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Manning/Brady 18 will use Manning's uniform number instead of Roman Numerals

Manning/Brady 18 will use Manning’s uniform number instead of Roman Numerals

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have now played seventeen games against each other. Brady has posted an 11-6 record against Manning, which tends to fuel some of the Brady/Manning narrative. The beginning of their “rivalry” was dominated by Brady and the Patriots: from 2001 to 2004, New England went 6-0 against Indianapolis, including two playoff wins in the snow in Foxboro.

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.

Completion Percentage

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.

  1. Well, it was also really bad in ’11, but Manning missed that season. []
  2. 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. []
  • eag97a

    Thanks for the post Chase. And I promise I will be rational, coherent and good-natured with the discussion. 🙂

  • WR

    I think this article illustrates why I find the Brady-Manning question so fascinating. Two HOF quarterbacks, but their careers have unfolded quite differently. If we draw a dividing line between the 2004 and 2005 seasons, we have one phase where Manning was better statistically, capped off by back-to-back MVPs in 03-04, and Brady won more games and Super Bowls. Manning generally had better backs and receivers, but Brady had better defenses, and a better coach.

    Then, since 2005, they’ve been very close to each other overall. They’re separated by about 1% in anypa+, and have generally similar stats and achievements in the postseason, with Manning owning a 6-5 edge head-to-head. Their W-L records since 2005 are also very close, though I believe Brady comes out slightly ahead. Brady clearly benefitted from some great defenses early in his career, but it’s also clear that Manning’s teams are better since they stopped relying so heavily on passing offense.

    Where to rank Brady, when he has a 10 season stretch where he’s been just as good as Peyton statistically, and that was preceded by a 4 season stretch in which he put up Otto Graham-level W-L numbers, and won three super bowls? It’s hard to say, and I believe Peyton’s numbers have been helped by playing a lot of dome games, avoiding bad weather, and playing with a lot of good receivers. But they’re two of the best ever, and the extent to which their teams have dominated the AFC, particularly over the last 5 years, is remarkable.

    • sacramento gold miners

      Two top ten QBs, without a doubt, but Manning really does need to play well in this SB coming up for his legacy. I commend Manning for making just enough plays early last week to help his team win, but he wilted late in the game, as NE nearly pulled the game out. Perhaps the two weeks off will help in likely his final pro game.

      • Tom

        Yes, he needs to play well, but I think perhaps what you really mean is that the Broncos need to win for his legacy to improve. If Denver wins, Manning has a second ring, regardless of how he plays, and that’s all that will matter to a lot of people (and maybe you if I’m reading you correctly).

  • Jacob Boris

    The fact that there are 22 players on the field at all times makes these individual legacy things a little fuzzy every time. There are just so many factors, but for the sake of discussion I think their respective awards and accolades (MVPs, Superbowl wins) actually fairly accurately describe their careers.

    Tom Brady has more super bowls – he’s performed really well in the playoffs generally and well in the regular season to get him into position for success (first seeds, etc…). He has one of probably the best coaches of an era, had one of the legendary kickers, and sometimes a great defense. He’s a beast and rightfully has several rings. Would the Pats have that many wins without him? No. Would they still be fairly good with a decent quarterback? Yes. See the Matt Cassel year. Brady will go down as one of the best, no doubt.

    Peyton Manning has more MVPs – I think the Colts and to lesser extent, Broncos rose and fell with Manning. See the Painter/Orlovsky etc… year. He does a lot of work on the field, he molded (the front office and coaches obviously went with it too) the team around him. Having a great RB/WR doesn’t guarantee success. The Falcons this year didn’t do much with a stellar Jones/Freeman combo. Manning went above and beyond, though we realize he is human and sometimes wouldn’t play well in the playoffs against good teams, and they would generally lose. When they had a defense or their kicker didn’t miss a chip shot, they did amazing. He WAS the Colts, who did really flippin’ well for over a decade. Therefore MVPs. Will go down as one of the best as well, obviously.

    In a vacuum, they’re probably a toss up. It happens. We can all agree though they look dopey as hell when they scramble though.

    • Richie

      “Tom Brady has more super bowls – he’s performed really well in the playoffs generally”

      FWIW, career playoff ANY/A:
      Brady – 6.05
      Manning – 6.41

      • WR

        It’s true that Brady and Manning have generally similar playoff stats. I agree with the consensus that Manning’s playoff performance has been better than a .500 record would suggest. But I don’t believe he’s been as good as Brady because

        -Manning’s numbers get a big boost from his performance in the Wild Card games, and Brady has only played 3 WC games his entire career
        -Brady’s teams outscore Manning’s teams in the postseason, and it’s not all that close
        -Brady turns the ball over less often than Manning, and I also believe Manning’s had more turnovers that were hugely costly to his team, and
        -Brady is 9 for 13 in playoff GWD opportunities, Manning just 2 for 10. Even in the game on Sunday, Manning did very little in the 2nd half, and watched from the bench as his defense sealed the win. Brady has come up big late a lot more often than Manning in the playoffs.

        Manning’s problem is that far too often, even in some games where he played quite well, his teams just haven’t scored enough points. I’ve criticized Brady and other QBs when their teams haven’t scored enough points, and I think it’s fair to say the same of Manning. It just seems like so many people are quick to rush to Peyton’s defense, and cite other factors as the reasons why his teams have lost. ESPN just ranked the top 50 players in Super Bowl history, and Brady’s name was at the top of the list. Manning’s wasn’t on the list. That’s an example of what the overall any/a figures can’t convey.

        • He’s had two decent games and a bad one with only one win out of three, so it’s no surprise Manning was missing. I don’t know how Montana didn’t end up #1 though. Having Brady at 1, Montana at 3, Bradshaw at 7 (below Elway!) and Young at 10 is some inconsistent silliness.

          • WR

            Whatever you think of the list, the point is that if we’re talking Super Bowl performance, Brady’s ahead of Manning, and it’s not close. This is one of the reasons why I don’t buy the argument that Manning can be the best ever. How can a player be the best of all time with a postseason record like his?

            As for the list, Montana should be ahead of Brady, but I’d rank the other guys you mentioned in the same order. It seemed pretty reasonable. Again, even if you want to consider Brady and Manning as postseason equals overall, Brady’s superior play in Super Bowls should move him conmfortably ahead.

  • Roger Kirk

    It’s kind of a shock that as great as the B&B Patriots are (and they’ve had the greatest stretch of success in pro football history) they’ve only won one SB in the last 11 years.

    • Tom

      Yep…if the team with the best regular season SRS rating was deemed the champion every year, the Pats would have 7 rings since 2001. Ridiculous.

      • That’d be an interesting way to retroactively assign champs. Since 1932, the Bears would lead the way with 10. The Packers would have 9, the Patriots and 49ers would have 7, the Browns would have 6, and the Colts would have 5. Interestingly, all 5 of the Colts’ titles would have come in Baltimore rather than Indianapolis.

        • Tom

          Bryan – I was messing around with this the other day. Using SRS, Montana would have 3 instead of 4 rings, Steve Young would have 4, all won in a row between 1992-1995. The Dallas Super Bowls would be wiped out! Minnesota would be three-time champs instead of four-time losers, and the Steelers would lose three rings. Pretty interesting…

      • Richie

        Since 2001, DVOA championships:
        Seattle 4 (in a row)
        New England 2
        Philadelphia 2
        Tampa Bay 1
        Kansas City 1
        Pittsburgh 1
        Indianpolis 1
        San Diego 1
        Baltimore 1
        Green Bay 1

        • Johhny Ohrl

          Since 2001 PD “champs”
          NE 5 (not in a row)
          NO 2
          PHI 1
          KC 1
          IND 1
          SD 1
          BAL 1
          CAR 1
          DEN 1
          SL 1

  • Richie

    ” average of the Patriots defenses Manning faced”

    I’m confused. I thought Manning played against Brady….????

    • Tom

      Agree, this doesn’t make sense. The other players’ efforts should not be included in these types of analyses…it’s MANNING VS. BRADY, mano-a-mano.

    • Jacob Boris

      I hope this is sarcasm…?

      • Tom

        Yep, just messing around

  • Andrew Healy

    I’ve mostly argued for Manning for a long time, but I do think toss-up sounds about dead right. The argument about the opposing defenses is important, but so is the surrounding talent on offense. Brady’s surrounding talent was mediocre at best those first six years. Not sure it’s all that great now, either, even with Gronkowski. And certainly the line (which people forget was also pretty strongly beaten against Seattle last year) is currently terrible.

    I think a lot about the 2006 AFCC. Do we think Manning would have carried Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, and Ben Watson to the brink of the Super Bowl? My answer is a shaky yes. But it’s an interesting thought experiment to consider how Brady would be considered if he had completed the trick that year. Kind of like if LeBron had won the title with the dreck he had around him last year, although on a much smaller scale.

    • Donkey Kong

      That 2006 Pats squad had the 3rd best DVOA(26.3%) in the league that year. Offense was 4th, Defense was 7th, ST was 8th.

      2006 Colts were 7th in DVOA(16.3%). Offense was 1st, Defense was 25th, ST was 25th.

      I think 2006 Manning(51.3% DVOA, 2nd in 06 was Brees at 25.6% DVOA) would have done just fine on that 06 Pats squad. And if the D + ST combined to give him +8.69 vs the Jets, and +9.95 against the Chargers, I think odds are he would have had the Pats in the same AFC Title game.

      Also I think the fact that Brady threw what could have been a game deciding INT only to have the ball fumbled back to him vs the Chargers, and then threw the game losing INT to the Colts the next game, weakens your thought experiment.

      I think the Pats currently also have more talent now than you are giving them credit for. They were smoking defenses until injuries piled up this year. That line isn’t very good though, no doubt.

      You mention Lebron, remember when he left CLE and they collapsed? Surely I don’t need to remind you what happened the years that Brady and Manning missed?

      Anyways, I actually agree with you that a toss up is about how I view Manning v Brady. I just didn’t agree with your thoughts on the 06 season. Btw, I generally enjoy reading your posts and viewpoints so keep up the good work Mr. Healy.