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Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning: The Rookies In Week 17

This time last week Sam Bradford was having one of his best games of the season, surprising those of us worried about his three-game skid in December and making his presence felt among the three-man list of rookies who've topped 3000 yards passing in their first season. His 15th game was far ahead of Matt Ryan, who was 13-for-24 with 134 yards in his penultimate start of 2008, and comparable Peyton Manning, who was 23-for-39 for 335 yards and a touchdown in his 15th game of 1998. This week Bradford looks likely to stay ahead of Ryan, who had 77 fewer passing yards going into Week 17. But he'll be hard-pressed to top Manning, who maintained a 157 yard lead over Bradford heading into each's final game of the season.

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The player who doesn't belong in this trio is really Matt Ryan, even though he probably had the best year of the three. He's likely to finish third in yardage, and he's already third in touchdowns, but unlike Manning and Bradford he wasn't being relied upon to provide so much offense. He was having the prototypical rookie quarterback season, as good as anybody's ever had it before—put into a position to succeed, throwing more than 100 fewer attempts than Bradford or Manning, he was outstanding, averaging nearly eight yards pet attempt. That said, his final start, a narrow victory over the Rams, was one of his worst—he was 10-for-21 with 160 yards passing, a touchdown, and two interceptions. To pass Ryan for second in yardage Bradford has to manage just 83 yards through the air. 

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Rookie-Peyton-Manning is a closer comparison to Bradford—he finished the year with 575 attempts, tops in the league, and his flashes of brilliance were often obscured by his supporting cast and the burden they'd put on his shoulders. In Week 17 Manning was 17-for-34 with 225 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions, putting his record yardage, touchdown, and interception marks at, respectively, 3739, 26, and 28. Bradford's career game kept him within range of Manning's yardage total, but just barely—the 225 additional yards mean Bradford will have to take advantage of his first prime-time start to throw for 382 yards to tie the record. (While he's at it, he could try throwing for eight touchdowns to tie that one, too. The 14 interceptions are not encouraged.)

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One thing is certain—with the playoffs on the line, Bradford will have to be better than either decorated rookie was in his final game of the season to push the St. Louis Rams forward. Be better than Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan, Sam—no pressure.