted wideout Matthew Slater.

I’m just saying…

You could make the argument that Manning could make anybody look good, especially with weapons like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark to open up opportunities for the others.  But shouldn’t the same apply to Tom Brady?

That theory did apply in 2007, when Jabar Gaffney caught five touchdowns in the wake of Randy Moss and Wes Welker.  Gaffney was then dumped in favor of veteran Joey Galloway, who just couldn’t turn to the same playbook page as Brady this year.

Now, with Wes Welker’s status for 2010 uncertain, depth at wide receiver is an issue for the Patriots.  Sure, rookie Julian Edelman was solid in the playoff game against the Ravens – there’s no doubt he looks like a draft day find.  But do you feel comfortable with Moss and Edelman as your top two receivers to start next season?

Me neither.

The Patriots need to find balance on their offense, something they actually had during that record-shattering 2007 season.  They need more from their tight ends (something, anything?) and could use some consistency on the ground.  I’d also argue they need to get more out of their coaching staff.  At times the offense appeared to lack direction and identity, as if caught between the air show that was 2007 and the ball control offense that won three Super Bowls.

And defensively, well, I don’t have enough space today for all that ails them.  Lock up Vince Wilfork.  Find a lockdown corner.  Switch from their outdated 3-4 scheme to a 4-3…and I could go on.

The Patriots have the tools to repair most of this in the offseason with a deep cache of day 1 draft picks, including four in the first two rounds.  And glancing ahead to 2011 (labor issues aside) they’ll have two first rounders to work with.  But they have to start hitting on them.  While the wait-three-years-and-see approach still applies to judging NFL draft classes, you have to have some kind of tangible impact from young players in their first and second years – at least, from day one picks.  Going back to 2006, the Patriots have missed on more draft picks than they’d care to admit.

Meanwhile, the Colts have taken the AFC’s top spot, the post that belonged largely to the Patriots since they upset the Rams at the beginning of the decade.

There is urgency this offseason in Foxboro.  Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger.  Every busted pick or free agency miss is a wasted opportunity with the NFL’s best quarterback.

Or, as Colts fans will remind you, what used to be the NFL’s best quarterback.

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