When we look back at this era of quarterbacks, the top two will undoubtedly be Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. What’s yet to be determined is which player will sit atop the pantheon.
Right now, postseason success versus regular-season success is the crux of the argument. Brady clearly takes the postseason title with three Super Bowl victories in five trips. Manning has the regular-season stats, but just one Super Bowl ring and a checkered postseason track record.
Right now, there's no good way to settle an argument about which quarterback's career is superior. Politics, religion and Manning vs. Brady—many people sadly avoid the debate.
Unless Manning beats Brady on Sunday and goes on the win the Super Bowl, that is.
Then, the argument that Brady is a better postseason quarterback than Manning doesn’t separate the two by as much as it once did. Then, Manning’s career stacks up against any of the great quarterbacks to ever play the position.
Manning is currently 10-11 in the postseason and has been to just two Super Bowls despite being in the playoffs 13 times. Lament as some will about using wins to judge a quarterback—we do. At least we do in the postseason. Good quarterbacks should win in the postseason, and the great quarterbacks should win Super Bowls.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. Former Oakland Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett has two Super Bowl rings and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino has zero, but only Marino is in the Hall of Fame. The team nature of the game is considered at times like this, but for the most part, weight is still given to quarterbacks who win Super Bowls.
With a win on Sunday, Manning will move to 11-11 in the postseason and one step closer to becoming the 12th quarterback to win two Super Bowls. Manning will have effectively hit the reset button on all his prior postseason struggles—he’ll basically be 0-0.
A winning postseason record and two Super Bowl wins should be enough for even the harshest of critics to accept the fact that Manning is a superior quarterback to Brady. Plus, Manning will likely finish his career with nearly every passing record in the book. Brady can’t touch Manning’s regular-season numbers, but Manning will have a chance to creep much closer to Brady’s postseason numbers with a couple more wins.
Outside of their postseason records, Manning’s statistics aren’t even much worse than Brady’s. It’s within the realm of possibility that Manning could finish this postseason with better career numbers.
Manning already has a higher postseason completion percentage than Brady and more passing yards per game. If the two have average games Sunday based on their production from this season, Manning will have a career touchdown rate of 4.4 percent in the playoffs to Brady’s 4.6 percent, and an interception rate of 2.7 percent to Brady’s 2.4 percent.
A difference of 0.2-0.3 percent is roughly two touchdowns or interceptions over a 16-game period. Manning could actually finish Sunday’s game with better postseason touchdown and interception rates than Brady if he has a great performance and Brady has a terrible one.
Assuming each quarterback attempts their average number of passes, Manning would just need to have three more touchdowns than Brady and three fewer interceptions. Put another way, if Manning attempts 41 passes, throws four touchdowns and no interceptions while Brady attempts 39 passes, throws one touchdown and three interceptions, Manning will finish the game with better career postseason statistics than Brady in nearly every major statistical category.
|Manning vs. Brady Playoff Stats|
|QB||COMP. %||YDS/GM||TD %||INT %||YDS/ATT|
Even if Manning doesn’t catch Brady, he can draw close enough to make the already-slim statistical margin between them negligible. Along with a win, those statistics paint a much different story than their postseason records.
Sunday’s game could ultimately be the tipping point in the Manning vs. Brady argument. Manning is running out of time to cement his legacy, and a win would also prevent Brady from becoming the first quarterback to ever appear in six Super Bowls and the third with four victories.
If Brady beats Manning again, Manning will forever be No. 2 in the minds of many—especially if Brady also wins a fourth ring. Even if Manning beats Brady and loses in the Super Bowl, Manning will prevent Brady from adding to his legacy, and both will have to try again next season.
With a win over Brady and in the Super Bowl, Manning will have a winning postseason record and two Super Bowl rings to go with all his NFL records. No longer will people be able to say Manning can’t win in the playoffs. No longer will people be able to say Manning can’t beat Brady.
Manning’s legacy would finally be complete. Only another Super Bowl victory by Brady could shift the argument back into limbo.
Brady and Manning won't ever be on the field at the same time, but this isn’t about one man beating the other in a literal sense; it’s about their competing legacies. It's about which man can make the claim to be the greatest quarterback of this era—or ever.
When we look back at what separated these two quarterbacks, Sunday’s game could be the defining moment—especially for Manning. Think about the storyline: Manning conquered his postseason demons and beat Brady on the way to his second Super Bowl win. Manning cements himself as the best quarterback of all-time.
You couldn’t write the script any better. Of course, Manning has to actually win on Sunday. The ending to this story isn’t a happy one for Manning if he doesn’t beat Brady.
Somehow, this postseason game between the two teams also feels different. Maybe that’s because Manning is a member of the Broncos and had to totally rebuild himself after several neck surgeries. Maybe it’s because Brady’s numbers this season aren’t comparable to Manning’s.
|Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady in the Playoffs|
|Jan. 18, 2004||IND @ NE||Patriots -3.5||Patriots, 24-14|
|Jan. 16, 2005||IND @ NE||Patriots -1.0||Patriots, 20-3|
|Jan. 21, 2007||NE @ IND||Colts -3.0||Colts, 38-34|
|Jan. 18, 2014||NE @ DEN||Broncos -6.0||?|
|Pro-Football-Reference.com (H/T AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz)|
Whatever the reason, the game has taken on a different feel than some of those in the past. Whether that is good or bad for Manning really depends on the perspective.
Manning is favored to win the game and the favorite has won every playoff game between these two quarterbacks. Manning is 2-3 at home against Brady, but that only constitutes five of the 14 meetings between these two greats.
If you think about it in terms of expected record simply based on the number of home games for each quarterback, Manning should be 5-9. Manning is 4-10 against Brady, but a big part of that was losing his first six games.
In their last eight games against each other, Manning and Brady are both 4-4. Manning is 2-1 at home, making Brady just 1-2 on the road against his long-time rival over that span.
Given how closely these two teams played earlier this season and how historically close the games between Manning and Brady have been, you can pretty much throw history out the window. There’s no telling what kind of crazy things we’ll see.
“They’re going to look at us, we’re going to look at them, but my experience is that these games—even if it is the same opponent, take on a completely different personality,” Broncos head coach John Fox said Monday, via the team’s official website. “I don’t think this will be any different.”
Just about anything can happen in a game of this magnitude. With this much on the line, every twitch will be scrutinized and every flinch examined. It’s not just the Super Bowl at stake—it’s Manning’s legacy.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com.