The Patriots head to Denver for this weekend’s AFC Championship Game, which means, yes, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will face off for the 17th time – and possibly the last time.

That’s not because Brady has any plans to hang ‘em up, but it’s apparent to anybody who’s watched Manning play this season that he’s not even close to the player he once was.

Regardless, this weekend’s game couldn’t be less about Brady vs. Manning. For one, the debate as to which quarterback is better has been put to rest by now. Hint: He wears No. 12.

The truth is, this weekend is much bigger than any personal rivalry. Brady isn’t looking to beat Manning, and Manning isn’t looking to beat Brady.

They don’t need each other to fuel the flame that still burns within. Rings are the motive. If Brady can shove it in the NFL’s face along the way, that’s great for him. If Manning can prove he’s not a shell of himself along the way, that’s great for him.

One of those two will get an ultimate chance at redemption after 60 minutes of football on Sunday.

 

It ain’t about the quarterback in Denver

Is Manning the best option at quarterback for the Broncos on Sunday? That’s debatable. Brock Osweiler was serviceable before Manning replaced him again. But let’s make one thing clear: The Broncos are in the AFC Championship because of their defense. Denver led the league in total defense this year, allowing just 283.1 yards per game. They held opposing QBs to 199.6 yards per game. They also allowed only 18.5 points per game. But the Patriots scored 24 points against them earlier this season, and that was without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Now both are back along with Rob Gronkowski, who looked healthy last week, too.

 

What use is the game film?

The Patriots played the Broncos earlier this year, and while obviously they’ll take a hard look at that film, the Patriots defense knows it’s going to be different this time around. They had Osweiler before, the type of quarterback that allows head coach Gary Kubiak to run the offense and utilize the run With Manning, that’s not the case – he does his thing, for better or worse now. “I think when [Manning’s] out there, no matter what’s in the game plan or what’s not, he’s able to check to different things that he’s seen throughout his time,” Devin McCourty said. “When Brock was in there it was more [about] running an offense, running [head coach Gary] Kubiak’s offense.”

 

Talk is cheap

One thing you never hear coming from New England is trash talk of any kind leading up to a game. Clearly, that isn’t the case in Denver, where already members of the Broncos defense have taken pot shots at Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Mind games? Really? The Patriots are too experienced to get caught up in that stuff. And even though they’re on the road and in a place where Brady is 2-6 over his career, they’ll do their talking on the field.