By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Peyton Manning is retiring from football, which is a lovely and wonderful story in most of the country. But in New England, of course, everything Peyton Manning must instantly be connected to Tom Brady. That’s just how things work around here.

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So while there will be plenty of fawning over Manning’s greatness found elsewhere (Bob, your column, woof!), many folks in Patriots land only care as it relates to Brady.

In that regard, if Brady intends to go down as the undisputed greatest quarterback of all time, the parameters are now set. He’s guaranteed to finish with two more Super Bowl victories and three more Super Bowl MVPs than Manning, which is something that ought to help in the argument. And really, there’s no debate about which quarterback is better in the postseason. That one’s been sewn up for some time.

But where Brady has always lagged behind is in the stats department, which is where Manning made his mark as the single most prolific passer in history. Sure, there are qualifiers, such as playing in a controlled indoor environment for most of his career, playing in a pass-heavy offense, and playing with Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison for 11 years. But none of that disqualifies the stats Manning compiled. They are, simply, impressive.

Manning retires as the all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, game-winning drives and fourth-quarter comebacks.

Now, the case could be made that Brady is not entirely interested in surpassing Manning in those statistical departments. After all, he’s always valued winning over personal statistics. Yet when Manning announced his retirement, that famed email from Brady to a childhood friend immediately came to mind.

Tom Brady's email about Peyton Manning (From court filing)

Tom Brady’s email about Peyton Manning (From court filing)

Obviously, Brady would never speak so confidently and so crassly in a public setting, and in fact, he went on to apologize to Manning after that email went public. And on Monday, Brady praised Manning at length in Peter King’s column.

But … that email speaks a lot louder than anything else Brady has ever said or will ever say about Manning. It was said in private, and it’s likely a lot closer to Brady’s real feelings than whatever diplomatic statement he makes publicly.

So, with that in mind, if it’s indeed “Game on” for the rivalry to kick into high gear for the final chapter, here are the advantages Manning holds over Brady in the record books.

Career Touchdowns
Manning: 539
Favre: 508
Brady: 428

Career Passing Yards
Manning: 71,940
Favre: 71,838
Marino: 61,361
Brees: 60,903
Brady: 58,028

Career Completions
Favre: 6,300
Manning: 6,125
Brees: 5,365
Marino: 4,967
Brady: 4,953

Career Fourth-Quarter Comebacks
Manning: 45
Brady: 37

Career Game-Winning Drives
Manning: 56
Marino: 51
Brady: 48

Career Interceptions
Manning: 251 (9th all time)
Brady: 150 (55th all time)

One thing’s for sure — no matter what happens, Manning won’t have to worry about Brady catching up to him in the interception department.

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While Brady may truly feel in his heart that he’ll be able to play at a high level until he’s 45 years old, that optimism exceeds reasonable expectations. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Brady has four more good years in him. That still seems overly optimistic, considering he’ll turn 39 years old this August, but frankly at age 38 he looked as good as he ever has. Provided the Patriots build up their offensive line and keep the Julian Edelmans and Rob Gronkowskis of the world healthy, we’ve seen nothing that has forewarned a major step backward will come from Brady.

So, if Brady plays as a starting quarterback from 2016-19, here’s what he’ll need to average per season in order to catch Manning in those key categories:

Touchdowns: 28 per season

Passing yards: 3,478 per season

Completions: 293 per season (337 per season to surpass Favre)

Fourth-quarter comebacks: 2 per season to tie, plus one more for outright lead

Game-winning drives: 2 per season to tie, plus one more for outright lead

Interceptions: 25 per season

(Again, Manning doesn’t have to worry about the picks. He can sleep easy at night knowing there’s no way Tom Brady will ever throw as many interceptions as he did.)

(This is all assuming that Drew Brees doesn’t undergo a late-career renaissance, as he could very well end up flirting with those records too. You’ll be able to find that story in the Times-Picayune, perhaps.)

OK, how realistic is all of this? Well, Brady has thrown 28 or more touchdowns in a season nine times before. He’s thrown fewer than 28 touchdowns in a season just once in his past eight full seasons. Since 2009, he’s averaged 33 touchdowns per year. Provided he stays healthy and remains a similar quarterback to what he was at age 38, this one should not be overly difficult for him to accomplish. In fact, he can tie Manning by averaging 37 touchdowns per season over the next three years. He had 36 last year. So this one’s possible.

Based on history, it may be even closer to a sure thing that Brady passes Manning in the yards department. Again, assuming health doesn’t interfere, Brady should have no problem averaging 3,478 yards per season. He hasn’t thrown for fewer than 3,500 yards in a season since 2001, when he earned the starting job late and certainly didn’t have the passing offense that he’s had in the years since. Over the past five years, he’s averaged 4,657 yards per season. If he keeps that up for just three years, he’ll pass Manning. (Again, watch out for Brees.)

Fourth-quarter comebacks are hard to predict, as by necessity they require that the quarterback’s team be losing in the final quarter. That’s certainly never a quarterback’s goal, so it’s hard to say Brady will really would be able to seek out that record even if he wanted to. Likewise, Brady would probably prefer to throw four first-half touchdowns over scrapping to engineer a late game-winning drive, so that “stat” is entirely up to circumstance.

It may seem silly, the quest for the best statistics, in a sport where numbers can be misleading and winning is ultimately the only thing that really matters. And of course, if Brady manages to win another Super Bowl or two, then the regular-season statistics won’t even matter.

But in that private email, we saw that Brady clearly views his time in the NFL post-Manning to be the era when he sets himself apart from his career-long peer.

In the words of Brady himself, “Game on.”

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.