Pigskin ain't crystal, so you can't exactly stare at a football and hope to see the future. (Although, let's turn to the logical portion of our brains for a second and accept the fact that a crystal ball won't exactly tell you what lottery numbers to play, either. If you believe that, you belong in a ward with Nurse Ratched.)
In the spirit of digression, let's get back to football. While Patriots fans might be watching the Super Bowl alongside a paint bucket of Pepto, they should feel optimistic about the strides taken by quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Each has overcome significant injuries to get to this point, and that's an overwhelmingly positive sign for Tom Brady.
Sure, quick-triggered critics have been doing cartwheels while recently proclaiming the death of the Patriots' dynasty, but if Manning and Brees are any indication, Brady should be back and just as good as ever in 2010.
Manning is a more comparable example. He underwent surgery in July 2008 to remove an infected bursa sac from his left knee, and it caused him to miss all of training camp and the preseason before stepping on the field for the regular season.
Manning's 2008 statistics were strikingly similar to Brady's 2009 numbers. Manning, who was 32 in 2008, completed 371 of 555 passes (66.8 percent) for 4,002 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Sturdy numbers indeed, but he was definitely affected by a lack of preseason preparation and a change in his receiving corps, and his touchdown total was his lowest in six years. Still, Manning won his third NFL MVP award for leading the Colts to 12 victories and a playoff appearance.
Brady, whose knee was shredded by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard in 2008, came back with his second-best statistical season in 2009, but there were plenty of occasions when Brady looked out of sorts. Like Manning, there were other factors involved, such as the Patriots' change in receivers and a play-calling system that resulted in "frustration" with the execution, as one player put it.
Still, the 32-year-old Brady completed 371 of 565 passes (65.7 percent) for 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and Brady was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.
Again, it's pretty amazing to notice how similar Manning and Brady were after their respective knee injuries. Then, each quarterback was knocked out of the playoffs in the wild-card round. Manning went 25-of-42 (59.5 percent) for 310 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a 23-17 loss at San Diego. Brady, on the other hand, had the worst playoff game of his career, completing 23 of 42 passes (54.8 percent) for 154 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and one fumble.
After feeling his way back in 2008, Manning was even more dominant in 2009, completing 393 of 571 passes (68.8 percent) for 4,500 yards, 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His touchdown total was tied for the second highest of his career. Then, of course, Manning was brilliant in the postseason, completing 56 of 73 passes (76.7 percent) for 623 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in two victories.
One year stronger, Manning was more durable and in better shape in January, and it allowed him to continue peaking. It's difficult enough getting back into playing shape after taking time off prior to the season, but it’s even harder on a player’s body as the months go on and the weather gets worse (more so for Brady than Manning, who plays in a dome).
Brady and Manning have long since been considered the best two quarterbacks of this generation, and they might wind up going down as the two best of all time. Their careers have seen many parallels, and Manning's progression after knee surgery should be a good indication of where Brady will be in 2010.