One has established himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The other has proven to be one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the most critical situations. One has seen continuous success in a career that could now be halted by injury. The other is reaping the benefits of playing in his prime.
It is a debate with no definite answer. Peyton vs Eli, Manning vs Manning. Who is better?
The answer depends on the definition of what makes a quarterback great. Is it overall achievement? Performances under pressure? Or Super Bowl rings? The answer is a combination of the three and in Super Bowl XLVI, which takes place in Indianapolis tomorrow, Eli will have a chance to strengthen his case.
Eli Manning will lead the New York Giants against the New England Patriots in the city that his brother, a Colts legend, has made his home. Should the Giants beat the Patriots – as they did in Phoenix in Super Bowl XLII in 2008 – Eli will make quite a statement in the case of Manning vs Manning.
In terms of career achievement, Peyton Manning is not only infinitely superior to his little brother, he is a top-three quarterback in the history of the National Football League. Over his 13-year career, the 35-year-old is third all-time for touchdown passes, with 399, and third all-time for passing yards, with 54,828. He has led the Indianapolis Colts to two Super Bowls, winning against the Chicago Bears in 2007 and losing to the New Orleans Saints in 2010. Despite having been unable to play this season, due to a serious neck injury, he is certain to go down as one of the best quarterbacks to have played the game.
Eli's career record does not come close to that of his brother. In his first eight seasons in the NFL, Eli, 31, has accumulated 27,579 passing yards and 185 touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive but they are dwarfed by those of his older brother – Peyton accumulated an amazing 33,189 passing yards and 244 touchdowns in his first eight seasons in the NFL.
Eli has, however, boosted his position in the matter of who is the better Manning with a number of astonishing and winning performances. His leadership of the Giants to tomorrow's Super Bowl, for example, bordered on the miraculous – after a 9-7 regular season the Giants beat the Atlanta Falcons and last year's Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, before edging out the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
That means Eli now has an opportunity to do something his big brother has never done: put a second Super Bowl ring on his finger.
Recently, speaking to the Boston Herald, Eli said: "You hope you'll play the best game you ever played, but whatever type it turns into, you play the circumstances to get your team in position to win."
This begs a question: though Peyton's numbers are superior, does Eli put his teams in better positions to win?
This season, Eli set an NFL record by passing for 15 touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Since 2007, he has thrown 42 touchdown passes in the final quarter. In a comparable span from 2006 to 2010, Peyton threw 33. Furthermore (and in the same five-year periods), when trailing by seven points or less Eli has thrown 38 touchdowns and Peyton has thrown 23. Eli also has a better record in the play-offs, holding a 7-3 career record in post-season next to Peyton's 9-10.
Peyton recently told the Newark Star-Ledger: "I've been proud of Eli all year. I've really gotten to see more of his games this year because of my injury, so it's been fun to watch him play. Fourth-quarter comebacks. When they've needed him, he's always been there."
Eli is finishing one of his best seasons, having thrown 29 touchdown passes and passed for a career-high 4,933 yards in total. Peyton's most recent season, 2010, produced 33 touchdowns and 4,700 passing yards.
So it looks as if Eli is at the same level as his brother, and could even be on the verge of surpassing him.
Peyton said: "It was different when he was younger, and there were some things I could maybe help him with. Eli has seen it all. He's truly an experienced, veteran quarterback. I'm just proud as another quarterback to see the way he's competed and played."
When weighing up the identities of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, it is clear that Peyton and Eli each have a strong pedigree. The elder is a future Hall of Famer while the younger is a fourth-quarter star. The answer to who is better is far from simple.
So if asked this weekend who you think is better, your safest bet is to go with "Manning".
The mannings facts in figures
15 Touchdowns passes made in the fourth quarter by Eli last season, an NFL record
399 Career touchdown passes made by Peyton (3rd all time)
1,746 Days between the brothers – Peyton the elder was born in March 1976, while Eli arrived in January 1981.
6 Consecutive seasons in which Peyton has made 4,000 or more passing yards – a record