A surprise that we've seen before
Adam Schefter [ARCHIVE]
November 29, 2012
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So this year is like, and unlike, so many others. Please follow along.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are turning in vintage performances in a vintage year, as they have in so many other seasons. Only this time it feels unique, more unexpected, with each player that much further along in his career.

Thirty-six-year-old Manning is returning from a season lost completely to a neck injury just as 35-year-old Brady once returned after losing a full season in 2008 to a knee injury. Despite their setbacks, they are back as the game's two marquee and most productive players.

As good as Manning was as a four-time most valuable player, he has been just as good this season as Denver prepares to host Tampa Bay on Sunday. His 67.7 completion percentage is just off his career-best 68.8 in 2009, when he won his most recent MVP award. More impressive, Manning is on pace to throw for 4,742 yards, which would be a career high. And he has led Denver to eight wins -- as many as the other three AFC West teams combined.

Brady's statistics do not compare to those of his MVP seasons in 2007 and 2010. He has completed 65.1 percent of his passes compared with his career-best 68.9 in 2007 and is on pace to throw for 4,798 yards, fewer than the career-best 5,235 he threw for last season. But as New England travels to Miami for Sunday's game against the Dolphins, Brady is getting better. In his past five games, Brady has thrown 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

In the twilights of their careers, Brady and Manning are giving football and their followers career years. No one would be surprised if it resulted in one more postseason matchup, one more chance for these men to cement their legacy as two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But there's still plenty to settle this regular season.

As friendly as the two quarterbacks have become, they are competing against each other for MVP honors. Already they have combined to win the award six times, including four straight years from 2007 to 2010. It's Brady and Manning, Manning and Brady, as it was in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, the six previous seasons they won the MVP.

Should one win it this season -- and, right now, no one else is more deserving -- it will be the fifth time in six years Manning or Brady has won the award. They have practically owned it, just as they are owning this season. They are the story, again.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. Next wave of Tebow intrigue: Tim Tebow nearly returned to Jacksonville this offseason before the Jaguars' coaching staff and front office got their way in not finalizing a deal for the former Broncos quarterback. But Tebow is returning to Jacksonville a week from Sunday, and it's not too early to start the hype and speculation.

Last offseason, Jaguars owner Shad Khan was essentially the lone team employee who wanted to trade for Tebow. People around the league believe he still will, which will create an intriguing situation this offseason. If Khan wants to exercise his rights as owner, he could veto anyone in his path and pull off a trade for Tebow.

There still will be some in the Jaguars' organization who would be leery, knowing the type of issues Tebow brings. But no team in the league needs Tebow's presence, and possibly his play, more than Jacksonville, which has struggled this season to win games and draw fans. It will be up to Khan to change that. But, in the course of the next week, there will be endless speculation about whether Tebow's trip to Jacksonville on Dec. 9 is only the prelude of more trips to come.

2. Henne faces his past: Just when Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne is playing well and escaping his past, he will run smack into it. Over the next four weeks, Henne is scheduled to face the four teams of the AFC East, the division that caused him issues in his time as the Dolphins' quarterback. The Jaguars play at Buffalo on Sunday before hosting the Jets in the Tebow homecoming. Jacksonville then plays at Henne's former employer in Miami and finishes the stretch by hosting New England.

In the past two games, Henne has thrown six touchdown passes and one interception and has made Jacksonville a more competitive team. Now, to take the lead in the race to be the Jaguars' starting quarterback next season, Henne will have to beat the teams that haunted him in previous seasons.

3. Parity takes a hit: One reason the NFL has been so incredibly popular is because it is so wildly unpredictable. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fact that at least five new teams have advanced to the playoffs every year since 1996. But this is the year that parity-proud streak is about to end.

Last year's AFC playoff teams were New England, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. This year, the division winners will be the same and Indianapolis looks as if it will be the only new wild card. Last year's NFC playoff teams were the Giants, Packers, Falcons, 49ers, Saints and Lions. This year, at least three of those teams, and maybe all four, will win their division again, and the NFL could get two new NFC playoff teams. So, at best, the league is looking at three new playoff teams, snapping a streak that is just about as improbable as Brett Favre's streak of 297 straight starts.

Late November and early December is supposed to be separation time in the NFL. But the good teams already have separated themselves, taking some of the suspense out of the season.

4. Big Ben for MVP? In his absence the past three games, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed why he deserves consideration for the NFL's MVP award. In the 10 quarters since Roethlisberger exited the Monday night game versus the Chiefs with rib and shoulder injuries, the Steelers have failed to throw a single touchdown pass. Byron Leftwich threw for 199 yards in his start against Baltimore, Charlie Batch threw for 199 yards in his start against Cleveland, and the two quarterbacks have combined to throw four interceptions and no touchdown passes.

But Pittsburgh still is well positioned to withstand the loss of Roethlisberger, even if it loses its third straight game Sunday at Baltimore. The Steelers' final four games are against San Diego, at Dallas, and at home against Cincinnati and Cleveland. By the time Roethlisberger returns, this team should be poised to pluck one of the AFC's wild-card spots.

5. Rookie QB history: From the moment this season kicked off until it ends, one of the central storylines has been and will continue to be the ascension of rookie quarterbacks. Five rookie quarterbacks -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson -- have led their teams to a combined 26 wins, the most in a season since the 1970 merger.

Luck is leading the way with seven wins, and he has a chance to...
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