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Numbers Say Tom Brady Is Better Than Peyton Manning

Nov 30, 2010 – 1:35 PM
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Pat McManamon

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Tom Brady and Peyton Manning grew their legend again when Brady's Patriots barely beat Manning's Colts a little more than a week ago.

The legend is based on years of greatness and achievement by two players, with both players winning titles, setting records and competing furiously.

It's also a legend that spurs a debate on a simple question: Who is better?

Comparing these two quarterbacks is comparing the best of their era. Both have been great, and criticism of either borders on the absurd. But simply checking the numbers over time is revealing. It shows Brady to be the better player.

And the numbers go far beyond Brady's three Super Bowl rings and Manning's one.

The most recent game gave Brady his sixth regular season win over Manning in nine games, a won-lost percentage that is matched by his 2-1 record in the playoffs against the Colts and Manning.

If the Colts had finished a late drive, Manning would be one game back of Brady at 4-5. Ifs are just that, though. The Colts didn't finish the drive and didn't win, which might be one of the key points when talking about Brady and Manning: Brady wins, especially in the bigger games.

Regular Season

In the regular season, the two are basically the same quarterback. Through Sunday's games, Manning's career passer rating is 94.9, Brady's 94.3. The marginal difference over the number of attempts (4,574 in 140 games for Brady, 7,017 in 203 games for Manning) puts the pair at about the same level of excellence.

Their average games also are near mirror images. Manning completes 23 of 35 passes for 263 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. Brady goes 21 of 33 for 241 yards, with the same two TDs and one interception.

So the two are outstanding -- and winning -- regular season quarterbacks. Manning has gone 137-66 (.674), which includes a rookie season when the Colts were 3-13. Since 1999, Manning has won fewer than 10 games once, and averaged 11.6 wins per season. Brady is 106-32 as a starter. Enough said.


Differences between the two start to show, though, in the playoffs. Base it on pure numbers and the analysis can be harsh -- starting with the won-lost record. Each has played 18 playoff games. Manning is 9-9; Brady is 14-4.

Brady has played many of his playoff games outside in the cold in New England, while Manning has been in Domes in Indianapolis. Brady plays many of his games outdoors in places like Foxboro, Buffalo and the Meadowlands. Manning is in a dome, in a division with another retractable roof team in Houston.

But those are intangibles and opinions. The numbers are more revealing. Because in the playoffs Brady's performance improves as his team advances. The tougher the competition the better he plays.

His ratings in the wild card, divisional and conference championship rounds are in the 80s. In the Super Bowl, he has a rating of 94.5, seven TDs and one interception in four games. He won three of the most important games, losing only to the Giants on a last-minute drive thanks largely to New York receiver David Tyree's famed helmet catch. Brady's completion percentage also improved each round -- from 58.3 to 61.3 to 63.6 to 64.1.

Brady has had some clunkers in the playoffs, but they are the exception. Eleven of his 15 playoff interceptions came in four games: two in a loss to Denver in 2005, three in a win over San Diego in 2006, three in a win over San Diego in 2007 and three in a loss to Baltimore last season. It's worth noting that even when he's not been on, he's still managed to win half of the time.

In those other 14 playoff games, Brady was more than reliable, throwing one interception four times and no interceptions 10 times. He has had six playoff games -- one third of the ones he's played -- when he was above 100 for a ranking.

Manning has had four plus-100 ratings games in the playoffs. He's also had ratings of 31.2, 35.5, 69.3 and 39.6. He lost the first three, but won the fourth in a game against Baltimore when the Ravens had the best defense in the league. That Colts win propelled Indianapolis to its only Super Bowl, won after it beat New England (and Brady) in the AFC Championship Game.

Manning's rating in two Super Bowls is 85.4, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. But his overall rating decreases from round to round prior to the Super Bowl. From 101.2 in six wild card games to 85.3 in seven Divisional games to 76.7 in three AFC Championship Games.

Manning has thrown 28 TDs in 18 playoff games -- same as Brady -- but has 19 interceptions to Brady's 15. The numbers are comparable, but Brady's come in bunches -- when he's off he's really off -- while Manning has thrown them more frequently. Brady has no interceptions in 10 games; Manning has at least one in 11. Manning has had a few incredible games in the playoffs with ratings in the 120 range, but a bunch of really bad games.

Manning has been at his best in recent playoff games, when he has had ratings of 97.7, 90.4, 87.9, 123.6 and 88.5 -- the last in the Super Bowl against New Orleans. Manning lost that game, though, just like he lost two others -- to San Diego and Norv Turner in 2007 and 2008. His record in the last five playoff games: 2-3. (Yes ... that's the same W-L as Brady in the last five.)


Head-to-head games are less a reflection of individual play than they are of the teams on the whole, and are less important than playoff results, but they can produce interesting numbers. In the case of Brady and Manning, the numbers are consistent with others.

Brady's regular season rating against the Colts and Manning is 96.4; Manning's against Brady and the Patriots is 93.2. In the playoffs, Brady's is 81.7, but Manning's drops to 61.0. Brady has a 19-10 TD-to-interception ratio in the nine regular season games, 3-2 in the playoffs. Manning goes from 22-13 in the regular season to 2-6 in the playoffs.

Manning Had Better Receivers

The case could be made that the ratings are virtually the same -- 87.6 for Manning, 85.5 for Brady -- and thus the teams were more responsible for the wins and losses than the individuals. That's valid, but it's also valid that Manning spent much of his career with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne at receiver, while Brady has thrown to guys like Deion Branch and Jabar Gaffney.

It's not unreasonable to conclude that Brady makes his receivers, rather than the other way around. Witness Randy Moss' performance in the two years before and now after he left New England. Witness what Branch did with the Patriots compared to what he did for Seattle. Witness what David Givens did in New England and after he left for the big paycheck; anyone even know what happened to him? Witness what Brady is doing this season without Moss and with two rookie tight ends and with receivers most teams would use as third wideouts. (Yes, Manning is doing much the same this season with an injury-depleted crew).

Brady's Done More With Less

Teams around a quarterback clearly have something to do with success. The Patriots with Brady have one of the best defensive minds in the game in coach Bill Belichick, but Manning played a long time for Tony Dungy, and he's not too shabby. Manning's offensive coaches – especially his coordinators – have been consistent. Brady has had a few different coordinators.

Manning has been surrounded by guys like Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Brady had Randy Moss for two years, but he's also had guys like Branch, Wes Welker, Gaffney, Caldwell and Givens. The year the Colts beat the Patriots in the AFC Title game, 2007, tight end Ben Watson was New England's leading receiver and Doug Gabriel was a starting wideout. A case could even be made that consistency has been on Manning's side, as most of his receivers have stayed with the Colts (for good reason) for years. Brady's have come and gone.

For One Game, Brady Is the Guy

Clearly the fact that this discussion involves so many playoff games shows that these are the two best quarterbacks of this era. Canton awaits them.

But based on the numbers, right now, if forced to pick one of the two in a big game, a playoff game, Brady would be the choice. Monikers are fleeting, and both players have time left on their careers. But if things continue as they have, it's a logical conclusion to state that the pre-eminent quarterback of this era plays in New England.

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