A few weeks ago, Peyton Manning set a new NFL record for most touchdowns thrown in a career, surpassing Brett Favre. This has been quite a year for Manning, and while his new record is impressive, his 2014 is still tainted by that pesky, embarrassing loss back in February to the Seattle Seahawks. As happens in any sport when a new record is made, many people started to throw out the term “greatest of all time” when discussing Peyton Manning.
Along with Peyton Manning enthusiasts, many Manning haters and Tom Brady fanatics came out of the woodwork to announce problems with Manning’s career, arguing that he is the reason the Broncos choked in the Super Bowl and other such criticisms. While I like a good debate, being bludgeoned with this constant back and forth has become tedious, so right here, right now, on The Sportster, I will offer a thorough rundown of the careers of these two phenomenal athletes and determine which one is superior. Obviously my analysis will not please everyone, but I will do my best to remain partial and fair to both.
The analysis will cover not just their career stats overall but also their performances in high profile games, the effectiveness as locker room presences and the systems in which they have played. Furthermore, their passing will be broken down, along with their rushing and scrambling abilities, with particular attention paid to whether they can avoid sacks and gain yards, as I consider this to be an under-examined aspect of Brady and Manning’s games when this debate rears its ugly head.
Obviously, because this is the internet, I am wrong, so feel free to let me know how wrong I am and how poorly my mother raised me in the comments section. Any team stats used will be from NFL.com and individual stats are from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
10. Overall Record
This is a simple comparison but an important one. While obviously a winning record depends on a team effort more than the skill of one player, a poor quarterback will cripple a team quicker than a deficiency at any other position. Both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have achieved dominant records throughout their years in the league but whose is better? The answer is Tom Brady’s but there is an important consideration.
In his thirteen years starting for the New England Patriots, Brady has won 157 regular season games and lost just 45. That is 3.48 wins per loss. Peyton Manning, in his sixteen years starting between the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, has won 175 games and lost 76. That is 2.30 wins per loss. Brady clearly has a better overall record. But the important consideration is that Manning has played for two teams. During his time with the Broncos, their record has been 33-9 which is 3.69 wins per loss. Overall, Brady is ahead in this category, but remember, this may be the one of the least important characteristics, given that a record over a decade depends on many variables beyond quarterback ability.
9. Their Weapons
Calculating the success and skill of a quarterback requires a careful look of their supporting cast, mainly their running backs and receivers. In essence, as both of these players have achieved renown and success in their careers, the quarterback with the edge in this category will be the one with the less phenomenal supporting cast of receivers and backs.
While running backs may have taken a back seat in the NFL with the increase of passing offenses across the league, a stacked stable of backs can offer great change of pace to beat effective pass defenses and, of course, set up play action. At the running back position, the Patriots have had great depth for much of Tom Brady’s career.
Kevin Faulk was with the team for thirteen seasons, and steadily racked up yards catching and rushing as a reliable backup. Antowain Smith and Laurence Maroney had some productive years, while Corey Dillon had the best year of his career in 2004 when the Pats won the Super Bowl. In more recent years, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have shared duties in what has remained a steady and deep stable.
The Colts had steady rushing threats when Peyton Manning was with the team but rarely saw the same depth. Joseph Addai was reliable but by no means a star. Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno have been solid in Denver, and CJ Anderson looks like a good option, but his best running back was Edgerrin James, with whom he played for seven seasons, five of which were 1000+ yard rushing years.
Tom Brady has played with some great receivers in New England; Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, and of course Randy Moss. Unfortunately, other than these key receivers, he has not been provided with receivers as reliable as Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were for Peyton Manning. After his move to Denver, Manning has had great receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and of course, Wes Welker, who has had the privilege to play with both of these quarterbacks.
While it is difficult to determine who had better receivers, Peyton Manning did have more time with his favorite two receivers, but with regard to running backs, Tom Brady’s Patriots have had a very steady and capable stable, while the Colts and Broncos have had less depth, despite some great seasons out of Edgerrin James.
8. Brady vs. Manning Showdowns
This is one of the biggest rivalries in football today and one of the best of all time. These two are considered the defining quarterbacks of the last two decades and have had some amazing shootouts in their careers. The Patriots have won eleven of the sixteen games when facing off against Peyton Manning.
The last time they met was in early November when Tom Brady and the Patriots spanked the Broncos at home. As a Bronco, Manning is now 1-3 against the Patriots. They met back in January where the Broncos won 26-16 in the AFC Championship Game. Manning won one prior AFC Championship Game back in 2007 while still with the Colts. The Patriots have won won one AFC Divisional game and one AFC Championship against Manning.
7. Fourth Quarter Comebacks and Game Winning Drives
The mark of a truly great quarterback is his ability to bring his team together and secure a win from behind when the chips are down. The fourth quarter comeback and game winning drive are delicate art forms that few quarterbacks can carry out better than these gentlemen.
Tom Brady has led 31 fourth quarter comebacks throughout his career along with 42 game winning drives. Manning has 41 and 52 respectively. Manning has 16 years as a starter; so 52/16 is 3.25 game winning drives per season and 40/16 equals 2.56 fourth quarter comebacks. Tom Brady has started 13 seasons, so 31/13 comes out to 2.38 fourth quarter comebacks per season and 42/13 is 3.23 game winning drives per season. These numbers are close enough that a tie can be declared.
6. Passing Yards and Touchdowns Per Game/Season
This is plain and simple, which quarterback gets the job done through the air? Both are among the best passers in the history of the game. This category will look at total passing yards and passing touchdowns throughout their career, and with seasonal and single game averages.
Overall, Peyton Manning leads in each of these statistical considerations. Tom Brady has 52,065 career yards in games that he started and finished (I did not count the game in his first season in which he attempted just three passes, nor did I include the first game of 2008 in which he suffered his season-ending injury less than halfway through the game). Manning has 68,522 career passing yards, but his larger number here is clearly because of his three extra seasons in a starting role, so it is a moot point.
In terms of averages, Brady averages 4,005 yards per season, which is approximately 257.7 yards per game. Manning has a seasonal average of 4,282 yards passing, with an average of 273 yards per game. It may not be much, but the extra 15 yards is an extra one and a half first downs. In a game of inches, that’s sometimes the difference between winning and losing.
With regards to touchdowns, Brady has 385 career passing scores, while Manning has 525 (as of week 12 of the 2014 season). The discrepancy is obviously, again, because of Manning’s longer career. Brady is averaging 29.6 passing touchdowns per season and 1.9 per game, while Manning, again leading in seasonal and game averages, has 32.8 and 2.1 respectively. Much like average yards, an extra three touchdowns per year could mean three more wins in any given season.
Both of these quarterbacks are anything but scramblers. But one of the most important aspects of a Field General’s game is his ability to earn yards on his feet and avoid sacks. To determine these players’ scrambling ability, I’ll look at attempts, yards gained, rushing touchdowns, times sacked and, of course, fumbles.
Peyton Manning’s rushing stats are not impressive, but throughout his career he has scored 18 touchdowns on the ground. Overall he has rushed 417 times and totaled 689 yards; 1.65 yards per carry. Tom Brady’s numbers are higher but not by much. He has rushed 453 times for 780 yards and has 14 touchdowns. That’s 1.72 yards per carry for Brady and 1.65 yards per carry for Manning.
Sacks and fumbles are a different story however. Tom Brady has fumbled the football 96 times throughout his career, and has recovered 26 of them. With regard to sacks, Brady has been taken down 357 times for a total loss of 2225 yards. Manning has fumbled 72 times and recovered 18 loose balls. He has been sacked 282 ties for a overall loss of 1832. Keeping in mind that Peyton Manning has started three more seasons in the NFL than Brady, he clearly has the edge in terms of keeping the ball in his hands and staying on his feet. With these numbers in mind Brady gets sacked an average of 27.5 times per season, while Manning gets sacked approximately 17.6 times per regular season. With regard to fumbles lost, Peyton Manning looses a ball about once every 4.65 games, while Brady loses a fumble once every 2.89 games.
4. Team Record in their Absence
This part of the argument offers an interesting experiment to look at what happened to each of their teams when Manning and Brady were forced to take a season off. In 2008, Tom Brady sustained a knee injury early in the first game of the season. Years later, in 2011, Manning required neck surgery prior to the season’s start which saw him miss the year.
In 2008, Matt Cassel took over for Tom Brady. Cassel was a three year backup at that point, and the team went 11-5 that year. They missed the playoffs but just barely, and a 11-5 record is not something to complain about.
In 2011, Peyton Manning’s neck surgery essentially disabled the entire Colts’ offense. After a 10-6 finish in 2010, they went 2-14 in 2011. Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky, and Curtis Painter were unable to even come close to filling the void.
Free agent moves and new rookies aside, these are examples of years in which these quarterbacks were unable to play. One team was able to make due with a solid backup, while the Colts, became a complete non-contender. For those who argue that each team’s system deserves more credit for success than a quarterback, you have a point and that is an argument to be examined a bit later.
3. Quarterback Rating/Completion Rating/TD-INT Ratio
Our number six comparison took into account passing yards and touchdowns, and while yardage and touchdown passes are important, quarterback rating takes into account interceptions and completion rates, providing an examination of efficiency rather than just straight yards and scores.
Quarterback rating is a complicated formula that assigns a passer a rating based on completion rate, touchdown passes, and intercepted passes. For their careers, Peyton Manning has a 97.8 quarterback rating, while Tom Brady’s rating is a close 96.
Brady’s completion rate throughout his career is 63.5% and he has thrown 385 touchdown passes and 140 interceptions. In mathematical terms, he throws 2.75 touchdowns per pick. Manning’s all-time QB rating is 97.8, with a completion rate of 65.6% and 525 touchdowns and 228 interceptions. That is 2.3 touchdowns per interceptions. Interesting to note, however, is that Manning’s numbers while in Denver are much more impressive than those in Indianapolis. With the Broncos his rating has been 110.4, and has a completion percentage of 68.3%. He has thrown 126 touchdowns and just 30 interceptions. That’s 4.2 touchdown passes per interception.
This one has to be a draw as well. While Manning has slightly higher numbers in QB rating and completion rate, not to mention amazing numbers while in Denver, Brady’s touchdown to interception ratio throughout his career ties it up.
2. Playoffs and Super Bowl Record
While play in the regular season is important, playoffs and Super Bowl games are where it really counts. A game by game analysis of the playoff performances of these two athletes would require an article much longer than this, but to determine who has demonstrated better leadership and a cooler head in the postseason, I’ll use their overall stats from all playoff and Super Bowl games.
Brady has been in 26 playoff games, including his five Super Bowl appearances. His record in the playoffs is 18-8 with a 3-2 record in the Super Bowl specifically. Tom Brady has an all-time playoff completion rate of 62.1%, with 43 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. His playoff quarterback rating is 87.5. With regard to scrambling, Brady has rushed for 90 yards and four touchdowns throughout his 26 playoff games.
Peyton Manning has a playoff record of 11-12, with two losses Super Bowl losses and one Super Bowl win. His all-time playoff completion rate is 64.3% and his QB rating is 89.2. However, he has thrown 37 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, which produces a less successful ratio than Brady. Manning has also rushed for just 24 yards and three touchdowns.
With a better touchdown to pick number, along with a vastly superior overall record in the postseason, Brady definitely takes this one.
1. Other Variables
There aare several more intangible variables to consider with regard to the success of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Among these is defense, when discussing overall win/loss records. Coaching systems are also important when analyzing quarterback skill. These are less measurable than most of the other categorical stats that I have discussed.
With regard to defense, the New England Patriots’ defense has gone up and down constantly over the last decade and a half. It’s football, and that’s generally the way things go. The same can be said of Indianapolis, who in 2001 allowed the 31st most points per game in the league, but dropped down to 7th the next year. Overall, however, when comparing defenses, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have not been incredibly far apart throughout their careers. Considering defensive points per game throughout seasons in which both quarterbacks have started (there have been twelve, including 2014). The Colts had lower defensive points per game totals then the Patriots three times in the Manning/Brady era and the Broncos had the same once since Manning joined the team in 2012. With that said, their defenses were close a number of years, and while Brady has enjoyed a somewhat better overall defense for the most part, it has rarely been an absolute.
Leadership and Intelligence
Quarterbacks also need to be among the most intelligent players on the field and they also need that bolstered with leadership qualities. Manning has arguably had the greatest autonomy granted to him of any quarterback in the history of the league, but Brady is still one of the smartest and most accomplished leaders the game has ever seen. In this regard, the two are very close in their abilities to lead men, perform under pressure, and think effectively at the line of scrimmage, with a very possible slight edge to Manning, again, given his nearly unparalleled autonomy throughout his career.
Coaches and Team Systems
Coaches and team systems are categories where Manning and Brady have some key differences. The bottom line is: Manning has achieved success under three coaches with two teams, while Brady has played under Bill Belichick for his whole career, achieving some of the greatest success the league has ever seen.
While his early years with Jim Mora produced only a .500 record, Peyton Manning has played for three coaches since, and in those years his record has been 143-44; .765. He won a Super Bowl with Tony Dungy, went 24-8 in two years with Jim Caldwell and currently sits at 34-9 under John Fox. Fans have seen Manning succeed under three (maybe four, as he did have a 13-3 and 10-6 year with Jim Mora) coaches, and while Tom Brady has won three Super Bowls, it is not unreasonable to attribute his success primarily to Bill Belichick. The fact of the matter is, football fans actually have no empirical evidence to work with, to determine if Tom Brady would be able to achieve success with another team. The fact that his team still went 11-5 back in 2008 is a strong indication that Belichick’s system can produce success with a quarterback other than Brady. This is not just me talking either, I should point out that this argument has been pondered and offered up for years.
Decision: Manning By a Score of 5-3 With Two Draws
For those displeased with the outcome, I do apologize for ruining your day but I stand by it. Either way, Brady has three rings and a supermodel wife, so he’s doing alright even if I do think Peyton Manning is a superior quarterback. Either way, these are two great sportsmen with incredible careers, and while Brady has more rings and a better record, Manning, when considered as an individual, is the greater quarterback. Again, this outcome should not be interpreted as my attempt to downplay Brady’s success. He is an admirable athlete but I believe (and the stats agree) that Manning is a more complete player on an individual basis.
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