Those four seasons anchored the narrative for the 15-year rivalry of the two players. Since then, Manning has a 6-5 record against Brady, including a 3-0 mark in the playoffs. Each player has also won “only” one Super Bowl despite the two quarterbacks dominating the AFC for most of the last decade (Manning, of course, could win another next week).
The table below shows the statistics from both players for each of the 17 head-to-head games:
Brady has better numbers than Manning, which you could interpret in a couple of ways. On one hand, the two players have similar numbers, so Brady’s 11-6 record looks disproportionately dominant compared to how the two quarterbacks have played. Or, if you are so inclined, now only has Brady been more of a winner, but he’s posted better stats than Manning, too.
Of course, those numbers are not strength of schedule adjusted, so let’s go ahead and do that.
In these 17 games, Manning has completed 62.0% of his passes, while Brady has a 64.7% completion percentage. But that’s actually misleading, as the weighted average of the Patriots defenses Manning faced allowed a 57.7% completion percentage to opposing passers. This is heavily weighted in favor of the early years Patriots, of course, as the teams in ’03, ’01, ’05, and ’06 allowed 53%, 55%, 56%, and 57%, respectively (and Manning played those teams seven times). So by this measure, Manning outperformed expectations by +4.2%.
Meanwhile, Brady has faced a much softer slate of defenses, with a weighted average opposing completion percentage allowed of 62.4%. The toughest three defenses Brady faced in these 17 games (as measured by completion percentage allowed) were all with the Broncos; less easy to remember were the soft Colts defenses, particularly in ’05 and ’10 (67%) and ’04 and ’07 (65%). Brady has therefore outperformed expectations by +2.3%. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that, but it does grade out as less impressive than Manning.
Net Yards per Attempt
In these games, Manning has averaged 6.59 Net Yards per Attempt, while Brady was at 6.44 NY/A. Here’s something you might be surprised to learn: on average, the Patriots pass defense has been worse in this category than Manning’s defenses. The ’12, ’14, and ’15 Broncos were all under 5.30 NY/A on defense, while the ’07, ’09, ’05, and ’06 Colts also stand out in this regard. The Patriots looked great in this metric in ’03 and ’07, but have also had some rough years, particularly in ’05, ’10, and ’12.1
That does narrow the margin here, bringing us to a near draw. Manning outproduced the average quarterback by 0.69 NY/A, while Brady outproduced those defenses by 0.63 NY/A.
Touchdowns per Attempt
In these games, Manning has thrown more touchdowns than Brady, but has also thrown more attempts. Manning has thrown a touchdown on 5.08% of his passes, compared to 5.25% for Brady. But as you might suspect, this is an area where Bill Belichick defenses have fared very well. New England’s defenses have allowed a weighted average2 touchdown rate of 3.45%. That’s heavily influenced by the incredible rates posted by the team’s ’03 and ’06 defenses, who both allowed touchdown rates of less than two percent (oh, and Manning faced both teams twice those seasons).
The Colts under Tony Dungy had some good years in this category, too, but on a weighted average basis, the defense Brady has faced in these games allowed a touchdown rate of 4.18% to opposing passers. As a result, Manning grades out at +1.63%, while Brady is at +1.07%.
Interceptions per Attempt
If this is one area where Brady always appeared to have the edge on Manning, this was it. In their 17 games, Manning threw interceptions on 3.19% of the time, while Brady’s interception rate is an impressive 2.46%. As you’d expect, the Patriots defense have the edge here, although it’s not enough to bridge the gap.
In these 17 games, Manning has been expected to throw an interception on 3.59% of passes, based on the average quarterback against those Patriots teams. Brady, meanwhile, would be expected to be intercepted on 3.09% of his passes against Manning’s defenses. So Brady comes out ahead here, at +0.62% vs. +.0.39% for Manning.
Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt
As mentioned at the top, Brady’s stat line is slightly better: he’s averaged 6.39 ANY/A against Manning’s defenses, while Manning has averaged 6.19 ANY/A against the Patriots. But, as we’ve seen throughout, Manning’s faced tougher defenses. The weighted-average Patriots in these 17 games have allowed 5.04 ANY/A to opposing passers, while Brady’s faced defenses that have allowed an average of 5.30 ANY/A. As a result, Manning has outproduced expectations by +1.15 ANY/A, while Brady is at +1.09 ANY/A.
Practically speaking, that’s a wash. Of course, a Manning/Brady take that ends with ‘it’s basically a tie” isn’t very hot, but hey, the numbers are what they are. There’s a whole lot more to a Manning/Brady debate outside of “who had better numbers in their 17 head-to-head games” but I was curious enough to run the numbers, and then decided it was worth sharing with those interested. As always, please leave your rational, coherent, and good-natured thoughts in the comments.
- Well, it was also really bad in ’11, but Manning missed that season. [↩]
- In case it isn’t clear, what I mean by this is I am weighting the Patriots defenses by the number of Manning attempts. For example, Manning had 95 pass attempts against the ’03 Patriots; that represents 13.8% of all Manning attempts against the Brady Patriots; as a result, 13.8% of New England’s average defensive rating in these categories comes from the 2003 Patriots. On the other hand, Manning had only 27 pass attempts against the ’07 Patriots, so that defense isn’t as important when calculating these figures. [↩]