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Championship Game Preview: New England at Denver

These two men look important

These two men look important.

Someone needs to say it. I know, I know, it’s Manning/Brady XV. But someone needs to remind people that Peyton Manning threw 30 more touchdown passes than Tom Brady in 2013. He threw for over 1,000 more yards. He threw one less interception. He was sacked 22 fewer times. And did I mention that he threw 30 more touchdowns? If you’re not into stats, Brian Burke has Manning providing 5.83 extra wins this year, compared to 3.82 for Brady. At some point, the analysis should move beyond “a game between two of the greatest quarterbacks ever” and recognize these things, right?

Let’s cut off the Patriots fans before they can begin typing in Boston accents: the fact that Manning’s 2013 numbers dwarf Brady’s 2013 numbers does not mean Manning’s career >>> Brady’s career. And it doesn’t even mean (although it strongly implies) that Manning was a better quarterback in 2013 than Brady was. There’s no doubt that Denver’s supporting cast, at least on offense, is much better than New England’s. Manning has Brady’s favorite target from last year, Wes Welker, along with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas. Brady has dealt with a very inexperienced set of receivers following massive turnover. The Patriots have had to replace Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Woodhead with Julian Edelman, 12 games worth of Danny Amendola, 8 games of Shane Vereen (although he’ll be around on Sunday), 7 games of Gronkowski (he won’t be around on Sunday), and Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Each quarterback is down a star tackle (Ryan Clady, Sebastian Vollmer) but has an All-Pro caliber guard (Louis Vasquez, Logan Mankins).

But whatever the reason for the discrepancy, one conclusion is inescapable: this is not a meeting of equal passing attacks. On one hand, you have one of the greatest passing offenses ever. On the other, you have an above-average passing offense. And that’s the real story. The Broncos averaged 10 more points per game than New England, while Manning (as representative of the Denver passing attack) averaged 2.75 more adjusted net yards per attempt than Brady (as representative of the Patriots passing attack).

Let’s put these passing attacks into proper historical perspective. In 2013, Manning averaged 8.87 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, and the league average was 5.87 ANY/A. That means Manning has a Relative ANY/A of +3.00. Brady averaged 6.13 ANY/A, giving him a RANY/A of +0.25. That gap of 2.75 ANY/A is pretty large by conference championship game standards. Of the 871 conference championship games since 1970, only 11 games featured starting quarterbacks with a larger gap in their regular season RANY/A averages. And the quarterback with the much higher average went 10-1 in those games.

Curiously, the largest gap of the 87 games came in the one loss. That was in 1974, when reigning MVP Ken Stabler and the Raiders hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers. Terry Bradshaw was far from a polished quarterback back then — he split time with Joe Gilliam during the season and didn’t turn the corner until 1975 — so on paper, this was a huge mismatch. But in the AFC Championship Game, it was the Steelers running attack that won the game, as Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier carried 47 times for 209 yards, while the Raiders were limited to just 29 yards on 21 carries.

The table below shows the starting quarterback from each of the conference championship games since 19702, and here’s how to read it. In 1974, the Raiders faced the Steelers (for each game, the chart is listed from the perspective of the statistically superior quarterback). Oakland’s quarterback was Stabler, who had a Relative ANY/A of +3.12. Pittsburgh’s quarterback was Bradshaw, who during the regular season had a RANY/A of -0.99. That means Oakland had a +4.12 advantage in ANY/A, and the two quarterbacks combined for an average ANY/A that was 1.06 adjusted net yards per attempt better than average. Despite the apparent passing edge, Oakland lost the game.

YearTmOppQuarterbackQB RANY/AOpp QuarterbackOpp RANY/ADiffAvgRes
1974OAKPITKen Stabler3.12Terry Bradshaw-0.994.121.06L
1984MIAPITDan Marino3.94Mark Malone-0.023.951.96W
1971MIABALBob Griese2.42Johnny Unitas-1.483.90.47W
1976OAKPITKen Stabler3.38Terry Bradshaw-0.183.561.6W
1999STLTAMKurt Warner3.13Shaun King-0.363.491.38W
2009INDNYJPeyton Manning1.87Mark Sanchez-1.573.440.15W
1971DALSFORoger Staubach3.88John Brodie0.623.262.25W
1991WASDETMark Rypien3.16Erik Kramer-
2007NWESDGTom Brady3.36Philip Rivers0.163.211.76W
1972MIAPITEarl Morrall2.74Terry Bradshaw-
2004PHIATLDonovan McNabb2.24Michael Vick-0.7630.74W
2013DENNWEPeyton Manning3Tom Brady0.252.751.63
2011NWEBALTom Brady2.35Joe Flacco-0.22.541.07W
2006NORCHIDrew Brees2.2Rex Grossman-0.172.371.02L
2007GNBNYGBrett Favre1.66Eli Manning-0.72.360.48L
2000OAKBALRich Gannon1.52Trent Dilfer-0.742.260.39L
1988CINBUFBoomer Esiason2.77Jim Kelly0.552.221.66W
1979PITHOUTerry Bradshaw1.28Dan Pastorini-0.792.070.25W
1994SFODALSteve Young2.87Troy Aikman0.852.011.86W
2010GNBCHIAaron Rodgers1.77Jay Cutler-0.2320.77W
1982NYJMIARichard Todd1.14David Woodley-0.851.990.14L
1985MIANWEDan Marino1.35Tony Eason-0.641.990.36L
2010PITNYJBen Roethlisberger1.62Mark Sanchez-0.351.970.64W
2001STLPHIKurt Warner2.22Donovan McNabb0.291.921.26W
2006INDNWEPeyton Manning2.55Tom Brady0.71.851.62W
1980SDGOAKDan Fouts1.62Jim Plunkett-0.221.840.7L
1987WASMINDoug Williams2.28Wade Wilson0.51.781.39W
1992SFODALSteve Young3.23Troy Aikman1.491.742.36L
1980PHIDALRon Jaworski2.07Danny White0.441.641.25W
1978DALRAMRoger Staubach2.15Pat Haden0.561.591.36W
1991BUFDENJim Kelly1.77John Elway0.191.580.98W
1979TAMRAMDoug Williams-0.47Vince Ferragamo-2.021.55-1.25L
2000MINNYGDaunte Culpepper2.07Kerry Collins0.581.491.32L
2003INDNWEPeyton Manning2.14Tom Brady0.741.41.44L
1970OAKBALDaryle Lamonica1.65Johnny Unitas0.331.320.99L
2011NYGSFOEli Manning1.55Alex Smith0.231.320.89W
1977DALMINRoger Staubach2.48Bob Lee31.21.281.84W
1985CHIRAMJim McMahon1.25Dieter Brock0.051.20.65W
1989SFORAMJoe Montana3.07Jim Everett1.911.162.49W
2012NWEBALTom Brady1.54Joe Flacco0.391.150.97L
1975PITOAKTerry Bradshaw1.39Ken Stabler0.241.150.81W
1978PITHOUTerry Bradshaw2.02Dan Pastorini0.951.071.48W
2002OAKTENRich Gannon1.6Steve McNair0.561.041.08W
1983SEARAIDave Krieg1.14Jim Plunkett0.1410.64L
1997DENPITJohn Elway1.32Kordell Stewart0.3210.82W
1993KANBUFJoe Montana1.43Jim Kelly0.460.960.95L
1988SFOCHIJoe Montana1.17Jim McMahon0.210.960.69W
1998MINATLRandall Cunningham3.23Chris Chandler2.30.932.77L
2002TAMPHIBrad Johnson1.21Donovan McNabb0.290.930.75W
1986WASNYGJay Schroeder0.88Phil Simms0.030.850.45L
1996GNBCARBrett Favre1.47Kerry Collins0.660.811.07W
1994SDGPITStan Humphries0.45Neil O'Donnell-0.320.770.06W
2005SEACARMatt Hasselbeck1.8Jake Delhomme1.070.741.43W
2008ARIPHIKurt Warner1.3Donovan McNabb0.580.720.94W
1984SFOCHIJoe Montana2.93Steve Fuller42.220.712.57W
2009NORMINDrew Brees2.66Brett Favre1.960.72.31W
2005PITDENBen Roethlisberger2.19Jake Plummer1.510.681.85W
1997SFOGNBSteve Young2.3Brett Favre1.660.641.98L
1998NYJDENVinny Testaverde2.38John Elway1.810.572.09L
1983WASSFOJoe Theismann2.22Joe Montana1.690.531.95W
2012SFOATLColin Kaepernick1.62Matt Ryan1.090.521.36W
1989CLEDENBernie Kosar0.37John Elway-0.140.510.12L
1974RAMMINJames Harris2.72Fran Tarkenton2.220.52.47L
1976RAMMINPat Haden2.63Fran Tarkenton2.160.472.39L
1973MIAOAKBob Griese1.91Ken Stabler1.440.471.68W
2013SEASFORussell Wilson1.22Colin Kaepernick0.780.441
1993SFODALSteve Young2.44Troy Aikman2.010.432.22L
1987CLEDENBernie Kosar2.11John Elway1.70.411.91L
1995INDPITJim Harbaugh1.65Neil O'Donnell1.240.41.45L
1986CLEDENBernie Kosar1.13John Elway0.730.40.93L
2003CARPHIJake Delhomme0.54Donovan McNabb0.150.390.34W
1990SFONYGJoe Montana1.25Jeff Hostetler50.870.381.06L
2001PITNWEKordell Stewart0.58Tom Brady0.20.380.39L
1992MIABUFDan Marino1.48Jim Kelly1.170.311.32L
1970SFODALJohn Brodie3.37Craig Morton3.060.313.21L
1990BUFRAIJim Kelly2.21Jay Schroeder1.950.272.08W
1975DALRAMRoger Staubach1.36James Harris1.10.261.23W
1981DALSFODanny White1.46Joe Montana1.250.211.36L
1981CINSDGKen Anderson2.43Dan Fouts2.270.162.35W
1996JAXNWEMark Brunell0.78Drew Bledsoe0.620.150.7L
1999JAXTENMark Brunell0.69Steve McNair0.540.150.62L
1977DENOAKCraig Morton1.54Ken Stabler1.410.141.47W
2008BALPITJoe Flacco-0.41Ben Roethlisberger-0.50.09-0.45L
1973MINDALFran Tarkenton2.11Roger Staubach2.020.082.07W
1982WASDALJoe Theismann1.15Danny White1.110.041.13W
1995GNBDALBrett Favre1.84Troy Aikman1.810.031.82L
2004PITNWEBen Roethlisberger1.3Tom Brady1.290.011.29L

A few thoughts before moving on:

  • If you sort by the “Avg” column you can see the best and worst matchups. Surprisingly, the very best quarterback duel was the first one: In 1970, John Brodie and Craig Morton finished 1-2 in ANY/A, NY/A, and AY/A. Brodie finished 1st in sack rate and 2nd in completion percentage, while Morton led the league in yards per completion. The second best game was the 1998 NFC title game between Minnesota and Atlanta. Randall Cunningham led the NFL in ANY/A, TD% (you may recall Randy Moss was on this team), and passer rating, while Chris Chandler was third in ANY/A but first in Y/A, thanks to an absurd 16.6 yards per completion average that is the highest of the last 30 years.
  • Only two games grade out as below-average passing battles, and it’s not too surprising to see which games they are. The 1979 NFC Championship Game was won 9-0 by the Rams and Vince Ferragamo over Doug Williams and the Bucs, so it lived up to its hype of a battle of bad passing attacks. And in 2008, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco put up pedestrian numbers but were surrounded by elite defenses. The AFC title game felt more like a bare knuckles brawl than a football game, ultimately won by the Steelers.
  • The numbers are the numbers, of course, but it certainly feels wrong to put Manning/Brady in the vicinity of like Manning/Mark Sanchez or Drew Brees/Rex Grossman. But the 2.75 ANY/A edge is significant, and is simply a testament to the dominance of Denver’s passing offense has been. It’s also a reflection of the struggles — which were to be expected — of the Patriots passing offense. And one could argue that ANY/A actually isn’t the right tool for the job and underrates the gap between the Denver passing attack and New England passing offense. The Patriots might look worse, I think, if you used NY/A or passer rating.

But just because one team appears to have a big passing edge doesn’t mean that is how the championship game will unfold. The next table looks at how these championship games actually played out. If you type “Brady Manning” into the search box, it will pull up the two times these two met in the AFC Championship Game. Here’s how to read the line from 2006. That year, Indianapolis played New England and Manning had a Relative ANY/A of +2.55 during the regular season compared to just +0.70 for Brady. Then, during the AFC Championship Game, the Colts had a team ANY/A of 6.1, as a result of going 27/47 for 349 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception, and had 3 sacks for -19 yards. New England as a team averaged 5.74 ANY/A in the AFCCG, completing 21 for 34 passes for 232 yards, with 1 TD and 1 INT, and one sack for 6 yards. That means Indianapolis had a slight edge of +0.36 ANY/A in the AFC title game, which of course Indianapolis won. The 2003 AFC title game was another story, as Manning’s Colts were completely dominated in the passing game.

YearTmOppQuarterbackQB RANY/AOpp QuarterbackOpp RANY/ATm ANY/ATm Pass StatsOpp ANY/AOpp Pass StatsANY/A DiffRes
1974OAKPITKen Stabler3.12Terry Bradshaw-0.993.5319/36; 271; 1/3; (2-22)4.128/17; 95; 1/1; (0-0)-0.59L
1984MIAPITDan Marino3.94Mark Malone-0.0214.2422/33; 435; 4/1; (0-0)6.5820/36; 312; 3/3; (0-0)7.66W
1971MIABALBob Griese2.42Johnny Unitas-1.4811.74/8; 158; 1/1; (2-16)1.920/36; 224; 0/3; (3-15)9.8W
1976OAKPITKen Stabler3.38Terry Bradshaw-0.185.7210/16; 88; 2/0; (2-25)3.1614/35; 176; 0/1; (3-11)2.56W
1999STLTAMKurt Warner3.13Shaun King-0.363.3326/43; 258; 1/3; (0-0)1.0613/29; 163; 0/2; (5-37)2.27W
2009INDNYJPeyton Manning1.87Mark Sanchez-1.5710.2426/39; 377; 3/0; (2-17)9.5818/31; 302; 2/1; (0-0)0.66W
1971DALSFORoger Staubach3.88John Brodie0.6239/18; 103; 0/0; (6-31)1.3914/30; 184; 0/3; (1-6)1.61W
1991WASDETMark Rypien3.16Erik Kramer-0.0915.7612/17; 228; 2/0; (0-0)3.4525/42; 264; 1/2; (5-32)12.32W
2007NWESDGTom Brady3.36Philip Rivers0.162.9422/33; 209; 2/3; (2-11)3.0819/37; 211; 0/2; (1-4)-0.14W
1972MIAPITEarl Morrall2.74Terry Bradshaw-0.28610/16; 121; 1/1; (0-0)2.3610/20; 137; 1/2; (2-15)3.64W
2004PHIATLDonovan McNabb2.24Michael Vick-0.767.2418/27; 183; 2/0; (2-13)2.0711/24; 136; 0/1; (4-33)5.17W
2011NWEBALTom Brady2.35Joe Flacco-0.23.8922/36; 239; 0/2; (1-5)7.122/36; 306; 2/1; (3-24)-3.21W
2006NORCHIDrew Brees2.2Rex Grossman-0.176.0427/49; 354; 2/1; (3-35)6.3111/26; 144; 1/0; (0-0)-0.27L
2007GNBNYGBrett Favre1.66Eli Manning-0.75.3119/35; 236; 2/2; (0-0)5.7921/40; 251; 0/0; (2-8)-0.47L
2000OAKBALRich Gannon1.52Trent Dilfer-0.74-0.3219/37; 187; 0/4; (4-20)7.359/18; 190; 1/1; (2-18)-7.67L
1988CINBUFBoomer Esiason2.77Jim Kelly0.550.1711/20; 94; 1/2; (3-20)0.6414/30; 163; 1/3; (3-27)-0.46W
1979PITHOUTerry Bradshaw1.28Dan Pastorini-0.795.8218/30; 219; 2/1; (3-22)5.2720/29; 212; 0/1; (1-9)0.55W
1994SFODALSteve Young2.87Troy Aikman0.856.7213/29; 155; 2/0; (0-0)4.5130/53; 380; 2/3; (4-28)2.22W
2010GNBCHIAaron Rodgers1.77Jay Cutler-0.234.7117/30; 244; 0/2; (1-8)2.5819/38; 233; 1/3; (2-15)2.13W
1982NYJMIARichard Todd1.14David Woodley-0.85-3.6115/37; 103; 0/5; (4-26)-39/21; 87; 0/3; (4-27)-0.61L
1985MIANWEDan Marino1.35Tony Eason-0.643.7620/48; 248; 2/2; (1-14)10.9210/12; 71; 3/0; (0-0)-7.16L
2010PITNYJBen Roethlisberger1.62Mark Sanchez-0.351.4810/19; 133; 0/2; (2-12)7.420/33; 233; 2/0; (2-14)-5.92W
2001STLPHIKurt Warner2.22Donovan McNabb0.296.7622/33; 212; 1/0; (1-2)3.6718/30; 171; 1/1; (3-25)3.1W
2006INDNWEPeyton Manning2.55Tom Brady0.76.127/47; 349; 1/1; (3-19)5.7421/34; 232; 1/1; (1-6)0.36W
1980SDGOAKDan Fouts1.62Jim Plunkett-0.226.2723/46; 364; 2/2; (2-13)1114/18; 261; 2/0; (6-37)-4.73L
1987WASMINDoug Williams2.28Wade Wilson0.56.129/26; 119; 2/0; (0-0)3.3619/39; 243; 1/1; (8-60)2.75W
1992SFODALSteve Young3.23Troy Aikman1.496.0825/35; 313; 1/2; (3-12)8.8224/34; 322; 2/0; (4-27)-2.74L
1980PHIDALRon Jaworski2.07Danny White0.44-0.429/29; 91; 0/2; (2-14)2.1512/32; 127; 0/1; (1-11)-2.57W
1978DALRAMRoger Staubach2.15Pat Haden0.562.1113/25; 126; 2/2; (3-17)-0.7614/35; 206; 0/5; (3-10)2.87W
1991BUFDENJim Kelly1.77John Elway0.190.7313/25; 117; 0/2; (1-8)4.8122/33; 257; 0/1; (4-34)-4.08W
1979TAMRAMDoug Williams-0.47Vince Ferragamo-2.021.435/27; 96; 0/1; (1-11)6.3812/23; 163; 0/0; (1-10)-4.95L
2000MINNYGDaunte Culpepper2.07Kerry Collins0.58-2.3413/28; 78; 0/3; (4-18)9.5129/40; 385; 5/2; (1-5)-11.86L
2003INDNWEPeyton Manning2.14Tom Brady0.740.9423/47; 237; 1/4; (4-29)5.7322/37; 237; 1/1; (0-0)-4.79L
1970OAKBALDaryle Lamonica1.65Johnny Unitas0.333.2718/36; 277; 2/3; (5-48)7.7911/30; 245; 1/0; (3-8)-4.52L
2011NYGSFOEli Manning1.55Alex Smith0.234.832/58; 316; 2/0; (6-49)7.5212/26; 196; 2/0; (3-18)-2.72W
1977DALMINRoger Staubach2.48Bob Lee1.25.3212/23; 165; 1/1; (2-7)3.1214/31; 158; 0/1; (2-10)2.2W
1985CHIRAMJim McMahon1.25Dieter Brock0.055.7516/25; 164; 1/0; (3-23)-0.0310/31; 66; 0/1; (3-22)5.78W
1989SFORAMJoe Montana3.07Jim Everett1.919.4727/31; 268; 2/0; (1-5)-0.1416/36; 141; 0/3; (1-11)9.6W
2012NWEBALTom Brady1.54Joe Flacco0.394.6329/54; 320; 1/2; (0-0)7.7621/36; 240; 3/0; (2-5)-3.13L
1975PITOAKTerry Bradshaw1.39Ken Stabler0.24415/25; 215; 1/3; (0-0)3.5918/42; 246; 1/2; (2-18)0.41W
1978PITHOUTerry Bradshaw2.02Dan Pastorini0.957.8911/19; 200; 2/2; (0-0)-5.1712/26; 96; 0/5; (4-26)13.06W
2002OAKTENRich Gannon1.6Steve McNair0.568.4429/41; 286; 3/0; (0-0)5.1121/36; 194; 1/0; (2-20)3.33W
1983SEARAIDave Krieg1.14Jim Plunkett0.14-2.0817/36; 146; 2/5; (4-44)4.8517/24; 214; 1/2; (2-18)-6.92L
1997DENPITJohn Elway1.32Kordell Stewart0.325.7618/31; 210; 2/1; (2-15)218/36; 201; 1/3; (3-8)3.76W
1993KANBUFJoe Montana1.43Jim Kelly0.463.525/52; 323; 0/2; (4-37)5.9317/27; 160; 0/0; (0-0)-2.43L
1988SFOCHIJoe Montana1.17Jim McMahon0.2111.3117/27; 288; 3/0; (2-20)3.220/41; 176; 0/1; (0-0)8.12W
1998MINATLRandall Cunningham3.23Chris Chandler2.35.7629/48; 266; 2/0; (3-12)8.227/43; 340; 3/0; (3-23)-2.43L
2002TAMPHIBrad Johnson1.21Donovan McNabb0.297.0920/33; 259; 1/1; (0-0)3.6726/49; 243; 0/1; (2-11)3.42W
1986WASNYGJay Schroeder0.88Phil Simms0.031.9420/50; 195; 0/1; (4-45)6.87/14; 90; 1/0; (1-8)-4.86L
1996GNBCARBrett Favre1.47Kerry Collins0.669.119/29; 292; 2/1; (1-14)3.4919/37; 215; 1/2; (2-9)5.61W
1994SDGPITStan Humphries0.45Neil O'Donnell-0.326.7411/22; 165; 2/1; (1-5)6.8332/54; 349; 1/0; (0-0)-0.09W
2005SEACARMatt Hasselbeck1.8Jake Delhomme1.078.120/28; 219; 2/0; (2-16)1.6515/35; 196; 1/3; (2-20)6.45W
2008ARIPHIKurt Warner1.3Donovan McNabb0.5811.5721/28; 279; 4/0; (2-12)7.5928/47; 375; 3/1; (2-18)3.97W
1984SFOCHIJoe Montana2.93Steve Fuller2.224.1619/35; 236; 1/2; (3-8)-0.2613/22; 87; 0/1; (9-50)4.42W
2009NORMINDrew Brees2.66Brett Favre1.967.7817/31; 197; 3/0; (1-8)5.2228/46; 310; 1/2; (0-0)2.56W
2005PITDENBen Roethlisberger2.19Jake Plummer1.519.9421/29; 275; 2/0; (2-7)4.2718/30; 223; 1/2; (3-12)5.66W
1997SFOGNBSteve Young2.3Brett Favre1.664.2623/38; 250; 0/1; (4-26)8.5416/27; 222; 1/0; (1-3)-4.27L
1998NYJDENVinny Testaverde2.38John Elway1.815.1231/52; 356; 0/2; (0-0)4.6813/34; 173; 1/0; (3-20)0.44L
1983WASSFOJoe Theismann2.22Joe Montana1.697.115/27; 265; 1/1; (3-27)7.5427/48; 347; 3/1; (0-0)-0.44W
2012SFOATLColin Kaepernick1.62Matt Ryan1.0911.0916/21; 233; 1/0; (1-9)9.5630/42; 396; 3/1; (1-0)1.53W
1989CLEDENBernie Kosar0.37John Elway-0.141.9819/44; 210; 2/3; (4-20)11.8120/36; 385; 3/0; (1-8)-9.83L
1974RAMMINJames Harris2.72Fran Tarkenton2.225.9613/23; 248; 1/2; (2-29)3.6410/20; 123; 1/1; (2-18)2.32L
1976RAMMINPat Haden2.63Fran Tarkenton2.162.929/22; 161; 1/2; (3-18)2.0612/27; 143; 0/1; (4-34)0.86L
1973MIAOAKBob Griese1.91Ken Stabler1.44-2.713/6; 34; 0/1; (1-8)4.5215/23; 129; 1/1; (0-0)-7.24W
1993SFODALSteve Young2.44Troy Aikman2.015.127/45; 287; 1/1; (4-12)10.4319/28; 260; 3/0; (2-7)-5.33L
1987CLEDENBernie Kosar2.11John Elway1.78.1626/41; 356; 3/1; (2-20)9.6814/26; 281; 3/1; (2-25)-1.52L
1995INDPITJim Harbaugh1.65Neil O'Donnell1.247.1621/34; 267; 1/0; (3-22)4.2925/41; 205; 1/1; (1-0)2.88L
1986CLEDENBernie Kosar1.13John Elway0.736.2418/32; 259; 2/2; (1-3)522/38; 244; 1/1; (2-19)1.24L
2003CARPHIJake Delhomme0.54Donovan McNabb0.158.649/14; 101; 1/0; (0-0)-0.6817/36; 188; 0/4; (5-36)9.33W
1990SFONYGJoe Montana1.25Jeff Hostetler0.877.3719/27; 215; 1/0; (3-14)4.9715/29; 176; 0/0; (3-17)2.4L
2001PITNWEKordell Stewart0.58Tom Brady0.22.5124/42; 255; 0/3; (3-7)4.9322/39; 217; 1/0; (4-25)-2.42L
1992MIABUFDan Marino1.48Jim Kelly1.173.5322/45; 268; 1/2; (4-25)4.2417/24; 177; 1/2; (1-1)-0.71L
1970SFODALJohn Brodie3.37Craig Morton3.064.1919/40; 262; 1/2; (2-16)4.587/22; 101; 1/0; (2-11)-0.39L
1990BUFRAIJim Kelly2.21Jay Schroeder1.9512.8317/23; 300; 2/1; (0-0)-2.5315/39; 176; 0/6; (1-7)15.35W
1975DALRAMRoger Staubach1.36James Harris1.110.0418/28; 246; 4/1; (0-0)-1.3411/24; 147; 0/3; (5-51)11.38W
1981DALSFODanny White1.46Joe Montana1.254.6416/24; 173; 2/1; (4-38)5.0322/35; 286; 3/3; (3-20)-0.38L
1981CINSDGKen Anderson2.43Dan Fouts2.279.3515/23; 175; 2/0; (0-0)3.4315/28; 185; 1/2; (2-12)5.91W
1996JAXNWEMark Brunell0.78Drew Bledsoe0.622.5120/38; 190; 0/2; (1-2)3.3120/33; 178; 0/1; (2-17)-0.8L
1999JAXTENMark Brunell0.69Steve McNair0.543.4419/38; 226; 1/2; (3-15)3.6314/23; 112; 1/1; (1-0)-0.19L
1977DENOAKCraig Morton1.54Ken Stabler1.4110.110/20; 224; 2/1; (1-7)5.5317/35; 215; 2/1; (1-11)4.57W
2008BALPITJoe Flacco-0.41Ben Roethlisberger-0.5-0.313/30; 141; 0/3; (3-16)6.5716/33; 255; 1/0; (4-32)-6.87L
1973MINDALFran Tarkenton2.11Roger Staubach2.023.1210/21; 133; 1/1; (4-30)-4.8810/21; 89; 0/4; (3-26)8W
1982WASDALJoe Theismann1.15Danny White1.116.2212/20; 150; 1/0; (3-27)5.1123/44; 275; 2/2; (0-0)1.1W
1995GNBDALBrett Favre1.84Troy Aikman1.815.8121/39; 307; 3/2; (4-27)8.5321/33; 255; 2/0; (1-5)-2.72L
2004PITNWEBen Roethlisberger1.3Tom Brady1.295.214/24; 226; 2/3; (1-1)10.2614/21; 207; 2/0; (2-11)-5.06L

But here’s something interesting. With a sample size of one game, the regular season values are close to meaningless. The correlation coefficient between the ANY/A difference during the regular season and ANY/A difference during the conference championship game is close to zero (0.06, to be precise). Take a look a the same data above, but plotted on a chart. The X-Axis shows the difference between the ANY/A averages of the two teams during the regular season, from the perspective of the statistically superior quarterback/team passing attack. The Y-Axis shows the ANY/A difference during just the conference championship game, from the perspective of the better passer during the regular season.

If there was a strong correlation — i.e., if the better quarterback during the regular season usually played better in the championship game — then the dots would come close to forming a diagonal line from the bottom left to the top right. Instead, the data points are all over the graph:

ccg anya

This isn’t necessarily surprising, as a one-game sample is not very meaningful and many of the teams that had bad passing attacks also had great pass defenses, which would make it harder for the statistically superior quarterback to excel. One good sign for Broncos fans is that if there is any trend to be seen, it’s that the farther out you go on the X-axis, the results do appear to be more consistent with expectation (with the exception of well, quite a few games, with the 1974 AFC Championship Game and two recent AFC title games involving Manning and Brady being notable ones). That cluster of games on the right represents the 10-1 record mentioned earlier. Other games go wildly off script, like the 1989 AFC title game or 2000 NFC Championship. The 1990 AFC Championship Game appeared to be an even match, until Jim Kelly threw for 300 yards on 23 passes and Jay Schroeder threw six interceptions.

Here’s another observation. Just two years ago, Brady was Manning and Flacco was Brady. Entering the 2011 AFC Championship Game, it looked like an uneven fight: Brady averaged 2.54 more ANY/A than Flacco. But in that game, very nearly won by Baltimore, Flacco wound up with much better numbers (to be fair, the Patriots defense was much worse than the Ravens defense).

Manning, as a proxy for the Denver passing offense, appears to have an enormous edge. But in one game, anything can happen. Oh, and about all that Brady/Manning hype? Let’s end with some notes about this rivalry and pretend that quarterback wins are a real thing:

  • As you probably know by now, Brady has a 10-4 record against Manning.
  • Brady has been the host for nine of the fourteen games. At home, Brady is 7-2. On the road, he is 3-2.
  • Since 2005, Brady and Manning are 4-4 against each other. Brady is 3-2 at home and 1-2 on the road.
  • Since the game on Sunday is in Denver, it seems relevant to mention that the 10-4 record is about as relevant at this stat: Manning has lost a home game to Brady once in the last ten years.
  • Sunday will mark the first road playoff game for New England in 7 years!
  • In 10 of the 14 matchups, the team that won the passing battle (by ANY/A) also won the game. But 3 of the 4 games in which the better passing team didn’t win broke in Brady’s favor — which is pretty much the Brady-Manning debate in a nutshell.6

Prediction: Denver 31, New England 26

  1. I excluded the 1972 NFC Championship Game between Washington and Dallas, because Roger Staubach just threw 20 passes during the regular season that year. I included three other games where one quarterback had fewer than 100 pass plays, but I marked those games with a footnote. []
  2. Including both games this year, but excluding the 1972 NFC title game. []
  3. On only 79 dropbacks. []
  4. On only 85 dropbacks. []
  5. On only 96 dropbacks. []
  6. This is Neil’s contribution. []
  • Your command of this comparison is serious and impressive. As much as anything I’ve read recently, I find myself left with a long-pause thought:

    I’d prefer it if someone important disagrees with you. If for no other reason than I’d read the rebuttal too.

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  • Two years ago in the AFCCG Manning/Brady was statistically a mismatch, as Manning had a 2.75 ANY/A advantage (8.87 to 6.13).

    Now, in the AFCCG, Manning/Brady is another statistical mismatch, but in the other direction. Brady had a 7.48 ANY/A average, while Manning was at 4.52. That’s an even larger difference of 2.96!