Matchup of Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson intriguing on many levels

Tuesday January 21st, 2014

Peyton Manning (left) and Russell Wilson are a combined 55-16 overall since the start of the 2012 season.
Jamie Squire, Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Delving into the intriguing matchup of quarterbacks in Super Bowl XLVIII ...

• Denver's Peyton Manning, 37, will be the second-oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl and Seattle's Russell Wilson, 25, will be the sixth youngest. But the 12-year age gap between them (and in reality it's almost 13 at 12 years and eight-plus months) is the largest for any of the previous 47 Super Bowl quarterback matchups.

Before Manning-Wilson, the record was held by Super Bowl XLIII's pairing of Arizona's Kurt Warner and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. Warner was 11 years older than Roethlisberger in that game five years ago, with Warner being 37 on gameday and Big Ben just 26.

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Not surprisingly, the 13-year (or 14-year) gap in NFL experience between Manning and Wilson is also the Super Bowl's largest ever when it comes to starting quarterbacks. Technically Manning is a 16-year NFL vet, having entered the league in 1998. But he didn't play whatsoever in 2011 due to his neck injury, so he has 15 seasons worth of experience on his resume. Wilson, of course, has just two, having been drafted in 2012.

To put their age gap another way, when Manning played his first regular-season NFL game in September 1998, Wilson was still almost three months shy of his 10th birthday. By comparison, not even five years separate Peyton Manning from his well-accomplished little brother, Eli, of the Giants.

• Coincidentally enough, Peyton Manning now has very large connections to both the Super Bowl's oldest starting quarterback and its third oldest, or in other words the two names that surround him on that chart.

Denver's John Elway, who is Manning's boss these days as the Broncos football czar, was the oldest starter. He was 38 and seven-plus months when the Broncos beat Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII in South Florida in January 1999 -- the final game of his Hall-of-Fame, 16-year career.

Could there be any symmetry at work here, with Elway winning his second ring and then retiring a Denver icon, 16 years after he entered the league as the first overall draft pick? And, of course, Elway was property of two organizations in the NFL, the Colts and Broncos.

Manning, who is shooting for his second Super Bowl ring, entered the league as the first overall draft pick 16 years ago and has been property of two organizations in the NFL. Yep, the Colts and Broncos. Does anyone else have chills?

The third-oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history was Johnny Unitas, who was 37 and eight-plus months when he opened the game for the Colts against Dallas in Super Bowl V in January 1971. Manning is about two months older than Unitas was then, and of course they're linked by being the two greatest quarterbacks in Colts franchise history, as well being the only two starting QBs to win a Super Bowl as a Colt.

Strangely, just like Manning two years ago with his neck issues, Unitas had a lost season late in his career and then came back two years later to start a Super Bowl. In the 1968 preseason, Unitas injured his throwing elbow and barely played that season, appearing in only five games and throwing 32 passes, plus a fourth-quarter relief stint of Earl Morrall in the Colts' epic Super Bowl III loss to the New York Jets.

Elway, Manning, Unitas. Not a bad little club to be in.

• Both Manning and Wilson joined their new teams in the spring of 2012, so that provides a good line of delineation to compare them. Here's the first thing that jumps out at you: They're the two winningest quarterbacks in the league since then, even if won-loss records for QBs don't really convey that football is the ultimate team game.

Manning is 26-6 in the regular season over 2012-13, with a 2-1 playoff record that makes him 28-7 overall (.800). Wilson is 24-8 in the regular season, with a 3-1 playoff record, making him 27-9 as a starter (.750).

Manning has thrown a ridiculous 92 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in his 32 regular-season games as a starter in Denver, with seven more touchdowns and three picks in the postseason. Wilson has 52 touchdowns and just 19 interceptions in his 32 regular-season games, with four more scoring passes and one more interception in the playoffs. Those are spectacular stats for a second-year veteran.

In his record-breaking 2013 season, Manning is now up to 59 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, including the postseason. Wilson has less than half as many touchdown passes, 27, but fewer interceptions, nine.

• Manning is trying to become the first quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl for two different teams, something only Kurt Warner (St. Louis, Arizona) has had a shot to do. Craig Morton started Super Bowl V for Dallas and Super Bowl XII for Denver, but lost both games.

Wilson is trying to become the first Seattle Seahawks' quarterback to win a Super Bowl, with Matt Hasselbeck losing to Pittsburgh in the franchise's only other Super Bowl trip, eight years ago in Detroit.

Wilson will be the sixth quarterback to start a Super Bowl in either his first or second NFL season, but only three of those previous five won the game: Warner in 1999 with the Rams, Tom Brady in 2001 with the Patriots, and Ben Roethlisberger in 2005 with the Steelers.

But no second-year quarterback has ever entered the Super Bowl with more career wins than Wilson's 27, which includes his three playoff victories.

• There have been 19 other matchups of Super Bowl quarterbacks where one has previous Super Bowl experience and one does not, as is the case this year with Manning and Wilson. The results are almost evenly split, with the quarterbacks possessing Super Bowl experience holding a 10-9 edge in that situation.

It took until Super Bowl IX between Pittsburgh and Minnesota for a Super Bowl novice quarterback to beat a Super Bowl veteran, with the Steelers and Terry Bradshaw besting Fran Tarkenton and the Vikings.

But lately -- and Seattle fans should love this -- all the momentum has been on the side of the first-time Super Bowl quarterbacks. The past three matchups to break down that way went to the newbies, with the Giants' Eli Manning beating Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2007, the Saints' Drew Brees defeating Peyton Manning and the Colts in 2009, and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers besting Roethlisberger and the Steelers in 2010.

Just stand back and watch all that gambling money flood to the Seattle side of the ledger.

• The Seahawks and Broncos have met only three times in the regular season since the onetime AFC West rivals went their separate ways in 2002's realignment, with their most recent showdown being in 2010, before Manning and Wilson were on the scene. But these two did tangle in Week 2 of the preseason this year, in one of those glorified scrimmages we all love so much.

For what it's worth, both quarterbacks played a substantial amount for the preseason, with Seattle rolling to a 40-10 rout of the visiting Broncos. Wilson went the entire first half against Denver, completing 8-of-12 passes for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns without an interception.

Manning played well into the second quarter and was having some legitimate success against Seattle's first-team defense when he left the game: 11-of-16 for 163 yards, with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker, no sacks or interceptions. Denver had 209 yards of offense in the first half, but it was 27-7 Seattle when Manning called it a night and 33-7 at the half.

• Wilson will be the fifth quarterback to make his Super Bowl debut at age 25, and there's some decent karma that goes with being on that list. Joe Namath was 25 when the Jets shocked the Colts and registered the win that put the AFL on equal footing with the NFL in Super Bowl III. Joe Montana was 25 when he won his first of four rings with the 49ers, edging out the Bengals in Detroit in Super Bowl XVI.

Two other 25-year-old quarterbacks lost their first Super Bowls, but both of them came very close to winning. The underdog Rams and Vince Ferragamo led the mighty, three-time Super Bowl Steelers at the end of three quarters in Super Bowl XIV, but couldn't close the deal. And last year, the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick had the ball in his hands at the Ravens' 5-yard line with a chance to win it in the final two minutes, but couldn't make the one play to give San Francisco the comeback victory.

As for the five quarterbacks who started the Super Bowl when they were younger than Wilson, only the 24-year-old Brady (against St. Louis) and the 23-year-old Roethlisberger (against Seattle) earned wins. Miami's Dan Marino, 23, lost to San Francisco; Miami's David Woodley, 24, lost to Washington; and New England's Drew Bledsoe, 24, lost to Green Bay.

• There was a brief window in late November or early December this season when Wilson started getting some mentions in the media as a legitimate competitor to Manning for the MVP award that seemed -- and is -- a foregone conclusion for No. 18.

But then Wilson in his last four games of the season threw just four touchdowns to go with three interceptions, topped 200 yards passing in a game just once and had three of his six lowest-rated passing games of the season. In addition, Seattle was just 2-2 over that span, falling from 11-1 to 13-3. Bye, bye, MVP bid.

Manning over those same four weeks? Despite playing only 3½ of those games, he threw for 14 touchdowns against one interception, for 1,352 yards, and had three games where his passer rating was 107.8 or higher. Of course, along the way he also broke Tom Brady's 2007 record of 50 touchdown passes in a season, and Drew Brees' 2011 record of 5,476 passing yards in a season.

Make room on the mantel for MVP award No. 5.

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