INDIANAPOLIS Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have been rivals on the field for years.
Now the two Super Bowl MVPs could be taking their competition into the NFL record book.
A week before the Colts and Patriots face each other in that highly anticipated showdown, Manning and Brady have a chance to set up the perfect matchup with an almost perfect scenario this weekend: If each wins, and keeps his respective team unbeaten, the NFL says they will become the first quarterbacks in league history to defeat 31 teams.
"I think it's better for a quarterback to do it than a coach," said Tony Dungy, the league's first coach to beat all 32 teams. "You only play those NFC teams once every four years, so that's tough to do."
It's so difficult that even the NFL's record-setting ironman, Brett Favre, has yet to achieve the milestone. Aside from his own Packers, Favre has never beaten Kansas City, Green Bay's opponent next week.
Some might even joke that Manning, Brady and Favre will have beaten all 32 teams, since each could be accused of beating their own occasionally with mistakes.
The greater challenge is simply getting enough chances at each opponent.
Brady, for instance, has faced Washington, this week's opponent, only once in 7 1/2 seasons. He threw three interceptions in a 16-13 loss in September 2003.
"Personally, I don't look at it like that. I think this team faces challenges each and every week," Brady said. "It'd be great to put our best game out there against Washington this week."
Manning, who has been in the league two years longer than Brady, has faced Carolina twice. The two-time league MVP lost 27-19 as a rookie and again 23-20 in overtime four years ago at the RCA Dome.
Manning will be making the first trip of his 10-year career to Carolina and has a chance to accomplish the feat first because the Colts game starts three hours earlier than the Patriots game.
"I hadn't really thought a whole lot about that," Manning said of the milestone. "We certainly want to get a win because it's like they said in 'Bull Durham,' it's better than losing."
The statistic can be a bit misleading since many ex-quarterbacks played in a league with fewer teams. The NFL expanded to 30 when Carolina and Jacksonville were added in 1995, went to 31 with the new Cleveland Browns in 1999 and eventually to 32 with Houston in 2002.
Scheduling changes also have made it more difficult. Before 2002, teams played one division from the opposite conference every three years; now it's every four years.
So if Manning or Brady fail Sunday, they won't get another shot at Carolina or Washington until they're in their mid-30s. At age 38, Favre may not get another chance at the Chiefs.
Yet Manning, Brady and Favre have survived in this fickle environment where quarterbacks are constantly scrutinized and sometimes replaced because of injuries or slumps. Favre has started an NFL-record 243 consecutive regular-season games, while Manning is second at 150 and Brady's streak is at 101. Those are the three longest active marks in the league.
What the trio has done best, though, is perform consistently well long enough to give themselves a chance to beat every team in the league except one the one they play for.
"He's going to have a tough time beating the Colts," Dungy said of Manning, who signed a seven-year, $98 million contract in March 2004.
Of course, milestones and records are about as much an issue to Brady and Manning as next week's game. They couldn't care less about the buildup.
But they wouldn't mind making a little history first.
"I think Marvin (Harrison) and I are the only two guys left from that (Carolina) game in '98," Manning said. "Coach (John) Fox always has that team ready, and it's going to be a tough place to play. That's what we're focused on, Carolina, this week."