Adam Steele is back, this time throwing his hat into the never-ending Brady/Manning debate. Fortunately, this isn’t your typical Brady/Manning post, as Adam brings some new stats to the table. You can view all of Adam’s posts here.
By any statistical measure, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have performed at a nearly identical level in the postseason. Of course, many observers don’t care about passing statistics, and prefer to judge quarterback based on playoff W/L record alone. And as we all know, Brady has a significant edge over Manning in this regard. But if we’re going to judge quarterbacks by the performance of their entire team, it’s only fair to also evaluate the parts of the team the QB has no control over – defense and special teams.
Using PFR’s expected points estimations, I recorded the defensive and special teams EPA for Brady’s and Manning’s teams in each of their playoff games. The “Support” column is the total EPA contributed by defense and special teams. Brady first:
And now Manning:
An overall comparison:
|Career||W/L||AY/A||Supp/G||Supp/W||Supp/L||Supp +||Supp -|
To my surprise, Brady has had slightly negative support over his entire playoff career. Not surprisingly, Manning’s support has been even worse, saddling him with roughly a one field goal disadvantage per game compared to Brady. This becomes even more stark when we look at games with positive support vs. games with negative support. In 31 playoff games, Brady has enjoyed positive support 16 times (52%). Meanwhile, Manning has benefitted from positive support in only eight of his 26 playoff appearances (31%). These numbers alone explain most of the difference in their W/L records.
Given the relatively equal performances of Brady and Manning in the playoffs, how did the narratives surrounding these two men become so drastically different? The answer: timing. Brady has been extremely fortunate to have his most help come at the beginning of his career, the time when narratives are born and cemented. Manning has suffered very unlucky timing, with his teams providing him very little support in the early years of his playoff career. Here are their numbers through 2004, when the narratives between Brady and Manning diverged the most sharply:
|Thru 2004||W/L||AY/A||Supp/G||Supp/W||Supp/L||Supp +||Supp -|
Despite owning an unblemished 9-0 playoff record and three SB rings, Brady had actually been slightly outplayed by Manning in the playoffs through the 2004 season! How can that be, given that Brady was/is a clutch hero and Manning had already perfected the art of choking? Well, it turns out Brady’s teammates were clutch and Manning’s teammates were chokers. Brady’s teams gave him a healthy +4.93 EPA/G of support during his magical 9-0 playoff start, while Manning’s teams stumbled to a dreadful -9.42 EPA/G of “support.” That’s right – through 2004, Brady’s teammates provided him a two touchdown per game advantage over Manning’s in the playoffs. Brady had positive support in seven out of nine games, while Manning had positive support in only two out of eight contests. In fact, Manning actually suffered poorer support during his three wins than in his five losses! This includes his famous 2003 win over the Chiefs in which neither team punted and Dante Hall was in full human joystick mode. Of course, nobody cared about seeing the whole picture, so W/L records and ringz were all that mattered. The narratives were set in stone: Brady is clutch, Manning is a choker.
What about the rest of their playoff careers?
|Since 2005||W/L||AY/A||Supp/G||Supp/W||Supp/L||Supp +||Supp -|
Beginning in 2005, the playoff records of Brady and Manning have basically evened out. Why? Their supporting casts have provided them roughly equal amounts of help. Manning has actually benefitted from slightly more support overall since 2005, and significantly more help in his wins. However, most of Manning’s help was concentrated in a handful of games, so he still suffered negative support in 12 of his last 18 playoff games. Manning’s 2006 Super Bowl run was very reminiscent of Brady’s in 2001, in that both QB’s had mediocre performances and were carried to the championship by their teammates. Unfortunately for Manning, his choker label had already been cast, so one ring (against Rex Grossman!) did little to change most peoples’ perception of him.
Meanwhile, Brady has been befallen with a run of tough luck and poor support from 2007 on, despite his play remaining steadily in line with his early years as a Super Bowl hero. Brady has legitimately been carrying the Patriots in the playoffs in recent years, most notably in his 2014 victory over Baltimore, in which he erased two 14 point deficits and overcome his own defense that couldn’t stop a nose bleed. Despite a merely good 13-9 playoff record since 2005, I’d argue that Brady has been more clutch during that span than he was from 2001-04. Fortunately for Tom, his good luck and superb teammates during his early years provided him with a bulletproof reputation that has protected his legacy during the bad luck run that followed.
In conclusion, supporting casts matter. A lot. What are your thoughts?