Peyton Manning went into the Denver Broncos' Sunday night game in chilly Foxborough, Mass., with a reputation for freezing in the cold. His teams had gone 4-3 over the past seven-plus seasons when the temperature at kickoff was colder than 40 degrees. Manning himself had put up respectable numbers in those games: 14 touchdown passes, 9 interceptions, 69.7 percent completions and a 97.1 passer rating. Manning's 81.3 Total QBR score in those games ranked first ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees among QBs with at least five of these cold-weather games since 2006. But the team results hadn’t always been there for Manning, and, on Sunday, neither were the stats.
The Patriots' 34-31 victory over the Broncos in Week 12 felt like a playoff preview. Wind made throwing difficult. Cold complicated holding on to the football. Manning, although sharp during the tying touchdown drive late in regulation, averaged 4.2 yards per pass attempt, his lowest in a full game since 1998. His team rushed for 280 yards and converted half of its 18 chances on third down. But Brady was the more impressive quarterback on this night. In the end, I came away from this game feeling as though New England and Denver could reach the Super Bowl but neither would be likely to win it.
Four of my top six Super Bowl contenders come from the NFC. We'll take a closer look at them here before covering other pressing subjects around the league, including the resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Walter Thurmond's four-game suspension and that muddled AFC playoff picture.
Sando's Super Six
1. Seattle Seahawks
They were No. 1 on my power rankings ballot before the season, and they've been at or near the top all along. The Seahawks haven't lost at home since Russell Wilson became their quarterback, and no team has a better record on the road this season (5-1).