NFL Conference Championships: Games of legends and legends in the making

This year’s NFL conference championships round is an especially historic day for the NFL in more ways than one, thanks to the rich history of the competitors in the AFC, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and the hype around the contenders in the NFC, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

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The legendary Brady and Manning battle it out with their teams.

Wilson and Kaepernick: The Brady and Manning of the future?

As the hall-of-fame bound quarterbacks battle it out, and the new stars of the NFL prepare to, take a look at these comparisons—who Brady and Manning were in their second/third seasons in the NFL and who Kaepernick and Wilson are now:

Tom Brady’s history:

He was the 199th draft pick in 2000, being placed fourth string for the New England Patriots behind quarterback Drew Bledsoe. By the end of that season he became the number one backup, but played in only one game. In his second year he went in for an injured Bledsoe at the end of the second regular season game. With Brady as their new quarterback the Patriots won 11 of 14 games over the remainder of the season.

He then took his team to the playoffs. Despite Bledsoe’s recovery, Brady remained the starter and he led the Patriots to victory in Super Bowl XXXVI, earning himself  MVP award.

In 2002, his second season as a starter and third in the NFL, Brady and the Patriots went 9-7, missing the playoffs. But they bounced back in 2003 by winning the Super Bowl, and Brady once again was named MVP. Since then, Brady has brought the Patriots to a third Bowl victory and two additional Bowl appearances.

Peyton Manning’s history:

Manning was selected first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 draft. He set five NFC records his rookie season, even though the Colts only won three games. Yet the following year, in the 1999 season, Manning led his team to a 13-3 record, but lost to the Super Bowl-bound Tennessee Titans in the second round of the playoffs (after they had a first round bye).

Manning went on to lead his team to nine consecutive postseason berths from 2002-2010, winning the 2007 Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears and appearing in, but losing the 2010 Super Bowl against the New Orleans Saints.

After not playing in 2011 due to injury, he signed with the Denver Broncos and led them to the playoffs in 2012, proving he wasn’t yet done with his football career.

Russell Wilson’s history:

He was the 75th pick of the 2012 draft and became the fourth ranked quarterback in passer rating, beating the rookie record set by Ben Roethlisberger. Speaking of records, he also tied Manning for most touchdown passes by a rookie.

He led the Seahawks to the postseason but lost in the divisional round against the Atlanta Falcons.

In his second season, this 2013 season, he led the Seahawks to a 13-3 record and their Conference Championship game today.

Colin Kaepernick’s history:

He was the 36th pick in the 2011 draft, to be backup for the 49ers behind Alex Smith. He came in for an injured Smith in the middle of the 2012 season and would go on to set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game.

He took his team all the way to the Super Bowl, though they lost it in a close game to the Baltimore Ravens.

This season, the 49ers went 12-4 and won the wild card and divisional round of the playoffs to get to the conference championship.

The parallels

Like the legends playing today before them, Wilson and Kaepernick have become record makers and breakers in just two or three seasons in the NFL.

Like Brady, Kaepernick got his chance to shine after the man he was backup for was hurt. Both of those quarterbacks took their chance and ran with it… all the way to the Super Bowl.

Like Manning, Wilson was brought in as the main quarterback and proved himself within one season, though Wilson had a better team behind him to help send the franchise to the playoffs.

Neither Wilson nor Kaepernick were drafted as high as Manning or as low as Brady, and the four quarterbacks have their differences both in skills and history. But if the similarities between the youngsters and their older competitors are any indication of what the future holds, if Wilson and Kaepernick continue on the track they have established, then today’s 6:30 pm EST game may be a preview of a game 10 years from now that is identical to the Broncos-Patriots matchup of this moment: Two legendary quarterbacks with rich histories and a wealth of experience and talent battling it out for yet another trip to the Super Bowl—perhaps even one of their last.

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