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Peyton Manning’s Legacy

Can you spot the GOAT?

Can you spot the GOAT?

Super Bowl XLVIII was the nightmarish end to the dream season had by Peyton Manning and the Broncos. After the greatest scoring season in NFL history, Denver’s high-powered offense was held to just 8 meaningless points against one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. Great players have been having bad games on the biggest stages since the beginning of sports. But the NFL world has a unique reaction when that player is Manning; for him, every loss is yet another building block on his Narrative(TM).

When Tom Brady leads the greatest scoring offense in NFL history to 14 points against a defense that allowed 22 points per game during the regular season, it does not become part of his narrative. When Joe Montana leads the 49ers to just three points in back-to-back playoff losses to the Giants, those games are pushed to the footnotes section of his biography. When the favored Colts were shut out by the Browns in the 1964 NFL title game, that goose egg did not become indelibly intertwined with the legacy of Johnny Unitas. Our memory of Otto Graham‘s 1953 season is that it was one of the greatest quarterback seasons in football history, even if he went 2/15 for 20 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a losing effort in the NFL title game. We remember Sammy Baugh as one of the greatest players ever, forgetting that he was the face of an embarrassing 73-0 loss to the Bears in the 1940 championship game. For most quarterbacks, ugly playoff performances are quirks of history; for Manning, they become bullet points in a character assassination.

Mike Tanier already discussed the silliness that surrounds Manning’s career. Detractors have played “move the goal posts” for nearly two decades with Manning, beginning with his high-profile losses in college. Even after Manning seemingly silenced the last anti-Manning argument, his detractors just invented a new game.

He led his team to a Super Bowl victory. He began to reliably beat Brady’s Patriots. Instead of installing Manning’s legacy behind shatterproof glass, we just juggled harder. One Super Bowl victory, plus another loss, simply isn’t enough for this particular player! The bar for true greatness is multiple Super Bowl victories, an easy standard to set if you are a Patriots fan or a television analyst who shared a locker room with Troy Aikman! It’s a wonder we did not go back and retroactively demand an Orange Bowl or two.

Today’s post is not written to make you feel bad for Peyton Manning. You should not. But the question that has been repeatedly asked over the last three weeks – What is Peyton Manning’s legacy? – is one that is easy to answer. His legacy is that he’s the greatest quarterback ever. That’s not a very exciting answer in the world of #HOTTAKES, but it’s the truth.

We’re past the point of debating how valuable Manning has been in the regular season. Two years ago, I concluded that Manning was the greatest statistical quarterback in NFL history, and that’s before he even donned a Broncos uniform. That analysis didn’t consider how the Colts fell from Super Bowl contender to worst team in the league in the span of one Manning injury. That analysis didn’t consider that in his first year with the Broncos, Denver set the record for the largest year-to-year increase in completions, because that result was preordained. That analysis isn’t based on the MVPs, the All-Pros, the Pro Bowls, or anything but the numbers. I’ll re-run the study this summer, but the only question is how much farther ahead of the competition Manning’s increased his lead.

Attacking Manning’s numbers is a fool’s errand. As a result, as Manning’s regular season production has taken on mythic proportions, the anti-Manning crowd has begun to use that success as a sword. He’s the best regular season quarterback of all time, they will say, emphasizing those two words as if they were agents of disease.

Manning’s teams have struggled in the playoffs. Manning has struggled some, too, although not nearly as much as some believe. Is it surprising that Manning has an 11-12 career playoff record? I suppose so, because we’re at the point that literally every single time Manning loses a game we are surprised. Over the last nine seasons, there have been just seven games where Manning’s team lost as an underdog.1 A Manning loss is an event, a mystery to be solved, a bat signal for the Manning truthers to emerge.

Some — perhaps many — will argue that Manning is not the greatest quarterback ever. Instead of Manning, that title should be reserved for Montana, or Brady, or Unitas. With Montana, the argument always goes back to the #4RINGZ (although you rarely hear about Bart Starr and his #5RINGZ). As a football historian, I find it disheartening that Montana is mostly remembered as a four-time champion, because he was one of the greatest regular season quarterbacks ever. You never hear Montana referred to as one of the greatest statistical quarterbacks or one of the greatest regular season passers, because those are Naughty Words. But Montana was. And he should be lauded for that.

One of the greatest regular season quarterbacks ever

One of the greatest regular season quarterbacks ever.

The Montana over Manning argument is simple: Montana is better because he went 4-0 in Super Bowls, while Manning is 1-2. Such hard-hitting analysis ignores the fact that in each of the four seasons Montana won the Super Bowl, the 49ers defense ranked in the top three in either yards allowed, points allowed, or both. For Manning, “only one Super Bowl” is a scarlet letter. The common argument goes, “How could the greatest quarterback ever only win one Super Bowl?” That’s a fair question to ask, but we know the answer: the playoffs are a single elimination tournament where random events happen. Montana threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, but the 49ers still won. In Super Bowl XXII, Montana nearly lost the game with a pass that hit Lewis Billups in the hands, but the defensive back couldn’t catch the ball. Montana was a better quarterback in the playoffs than Manning, but he also lost twice as 8+ point favorites. In one of those games, he was benched. Montana may be the second greatest quarterback of all time, but his resume is not beyond reproach.

“How could the greatest quarterback of all time win just one championship?” is Manning’s burden to bear, but it’s not hard to frame anti-Montana questions, either. After all, why did he only win two MVP trophies? That question is no more — and no less — fair than the Manning one. How great could Montana have really been if he did not win a single MVP trophy in his first ten seasons? After finally winning the award in back-to-back seasons, his replacement won the same award twice in the next five years? Shouldn’t we expect the greatest quarterback ever to be the best player in his league more than twice? Let Montana win three more MVP awards, and then we can talk about him being better than Manning.

The MVP question isn’t the only one out there. If Montana was so great, how come the Associated Press only named him a first-team All-Pro three times in his career? Shouldn’t the greatest player at his position in NFL history be recognized as the best player at his position more than three times in his career? Manning’s done it seven times! Be named the best player at your position four more times, then talk.

Those who believe Montana or Brady are better than Manning will not be convinced otherwise. I have no interest in yet another Brady/Manning debate. I would not deem it a coincidence that Montana and Brady were coached by Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick, the two best coaches of the last 30 years. I would not be so quick to blame Manning for losing in the Super Bowl, instead of praising him for taking teams coached by Jim Caldwell and John Fox to the big game. Brady, like Montana, has won just two MVPs. He was only a first-team All-Pro selection twice in his career, although he has a good excuse: he was competing with Manning nearly every year.

The best quarterback of his era not to win a title in the '60s

The best quarterback of his era not to win a title in the '60s.

Unitas, as great as he was, doesn’t compare favorably to Manning, because nobody compares favorably to Manning. Technically, Unitas won three titles, but he left Super Bowl V with an injury while the Colts were trailing, and Earl Morrall was the quarterback who led Baltimore’s come-from-behind victory. If that ever happened to Manning, there would be riots in the streets before Manning was credited with that win.

As good as Unitas was, nearly every factor points in Manning’s favor. We already know that Manning’s numbers — after adjusting for era — dwarf those of every other quarterback. But other factors tell a similar story. Unitas was a 10-time Pro Bowler and 5-time Associated Press 1st-team All-Pro; those are great accomplishments, but most of those accolades came when the NFL had between ten and sixteen teams, and several franchises employed a quarterback-by-committee approach during that era. Standing out as an elite quarterback was easier back then, but no matter: Manning still has Unitas beat, with 13 Pro Bowls and seven AP first-team All-Pros.

Unitas did not have the sustained success of Manning (he had a pair of down seasons in the middle of his career) nor did his career reach the highest peaks that Manning did in ’04 or ’13. Unitas did not win a single championship in the sixties, and in that era, he was the Manning to Starr’s Brady. Unitas won two titles early and then suffered a long postseason drought. Unitas was a three-time MVP, but that still puts him behind Manning.

Quarterback debates can be silly. We don’t wonder why Barry Sanders never won a Super Bowl. The  legacy of Jim Brown wasn’t tarnished even though he didn’t win a playoff game until his second-to-last season. Manning is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. That’s his legacy. He’s earned that label after reaching unparalleled levels of success, by producing at a level well above average, game after game, month after month, season after season. It’s a bit odd that Manning’s teams haven’t had more success in the playoffs, but that’s all it is. Ted Williams never won a World Series, but it doesn’t make him any less of a ballplayer. Even Boston fans can agree with that.

We are told that quarterbacks are different, and that a quarterback is responsible for his team’s success. But constant repetition does not make it so. We’re smart enough to know this; I know we are. We don’t think Russell Wilson is a better quarterback than Manning just because the Seahawks beat the Broncos. But Super Bowl XLVIII just showed that a great team can beat a great quarterback. A great effort by an in all three phases of the game is usually what it takes to beat Manning. Perhaps that is his true legacy, as no quarterback has ever been tougher to beat.

  1. This excludes three meaningless end-of-year games where Manning was the nominal starter before sitting on the bench for the rest of the game, and the Colts were underdogs for precisely that reason. That never happened in 2005 or 2006, but in 2007, against the undefeated Patriots, the Colts were 5-point underdogs and lost 24-20. In 2008, the Colts were 4-point road dogs to the undefeated Titans, and lost 31-21. We skip 2009, and then in 2010, the Colts lost as road dogs to the Eagles and Patriots. In 2012, as post-surgery Manning was working back into GOAT Manning, Denver lose to Atlanta, Houston, and New England in the first five weeks as underdogs. And since someone will ask, Brady has lost as an underdog ten times over that span, excluding the week 17 game against Houston in 2009. []
  • “We don’t wonder why Barry Sanders never won a Super Bowl.” Surely, you’re familiar with Smith-Sanders debates.

    Anyhow, I enjoyed the take. I still put Montana over Manning, and part of that is indeed how criminally underrated Montana’s regular seasons were. And then his postseason stats are even better than that? Hard to argue with.

    Before the season, my top 6 of the 16-game era were, in order, Montana, Manning, Brady, Marino, Favre, and Young, and that didn’t change with the Super Bowl–although beating that Seattle defense might have put Manning at the top for me.

    As a final note, it is funny the lose-lose arguments Pats fans put on Peyton to prop up their guy. If NE beats Denver and then loses 50-0 or 35-10 or whatever to Seattle, it’s an argument for Brady over Manning–as is, somehow, what did happen. And even if Denver wins the Super Bowl, 3>2. Amusing what passion does.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Richie

      although beating that Seattle defense might have put Manning at the top for me.

      One game can do that?

      • If they’re really close? I guess I could have said, capping off the season he had with a win over that Seattle defense might have added enough to his career body of work.

  • and yet

    Ring-counting reductionism is foolish, but the fact remains that the playoffs are where one faces the best defenses. Manning’s greatest strength is his ability to read defenses and adjust. It really is incredible. But against the teams whose defenses are playoff-worthy, it’s significantly less so. That’s relevant. When you’re average against the very best, then you aren’t the very best.

    • Nate Dunlevy

      Only he hasn’t been average versus the very best as virtually any analysis of his actual play shows. You should really read the article Chase linked to in the body. This one is good too.


      • sn0mm1s

        As brought up in the comments – playing in ideal conditions pads the stats compared to those that don’t.

        • Nate Dunlevy

          I actually think that’s one of the more inane of the comments.

          Weather conditions in playoff games are are generally assumed to be worse than they actually are. There are a lot of warm-weather/dome teams now, and the weather doesn’t affect nearly as many games as people think.

          Manning has played in his share of bad weather games. I really don’t think it’s nearly the significant factor others make it out to be.

          I consider the effect for Manning to be slight. It’s bigger for a guy like Warner who to my recollection never actually played a bad-weather payoff game. Manning has been in Denver for two playoffs now and the weather hasn’t changed his playoff output at all. He won a Super Bowl in the rain.

          I think that’s a weak point, to be honest.

          • Brad

            Not everything in sports boils down to stats. What good are great numbers if you lose? Given the fact that they’ve played in more playoff games than almost all other QBs ever, is it pure coincidence and circumstance that Brady’s teams almost always advance further and almost never get blown out in the postseason, while Manning’s teams almost never advance and more frequently are destroyed in the postseason? Maybe you could run down a list that proves that this does indeed boil down to circumstance and the team around the QB and quality of opponents, but there is a stark difference for sure. Also, stats don’t account for what our eyeballs see. I’ve read the breakdowns of how Manning isn’t as bad in poor weather as we think. I’ve also watched the games and it’s indisputable that his play suffers (in my opinion more so than the average QB playing bad weather). He looked great against Tennessee in dry 30 degree weather—neat.

            Something I’m curious about in a non-Peyton-skepticism sense: Is there a way to adjust for the fact that teams that are losing seem to (sometimes) pad their passing numbers? I’m not super familiar with ANY/A, but what I’m getting at is the idea that it’s probably not surprising that Manning would set completions record or Thomas would set receptions record in a game where they were down by 30. Just like Matt Stafford throws for a lot of yards when the Lions are down by 10. How many of Manning and Brees’ playoff passes have come in games where they were down by multiple scores?

            • Nate Dunlevy

              “I’ve also watched the games and it’s indisputable that his play suffers (in my opinion more so than the average QB playing bad weather). ”

              That’s the problem and why stats are the solution. I’ve watched the games too. I say it’s completely disputable and in my opinion no worse than the average QB.

              Our eyes see diametrically opposite things.

              That’s why we use stats. They help quantify and verify what we see.

              They break the tie between your opinion and my opinion. They validate and illustrate and help to reveal bias.

              They aren’t everything. But when two people disagree about something, they help show whose opinion more close aligns with reality.

              • eag97a

                The problem with stats is their validity in this situation since a lot of other significant factors are varying and cannot be controlled to isolate the variable we are interested in studying (e.g. game strategy, in-game adjustments, injuries etc.). They might help quantify some aspects of QB play but we should all be aware of the severe limitations of these numbers.

                • Nate Dunlevy

                  I agree. However, personal observation has all those same limitations and then some.

                  • GMC

                    It is also a completely insane point in this particular case.

                    Peyton Manning won his one Super Bowl in a driving rainstorm (against a 2006 Bears defense nearly as scary as this year’s Seattle squad). He has since lost two in good weather (one in a dome!)

                    Like most finesse quarterbacks, Manning loses more of his effectiveness in the wind (although not so much in inclement weather) than a quarterback like Michael Vick (or Russell Wilson). When your skill is timing and impossibly precise ball placement, things that affect timing and ball placement will affect you more than they do a guy who relies on improvisation or arm strength.

              • Brad

                Maybe yours eyes are broken!!
                (Just kidding.)

                One thing is for sure: it becomes a really silly and impossible to settle debate. I’m definitely on the side of: If you’re the “Greatest,” your postseason performance should reflect that you are the best, not that you have good stats and come up just short. And quarterbacks may be the only position that this applies to in football.

                Last thing: the idea that stats break the tie is a nice one, but football stats are nowhere near perfect.

                • Guru

                  No problem, Brad. Just keep in mind that your preferred stat of choice, team playoff W-L record, is the most imperfect stat to use in analyzing individual performances.

          • sn0mm1s

            I have seen the breakdown of dome vs. poor weather of Manning and Brady – the difference isn’t trivial. Cold isn’t much of an issue by itself but cold + wind or wet + wind does.

            • Nate Dunlevy

              You also have to factor in the home vs. road factor as well, though. Brady had bad weather outdoor games at home. Manning’s were on the road.

              There are scores of things at work, not the least of which is arbitrary cutoffs (over/under 40 degrees!) and small, small samples.

              I’m not arguing for the supremacy of stats as the final determiner of truth. I’m arguing for their superiority over one dude’s random personal impressions. That’s all.

              To create an accurate picture of a player’s performance in the cold, you’d need to watch all his cold-weather games closely, review the fully circumstances surrounding them and compare the baseline to that of other quarterbacks.

              It’s an exhaustive process that gets done only from time to time. In lieu of that, I prefer stats to tell the story than for personal impressions to do so.

              • sn0mm1s

                Sure, but no one has the time to do that for every QB. However, with broad strokes, Brady was both better than Manning in poor weather and in domes (by QB rating). Their difference in rating was a Simpson’s paradox.

                • Nate Dunlevy

                  Yeah, I’d like to see that study. Do you know where you saw it?

                  • sn0mm1s

                    No, unfortunately I don’t recall where I read it. If I did I would link it. I am sure Chase has a lot of the required data though. I thought just recently PFR got a lot more of the game weather conditions.

                  • Richie

                    Brady played three playoff games in domes and lost them all (@Indy and the 2 Super Bowls vs. Giants). Brady does not have what it takes to play in domes. His skillset makes him good when its cold, windy and snowing. But in the domes, his eyes cannot adjust properly to the way the artificial light reflects inside domes.

                    • sn0mm1s

                      Sample size

                    • I want a +1 button for this one.

                    • Guru

                      Of course you decide to talk about “sample size” when someone else comes with the record of Brady’s teams inside of a dome.

                      Thus, we’ll also use “sample size” when you want to bring up the record of Manning’s teams in the playoffs. After all, he’s played in a miniscule 23 games, compared to the hundreds and hundreds of games he’s played otherwise. Since the 23-game sample size is meager in comparison, then you shouldn’t let it speak to his true talent level. Fair? Fair.

                    • sn0mm1s

                      Small in comparison to his total games doesn’t make the sample size insignificant. You are basically saying that a 16 game season isn’t long enough to prove anything – because the sample size is too small. If a player has played more than a season’s worth of games in any situation, in the world of football, it is meaningful.

                    • Guru

                      “You are basically saying that a 16 game season isn’t long enough to prove anything – because the sample size is too small.”

                      No, that’s not the point I was making.

                  • eagle97a

                    This is what I found out from the old pfr blog site:

                    Brady: 103.1 QBR, 67.2 Comp%, 258.7 YPG, 8.4 YPA, 6.7 TD%, 3.0 INT%
                    Peyton: 98.6 QBR, 65.4 Comp%, 260.6 YPG, 7.8 YPA, 6.2 TD%, 2.7 INT%

                    Brady: 94.0 QBR, 63.3 Comp%, 239.2 YPG, 7.3 YPA, 5.3 TD%, 2.1 INT%
                    Peyton: 91.0 QBR, 64.4 Comp%, 268.3 YPG, 7.4 YPA, 4.8 TD%, 2.8 INT%

                    % of Career Pass Attempts (Indoors/Outdoors)
                    Brady: 9.3% / 90.7%
                    Peyton: 51.1% / 48.9%

                    Stats were dated Dec 2010 posted by McRonaldinho, link is ; http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=8138&cpage=3
                    Obviously this needs to be updated but personally I’ll reserve judgement after their careers are done with the usual caveat that for me game-planning, specific matchups, strength of schedule etc. play more important roles than pure numbers alone. I think these are career stats just no way of knowing if they include playoffs.Once again beware of the slice n’ dice # syndrome.


  • sn0mm1s

    RBs don’t play a big enough role in the offense for wins to become part of their resume. They don’t call audibles, they don’t manage the clock, they rarely are in position to convert 3rd and long, they don’t have a lot of options once a play is called, they can be game planned for, they don’t play a huge part in 2 minute drills, and they don’t touch the ball on every play. That is why Sanders isn’t criticized (except by Cowboy fans) for not winning a SB.

    IIRC correctly, you and others did research that showed offense v defense is a 60/40 split at best. How much of that 60% is QB play? Quite a bit – so when a team repeatedly fails it isn’t much of stretch to say the QB is failing as well. And while it is tempting to get into a Manning/Brady/Montana debate here is why Montana is better: Montana won more and was more efficient compared to his peers than both Manning and Brady – and the difference in efficiency isn’t all that close.

    • “Montana . . . was more efficient compared to his peers than . . . Manning . . . and the difference in efficiency isn’t all that close.”

      Manning’s career ANY/A+: 122
      Montana’s career ANY/A+: 121

      This is why QB debates are almost always ridiculous. People make up terms like “efficient,” don’t define them, then claim that their guy is better at it with no evidence. That way, if someone else argues using evidence, they can alter the definition of the term to make sure that evidence doesn’t count. It’s Carl Sagan’s invisible floating dragon in football form.

      • sn0mm1s

        Passer rating is generally what is being referred to with efficient.

        • sn0mm1s

          Montana’s regular season rating is 93.2 while the league’s rating (excluding him) was 74.6. His playoff rating of 95.6 is quite a bit better than the league rating of 73.9.

          Manning is 97.2 vs 81 and 89.2 vs 81.3

          Montana, compared to the league, is better than Manning in both regular season and postseason and it really isn’t all that close.

        • http://pfref.com/tiny/b440y
          Montana Rate+: 123
          Manning Rate+: 120

          Still not true. And passer rating is a poor stat that double-counts completion percentage and completely ignores sacks (an area in which Manning is far superior).

          • sn0mm1s

            Does ANY/A+ take into account pick sixes (something Montana was stellar at avoiding), playing in a dome, etc. etc? Does ANY/A+ take into account the rushing yards? Manning is has a net of about -1000 yards when you factor in his rushing with sacks. Montana – even though he took more sacks – has a net of -400 yards.

            And, those tables are also completely ignoring the postseason. Regardless, even using the your ANY/A+ as the stat de jour they are nearly identical in the regular season – and then we all know what happens in the postseason.

            • sn0mm1s

              *du jour strange autocorrect.

            • Okay, let me say this more carefully:
              For my part, efficiency is, simply put, output or production per input. A dictionary will define it as avoiding waste, which is what I would say that dividing output per input is measuring. Obviously, there are many ways to define output or production and input for quarterbacks, but it seems to me that the obvious definition for input is “pass attempts” (really pass attempts plus sacks), and that is what ANY/A and passer rating both use as a denominator. They disagree about the definition of output, but both are measuring “efficiency” by the definition I have laid out.

              So, then the argument, before adjusting for peers, is between passer rating and ANY/A’s definition of production. As far as I’m concerned, ANY/A is better than passer rating, because passer rating ignores sacks and double-counts completion percentage. The fact that it does not include things like rushing and weather does not improve passer rating relative to it, since passer rating also does not. If you believe that completion percentage is extraordinarily important and that sacks should not be used as part of a measure of a quarterback’s performance, you may prefer passer rating.

              Then, we get to the era adjustments. You argue for (I am extrapolating a bit here, since you do not explicitly say how you are meaning to perform the adjustments. I do not mean this to be a straw man if this is not what you are saying.) the difference between the statistic and the mean. I argue for including the standard deviation, as that tells us how meaningful that difference is. ANY/A+ and Rate+ are just scaled versions of that difference in standard deviations, which is why I prefer them to the simple difference. Therefore, I would use ANY/A+ as my go-to statistic for measuring “efficiency.”

              According to Rate+ or ANY/A+, they are very close compared to their peers. Yes, those only exist for the regular season, but neither player’s postseason statistics are different enough that a simple size of 734 passes for Montana or 889 for Manning is going to make a huge difference in those statistics, so including them would still not put them far apart.

              While I am fine with including postseason performance as a part of the analysis, I fundamentally disagree with the idea of placing the postseason in a different category entirely as you have done above, because I believe that postseason games are not fundamentally different, as separating them into different categories would suggest.

              My argument here is not that Manning is better than Montana. It’s that the clear delineation that you find between Manning and Montana in terms of “efficiency” is really an issue with your choice of measurement. They are, compared to their peers, something near equals in terms of efficiency as measured statistically. That is all that I am arguing.

              Yes, I am aware that I have just completed my first novel.

              • sn0mm1s

                Preseason, regular season, and postseason are all completely different beasts and should be treated accordingly. Postseason is one and done, generally against better defenses, and generally in worse weather conditions.

                • I am not continuing this discussion with you. It is clearly pointless.

                  • sn0mm1s

                    Hey, just because you think that losing and ending your season isn’t fundamentally different from opening day it isn’t my problem.

                    • Thank you for proving emphatically that any discussion with you is pointless. Now, you can carry on.

            • Nate Dunlevy

              Pick sixes aren’t a skill. You can’t be “stellar at avoiding them”. You can’t be prone to throwing them.

              The six part of the pick six is just random.

              It’s like being really good at coin-flipping.

              As for “and we all know what happens in the postseason”, yes we do. See my other comments. Manning plays great.

              • Ed

                Nonsense. Some pick sixes are random from a QB point of view, but most are the outcome of throwing a specific pass in a specific situation. Namely, the QB throws a shallow pass to a wideout in the flats and does not notice the cornerback in position to jump the route. When you put the ball in the hands of the fastest defender, with nobody between him and the end zone and a running start, a pick six is the predictable result. That is almost entirely a judgment call by the QB, a poor decision in a high risk situation, and not random at all.

                • Nate Dunlevy

                  Nice theory.

                  It’s wrong.



                  “So is avoiding pick-sixes a skill that some quarterbacks possess? It doesn’t appear that way. Over the remainder of their careers, from 2002-10, Johnson and Feeley threw six pick-sixes out of their 46 interceptions, a rate of 13 percent. Look at the other end of the spectrum and there’s not much of a difference: Outside of 2009, Cutler has thrown six pick-sixes in 45 interceptions, a rate of 13.3 percent.

                  There’s no obvious player type linking the guys at the top and bottom of the pick-six charts, either. Among quarterbacks with 50 interceptions or more thrown, the lowest rate of interceptions returned for touchdowns belongs to … Jake Plummer (4.6 percent). He threw three pick-sixes amidst 46 interceptions, one fewer than Manning has thrown in his past eight picks. Right behind Plummer are Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Green and Tom Brady. The highest rate belongs to Johnson, at 18.9 percent, with Joey Harrington, Carson Palmer and Brian Griese all at 15 percent or better. Famed gunslinger Brett Favre (10.1 percent) is right at the same level as the ultra-cautious Chad Pennington (10 percent).”

              • Richie

                Joe Montana never would have let Cliff Avril smack his arm in the act of throwing, and then have the ball flutter in the air, and Roger Craig never would have half-heartedly tried to defend the play. Montana > Manning.

      • Ed

        Football debates in general are almost always ridiculous. Only politics exceeds football for the amount of faux-analysis generated on the internet. Yet we still engage eagerly. Congrats on working a Carl Sagan reference in though. That’s like using two Z’s in Scrabble.

        • Wait, are you saying that referencing Carl Sagan is cheating??!! 😉

  • Jordan

    My dad despises Manning. He always reminds me that Brady is the 6th round pick who made it big. And he would always be better. But I felt differently. I was conflicted all night with different emotions as a Pats fan who will always go with Brady. I was happy that he lost, that he still had 1 ring compared to Brady’s 3, and that this conversation was over, or never was a conversation to begin with. Brady is better than Manning. Seeing him win wasn’t an option. Seattle had to win. The doubters would creep up and push him ahead of Brady. I would’ve hated that. Bad memories of 2007 and 2011. But seeing Manning win wouldn’t be all bad. He gets a ring which adds to his legacy. The Pats wouldn’t have been anywhere close to beating that Seattle team. I’m glad I read sites like this, and Football Outsiders, and Pro Football Focus. It shines a light on the things that casual fans won’t care about or won’t add to their narratives. Maybe this was just a sign to get ready for the Red Sox and feel a weird way even though we won last year. We Boston fans can be thin skinned when it comes to our stars. Manning is the enemy. Even though I’m glad Brady and him had all these great battles. Great article Chase.

  • Chase, this is a great post. Your second paragraph, recounting the occasional failures of other great QBs, is epic. It’s refreshing to see this issue examined from a place of logic.

  • Red

    The Manning Narrative is the most perplexing and disheartening phenomenon in all of sports. There is not a single athlete in American sports history that has been held to the same impossible standard as Peyton. The stubborness with which Manning detractors cling to their outdated arguments is truly mind-blowing.

    A great recent comparison would be LeBron James. For years, he was villified as a choker, a fraud, a regular season stat stuffer. But then he won a championship, and everyone shut up, everyone acknowledged his greatness. Fans and media finally admitted they were wrong about LeBron. Why is Peyton different? Why is it so excrutiating for people to admit that Manning has had an all-time great career? I honestly don’t know the answer.

    Great post, Chase. I’ll be looking forward to this summer’s GQBOAT series for even more ironclad proof.

    • Guru

      Don’t be so sure about LeBron James. Just visit any basketball internet forum, and you’ll come across the same BS that you often hear in football circles about Manning.

    • Bill

      “…There is not a single athlete in American sports history that has been held to the same impossible standard as Peyton. …”

      Jack Johnson?

  • Edward Moretti

    Yes, QB debates can be silly but not as silly as those who spend so much time defending the man. From the very first play where Peyton was clearly at fault for the safety but the announcers were quick to blame Manny Ramirez to how quickly the Seattle defense became better than the ’85 Bears defense once it was clear that Denver was done all I ever hear in regards to Manning when he loses are excuses. Sorry, but Manning was completely rattled, throwing the ball into coverage, not throwing the ball to open receivers and over and under throwing receivers. A little pressure can go along way.

    However, other QB’s make a mistake and we are quickly told how terrible they are. Why my Bolt’s QB was supposedly done as an NFL QB just a season ago. He wins Comeback Player of the Year this year yet people are already lining up to tell us that with Whisenhut gone he is going to have a long year. Tony Romo…well, I’m not even going to go there.

    You can pull up all the stats that you want but the most telling is WIN PCT. By QB WITH 20+ POSTSEASON STARTS: Montana .696; Brady .692; Elway .667; Favre .542; Manning . 478-this is all you need to know. Maybe if the media who inundate us with stories about the word Omaha could just swallow their pride and admit they were wrong to back the wrong horse (again) we could get a little more truth in advertising instead of the same old spin.

    • Nate Dunlevy

      “From the very first play where Peyton was clearly at fault for the safety but the announcers were quick to blame Manny Ramirez”

      Wow. Talk about seeing what you want to see.

      No one else on the line moved on that snap. So everyone was on one page and the center on another.

      The most telling stat is never ever never winning percentage. It’s the opposite of “everything you need to know”.

      • Richie

        The most telling stat is never ever never winning percentage. It’s the opposite of “everything you need to know”.

        ESPECIALLY in the playoffs, since winning a playoff game gives you a chance for another. Many QB’s never made it to (the arbitrary minimum of 20 used above. although for some reason he excluded Steve Young’s 12-8 mark) 20 games, because if you lose in the first round, you only get to play one game that season. But if you wait to do your choking for later in the playoffs, you can accumulate more games played.

      • Edward Moretti

        If you go to http://www.nfl.com/videos and then go to the feature called “Has Manning’s Legacy Taken a hit”. As you will clearly see at the 3:33 mark EVERY player on the line takes off on the snap. You’re welcome.

        • Nate Dunlevy

          We are looking at two different things. There’s a beat between the snap and everyone moving.

          • Edward Moretti

            No we’re not Ken Ham, no we’re not.

            • Nate Dunlevy


              I would be thrilled to hear your explanation for how the QB was “clearly at fault” for a snap that sails over his head.

              In your interpretation, what was his mistake? Are you arguing that he forgot the snap count? The he wasn’t loud enough? You say it was clearly his fault, so you must know what his mistake was.

              It sure looks to me like he’s calling plays, the center snaps a beat early and on freeze frame, the ball is already by Manning when everyone moves.

              I know you want it to be Manning’s fault, but really not sure how it can be. But please, enlighten me as to how the mechanics of that play worked out in your mind.

              • Edward Moretti

                The way I saw it, and the guy from NFL Network, is that everyone on the line moved at the same time. The ball is by Manning simply because he was not were he was supposed to be. Either it was Manning’s fault and everyone on the line moving was just an aberration or it was the entire O-line’s fault not just Ramirez. Looks like Manning’s fault to me but I can’t make you see that if that is not what you want to see, either.

  • kristian carlson

    The GOAT doesn’t check to a draw on 3rd and 10 down 29 in plus territory w/ 12:00 to go in the 3rd when the def goes wide nine nickel and shows double A gap blitz w/ two LBs.

    The GOAT doesn’t throw a pick 6 in the biggest moment of his career vs N.O.

    The GOAT knows when to take a sack and not force throws like a rookie vs the best secondary sitting in cover 3.

    The GOAT is able to elevate his game under pressure.

    Manning in the playoffs has one, I repeat, one comeback win in 23 games.

    Manning is unable to elevate his game in the playoffs because he is all mental. His physical attributes are that he is tall. To his credit, he is as prepared for a preseason game as the Superbowl. But that’s the issue, if you are always at 100% vs subpar competition, of course when those teams and Manning face better comp, they will suffer. His one ring he wins playoff games where he threw more ints than tds. He had stellar performances vs the Jets, but horrid in other games. The consistency demonstrated in the regular season is blown up to show widely inconsistent games vs legit competition, especially outside the comfort of domes, ie, his 3 superbowls.

    That inconsistently obvious leads to question how valuable the regular season stats are to judge this player.

    The GOAT would perform way better vs the best teams in the nfl than Manning has, especially in an era catered to his game where illegal man downfield is never called on his screens to his wrs, where receivers run unchecked, and he is safe and sound in the pocket.

    He isn’t the GOAT, he’s Marino of this era.

    • Ben

      The point of this article is that any person you care to nominate as the GOAT still has moments of utterly humiliating failure, and that for every OTHER candidate, the moments of triumph are elevated above the moments of defeat, whereas for Manning it’s the other way around. Did you know that Joe Montana never threw for more than 4,000 yards in a single season? The GOAT should be able to pass such a mark at least once, right?

      If Manning isn’t the GOAT, who is, and why are that man’s innumerable failures less salient than Manning’s? Why is the NO Super Bowl “the biggest moment of his career” and not, say the second half of the 2006 AFC Championship? Or hell, his FIRST Super Bowl? Peyton haters are allowed to move the goalposts wherever they want, as long as it caters to their pre-determined agenda.

      • eag97a

        You have a point there but he clearly states that “– What is Peyton Manning’s legacy? – is one that is easy to answer. His legacy is that he’s the greatest quarterback ever. That’s not a very exciting answer in the world of #HOTTAKES, but it’s the truth.” It’s an assertion that is open to debate and will remain open to debate as long as his career is still being written and the careers of his contemporaries.

        The question is the definition of what GQBOAT is in the most team-based of all sports? A lot has been written, discussed and analyzed on this question and there is still is no one right answer. I surmise we can approximate an answer if we have the complete play-by-play data, game-charting data, each team’s every playcall, assign weight and importance to units and individual positions and their game impact, for all season and post season games and then apply all advanced football stat methodologies including SOS adjustment, weather adj., era adj. etc to everything but we still have to acknowledge that there is still an element of subjectivity to all of it. This is what’s so fascinating about the debate because there’s no right answer only approximate conjectures. How can we even begin to quantify things like football intelligence, the value of the right audible, game awareness etc. I can’t even imagine. I know that some of this are being addressed by the good folks of this site, PFF, FootballOutsiders, AdvancedNFLstats and numerous others but we can all honestly say it just barely scratches the surface.

        My 2 cents is that playoff games matter since in Peytons’ case it’s 8.74% of his body of work (23 PO games / 263 total games) and it has a non-trivial impact on his “legacy”. At the end of the day numbers don’t lie but not only they not tell the whole story but the narrative also can change depending on perspective.

      • Brad

        Probably the thing everybody should accept is that there’s no such thing as a greatest QB of all time. Chase maybe state his case very strenuously, but that doesn’t make it correct. Nobody has convinced me yet, not that my opinion counts for much.

        The way I look at it though. What good is a 4,000 yard season if you don’t win? And, sure, every QB has failed in the playoffs. But Manning and Favre have “failed” MORE in the playoffs. Just like Manning has accumulated more yards and TDs than others, he is accumulating more losses. Also, the argument that MVPs and AllPros mean more than postseason wins is unsettling to me (Chase made this argument, not Ben). Those are awards voted on by humans. They represent only the regular season.

        Again, I wouldn’t pick one guy. I like thinking about it in tiers, and there is no question that Brady and Manning are in the very top tier and always will be.

        • Richie

          Manning and Favre have “failed” MORE in the playoffs.

          That has a lot to do with the fact that Peyton Manning doesn’t fail in the regular season. He’s working on 11 consecutive seasons of taking his team to the playoffs. (Brady is at 10 consecutive.) And his longevity. I believe no QB has made more trips to the playoffs than Peyton Manning.

          • Brad

            Brady has made the playoffs 11 of 13 seasons (counting rookie year when he didn’t play). Manning has made the playoffs 13 times in 15 seasons. Brady has been bounced in his first game 2 of 11 times. Manning 8 of 13 times.

            Brady’s teams have played in 8 AFC title games and 5 Super Bowls. Manning’s have played in 4 AFC title games and 3 Super Bowls.

            There’s no doubt that consistently getting into playoffs is a great value of a QB. Consistently advancing in the playoffs is even better.

        • Ben

          There may be no one “greatest” QB of all time. My criterion is more wholistic. Did Joe Montana do things that were utterly unique in the history of football? I would argue, no. He did a lot of things very well that a lot of other QBs also did very well. He happened to do these things very well on a dynasty of a team that was excellent across the board, and his success in the game reflects that. But he’s not a “once-in-a-lifetime, none shall come this way again” player. Peyton Manning is. The stats and wins and records reflect that to a CERTAIN extent, but I think there’s a QUALITATIVE difference between the two that is my overriding consideration. I think Chase would probably agree with that.

          • GMC

            How is “Making a Super Bowl with Head Coach Jim Caldwell and a roster that went 2-14 without you two years later.” not a resume line even if you lose?

            Brady has never been on a team without Belichick or a roster that would not have been very decent without him.

            How many Super Bowls would Peyton have if Tony Dungy had stayed with the Colts?

    • dmstorm22

      The GOAT doesn’t lose home playoff games by 19, 7 and 13.

      The GOAT doesn’t throw 8 TDs and 9 INTs in 8 career AFC Championship Games

      The GOAT doesn’t score 14 points in a dome against a at-best good defense when going for 19-0.

      The GOAT doesn’t throw six career playoff INTs into the end zone.

      The GOAT doesn’t do a lot of things, depending on who you want the GOAT to be.

      When two guys stats are pretty close to equal (Brady and Manning in the playoffs), and one guy is on a team that goes 18-8, the other goes 11-12, there’s probably somethign other than QB play going on.

  • Joseph Hein

    Manning looked bad on Sunday.

  • Richie

    If only Manning could be more like Kurt Warner, who was statistically one of the best playoff quarterbacks, but saved all his choking for Super Bowls.

    • sn0mm1s

      He is matching the pick sixes in the losses.

  • David

    I like to take the existential approach.

    Why does anyone have to be the best? Why can’t we say that Peyton Manning MAY be the GOAT and leave it at that? Montana, Marino, Brady, Manning…they’re all the best. They are different men playing in different games against different teams. Manning had the unfortunate luck of running into one of the greatest defenses of all time.

    The best part of this debate is that, in the not too distant future, there will be another “greatest of all time” quarterback to throw into the debate. Is he in the NFL right now? Will he be drafted this year?

    • Richie

      I am a Manning defender. But, I HATE the term GOAT. I hate the phrase itself. But I also hate the way its used often in ambiguous cases. I think it’s fair to call Jerry Rice the GOAT for WR’s. There’s really nobody who comes close. But whether you think the best QB ever is Manning, Brady, Montana, Unitas or Starr; the best is not clear cut by any means.

  • David

    That’s what I’m saying; Lump the top tier of qb’s together and call it day.

    As for Jerry Rice, I would agree that he is the best WR to ever play in the NFL, but He also had two HOF Qb’s throwing to him. I don’t think he’d be so great if he had an average Qb throwing to him.

  • Chase Stuart

    I am not going to have time to go through each of the comments, but I am reading them all. I generally find the level of discourse is quite high here, and I am proud of that. While there are many, many differences of opinion, I think people here are generally quite respectful of other views, so I just wanted to thank everyone for that.

  • Neil Paine

    Great piece, Chase. One interesting idea that stood out to me was that “no quarterback has ever been tougher to beat”. Since the merger, here are the average WPct and SRS of teams that beat each QB when they were the starter in the team’s playoff loss:

    | starting_qb | losses | avg_opp_wpct | avg_opp_srs |
    | MannPe00    |     12 | .719         | 7.15        |
    | FavrBr00    |     11 | .719         | 7.82        |
    | MariDa00    |     10 | .738         | 5.62        |
    | BradTo00    |      8 | .680         | 6.24        |
    | KellJi00    |      8 | .730         | 7.18        |
    | ElwaJo00    |      7 | .721         | 4.04        |
    | McNaDo00    |      7 | .741         | 5.96        |
    | MontJo01    |      7 | .728         | 5.81        |
    | MoonWa00    |      7 | .671         | 2.19        |
    | CunnRa00    |      6 | .760         | 6.93        |
    | HassMa00    |      6 | .688         | 5.15        |
    | KrieDa00    |      6 | .704         | 5.78        |
    | StauRo00    |      6 | .781         | 7.87        |
    | YounSt00    |      6 | .792         | 9.75        |
    | BradTe00    |      5 | .826         | 8.58        |
    | BreeDr00    |      5 | .700         | 5.28        |
    | BrunMa00    |      5 | .763         | 7.42        |
    | GrieBo00    |      5 | .732         | 6.28        |
    | KilmBi00    |      5 | .807         | 7.82        |
    | McNaSt00    |      5 | .775         | 8.66        |
    | RivePh00    |      5 | .775         | 12.02       |
    | StabKe00    |      5 | .802         | 9.98        |
    | TarkFr00    |      5 | .800         | 7.20        |
    | WhitDa01    |      5 | .740         | 5.76        |
    | AikmTr00    |      4 | .688         | 3.93        |
    | AndeKe00    |      4 | .781         | 9.28        |
    | CollKe00    |      4 | .719         | 8.43        |
    | FlacJo00    |      4 | .797         | 8.80        |
    | FoutDa00    |      4 | .726         | 5.65        |
    | GarcJe00    |      4 | .688         | 5.68        |
    | JawoRo00    |      4 | .609         | 0.05        |
    | KosaBe00    |      4 | .706         | 6.35        |
    | MortCr00    |      4 | .810         | 5.20        |
    | ODonNe00    |      4 | .703         | 5.13        |
    | PennCh01    |      4 | .766         | 9.90        |
    | PlumJa00    |      4 | .781         | 10.28       |
    | RodgAa00    |      4 | .664         | 5.40        |
    | RoetBe00    |      4 | .672         | 6.30        |
    | RyanMa00    |      4 | .617         | 5.20        |
    | SimmPh00    |      4 | .797         | 10.73       |
    | WarnKu00    |      4 | .719         | 6.45        |
    | BartSt00    |      3 | .685         | 6.70        |
    | BledDr00    |      3 | .729         | 9.30        |
    | BrodJo00    |      3 | .738         | 7.67        |
    | DaltAn00    |      3 | .646         | 3.57        |
    | DebeSt00    |      3 | .708         | 3.27        |
    | DelhJa00    |      3 | .750         | 4.70        |
    | EverJi00    |      3 | .771         | 9.03        |
    | FergJo00    |      3 | .729         | 6.10        |
    | FerrVi00    |      3 | .792         | 11.27       |
    | GannRi00    |      3 | .729         | 7.03        |
    | GrogSt00    |      3 | .777         | 5.53        |
    | HadePa00    |      3 | .738         | 6.23        |
    | HarbJi00    |      3 | .667         | 4.73        |
    | HebeBo00    |      3 | .615         | 3.17        |
    | HumpSt00    |      3 | .688         | 3.93        |
    | JohnBr00    |      3 | .667         | 4.23        |
    | JoneBe00    |      3 | .786         | 13.30       |
    | MannEl00    |      3 | .635         | 5.43        |
    | McMaJi00    |      3 | .682         | 4.43        |
    | RomoTo00    |      3 | .646         | 2.30        |
    | TestVi00    |      3 | .750         | 5.73        |
    | VickMi00    |      3 | .729         | 8.27        |
    | WillDo01    |      3 | .660         | 4.53        |
    | WilsWa00    |      3 | .744         | 6.47        |
    | BulgMa00    |      2 | .688         | -1.55       |
    | CulpDa00    |      2 | .781         | 4.00        |
    | EasoTo00    |      2 | .813         | 10.55       |
    | EsiaBo00    |      2 | .688         | 5.70        |
    | FiedJa00    |      2 | .688         | 6.45        |
    | FlutDo00    |      2 | .688         | 5.70        |
    | FrerGu00    |      2 | .688         | 5.45        |
    | GeorJe00    |      2 | .750         | 8.95        |
    | GrbaEl00    |      2 | .781         | 9.05        |
    | GreeTr00    |      2 | .750         | 6.45        |
    | GrosRe00    |      2 | .719         | 5.50        |
    | HarrJa01    |      2 | .714         | 5.10        |
    | HartJi00    |      2 | .786         | 7.60        |
    | KaepCo00    |      2 | .719         | 7.95        |
    | KingSh00    |      2 | .750         | 7.50        |
    | KramEr00    |      2 | .719         | 9.90        |
    | KramTo00    |      2 | .819         | 8.55        |
    | LamoDa00    |      2 | .804         | 5.20        |
    | LeexBo00    |      2 | .821         | 8.85        |
    | LuckAn00    |      2 | .688         | 4.40        |
    | MitcSc00    |      2 | .625         | 0.50        |
    | OBriKe00    |      2 | .688         | 7.10        |
    | PalmCa00    |      2 | .625         | 8.20        |
    | PastDa00    |      2 | .813         | 10.05       |
    | PhipMi00    |      2 | .844         | 6.85        |
    | PlunJi00    |      2 | .708         | 9.85        |
    | RypiMa00    |      2 | .875         | 8.80        |
    | SancMa00    |      2 | .813         | 8.05        |
    | SchrJa00    |      2 | .844         | 8.80        |
    | SmitAl03    |      2 | .625         | 2.80        |
    | StewKo00    |      2 | .719         | 7.50        |
    | TheiJo00    |      2 | .688         | 5.75        |
    | ToddRi00    |      2 | .701         | 4.90        |
    | TomcMi00    |      2 | .750         | 6.40        |
    | WalsSt00    |      2 | .750         | 7.50        |
    | WoodDa00    |      2 | .757         | 5.90        |
    | AvelBo00    |      1 | .857         | 7.80        |
    | BeueSt00    |      1 | .750         | 1.00        |
    | BlacTo00    |      1 | .625         | -1.40       |
    | BonoSt00    |      1 | .563         | -1.30       |
    | BrisBu00    |      1 | .688         | 9.30        |
    | BrocDi00    |      1 | .938         | 15.90       |
    | BrooAa00    |      1 | .688         | 1.90        |
    | BrunSc00    |      1 | .813         | 6.20        |
    | CarlCo00    |      1 | .563         | -1.10       |
    | CartQu00    |      1 | .688         | -0.90       |
    | CartVi00    |      1 | .821         | 0.40        |
    | CassMa00    |      1 | .750         | 6.40        |
    | ChanCh00    |      1 | .875         | 8.90        |
    | CollTo00    |      1 | .625         | 1.80        |
    | CuozGa00    |      1 | .750         | 6.50        |
    | CutlJa00    |      1 | .625         | 10.90       |
    | DaniGa00    |      1 | .625         | 8.70        |
    | DawsLe00    |      1 | .750         | 7.70        |
    | DetmTy00    |      1 | .750         | 8.00        |
    | DickLy00    |      1 | .667         | 8.10        |
    | DilfTr00    |      1 | .813         | 7.70        |
    | FoleNi00    |      1 | .688         | 8.80        |
    | FullSt00    |      1 | .938         | 12.70       |
    | GarrDa00    |      1 | 1.000        | 20.10       |
    | GrifRo01    |      1 | .688         | 12.20       |
    | HadlJo00    |      1 | .714         | 12.80       |
    | HippEr00    |      1 | .889         | 7.40        |
    | HolcKe00    |      1 | .656         | 2.70        |
    | HostJe00    |      1 | .750         | 4.80        |
    | HuntSc00    |      1 | .786         | 6.30        |
    | JackTa00    |      1 | .594         | 7.80        |
    | JohnRo00    |      1 | .813         | 1.00        |
    | KaneDa00    |      1 | .563         | -0.10       |
    | KempJe00    |      1 | .563         | 0.80        |
    | KitnJo00    |      1 | .563         | 1.90        |
    | LandGr00    |      1 | .714         | 7.00        |
    | LeftBy00    |      1 | .625         | 3.10        |
    | LomaNe00    |      1 | .611         | 6.20        |
    | MaddTo00    |      1 | .688         | 1.80        |
    | MaloMa00    |      1 | .875         | 10.60       |
    | MariTo00    |      1 | .625         | 6.40        |
    | McDoPa00    |      1 | .889         | 5.30        |
    | MillCh00    |      1 | .875         | 16.60       |
    | MillJi00    |      1 | .688         | 7.70        |
    | NelsBi00    |      1 | .714         | 10.40       |
    | NewtCa00    |      1 | .750         | 10.10       |
    | PeetRo00    |      1 | .750         | 9.70        |
    | RyanPa00    |      1 | .750         | 3.60        |
    | SaliSe00    |      1 | .563         | 4.40        |
    | SchaMa00    |      1 | .750         | 12.80       |
    | SimmCh00    |      1 | .625         | 6.00        |
    | SipeBr00    |      1 | .688         | 4.20        |
    | StafMa00    |      1 | .813         | 11.40       |
    | StouCl00    |      1 | .750         | 6.80        |
    | StroDo00    |      1 | .625         | 3.00        |
    | TeboTi00    |      1 | .813         | 9.30        |
    | TrudJa00    |      1 | .667         | 11.00       |
    | UnitJo00    |      1 | .750         | 7.70        |
    | WebbJo00    |      1 | .688         | 7.30        |
    | WilsMa00    |      1 | .688         | 5.80        |
    | WilsRu00    |      1 | .813         | 6.40        |
    | WrigAn00    |      1 | .750         | 6.50        |
    | YateT.00    |      1 | .750         | 6.10        |
    | YounVi00    |      1 | .688         | 8.80        |
    | ZolaSc00    |      1 | .688         | 2.50        |
    • Neil Paine

      That table means it typically takes a 7.15 SRS team to beat Manning; 6.24 to beat Brady; 5.81 to beat Montana; 4.04 (!) to beat Elway. And Rivers apparently requires a 12 SRS team to beat him in the playoffs.

    • Chase Stuart

      Interesting list. Steve Young, Philip Rivers, Stabler, and McNasty had it pretty tough, eh?

      • Neil Paine

        And don’t forget Jim Kelly (which happens when almost all of your playoff losses come in the Super Bowl, specifically against a dynastic Cowboys team).

      • Richie

        Dieter Brock (ding!) and David Garrard!

    • That is interesting. The thing it immediately makes me notice is how unlucky some QBs have been just to run into particularly great teams repeatedly. Rivers “lost” to the ’06 and ’07 Patriots, ’08 Steelers, ’09 Jets, and ’13 Broncos–outside of the Jets, that’s quite the murderer’s row. Jake Plummer “lost” to the ’98 Vikings, ’03 and ’04 Colts, and ’05 Steelers–all impressive teams. Phil Simms “lost” to the ’84 49ers, ’85 Bears, ’89 Rams, and ’93 49ers–two all-time great teams and another excellent one.

      It also points out how different of a schedule quarterbacks can end up facing in the postseason even over a significant career. Obviously this list only shows some of the opponents, but the amount of variation is still large.

      Thanks for posting that, Neil!

  • Guru

    Totally off-topic here, but where’s YOUR “Basketball Perspective” site, Mr. Paine? 🙂

    • Neil Paine

      I thought about going that route, and even started something here that contains a few new things in addition to the complete BBR Blog archives:


      Ultimately, I went the ESPN route, then joined the Atlanta Hawks (at which point I could no longer write about basketball in public), and now I work for Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight (COMING SOON!), and will contractually be able to write about basketball again in the intermediate future. (Vague enough?)

  • Tuti

    He is the greatest for me too… The greatest choke artist ever. Unless he win the superbowl again (hard he win), he always will be the greatest choke. No contest 3 TD, 7 INT, 2 pick six. And when he won, 1TD and 1 INT. Manning show us that Brady is better than him.

  • Krishna

    Interesting article. And before I make my comments, I’ll get it out of the way: I’m a Pats fan so there is going to be bias in anything I say, whether I intend it or not. Now that thats’ out of the way, I still think there’s an issue with regard to evaluating all QBs: their skill positions and O-Line’s change and that can cause a wild fluctuation in their statistics. I do think Peyton has had better weapons over the course of his whole career (well specifically having a #1 receiver that he can always depend on- be it Reggie or Marvin) and in the years Brady has had some really good weapons, he’s put up comparable seasons (besides 09, where I think he suffered from the after effects of his torn ACL). But I think if you’re looking for the evidence on how the receivers can change a QB’s statistics, you need only look at Brady’s 06 season compared to his 07 season. (Or even this season for that matter.) If you were to look at them side by side, you’d say no way is it possible those seasons are coming from the same QB and yet they did. I know there have been many studies done that show that QBs’ statistics can vary wildly from even play to play but is it possible that the reason for that is because the QB is relying on the other 10 players in addition to himself. It may be that a QB is actually consistent from play to play and year to year but the other 10 players around him change which causes the seeming “variation” in that own QB’s statistics.

    I know QBR has attempted to incorporate WR credit into their model, which I think is a step in the right direction. However, I still feel there are some more steps to take. Specifically, for some of these timing based offenses that get the ball out quick- you need receivers who can get open quick (or be relatively open). So perhaps being able to model how quickly a teams’ WR’s can get open (which isn’t easy at all) would help solve some of the issues I mentioned above. Would love to see someone chart this- though it is very subjective. I would presume this also gets at the “true talent” level of those WRs since their job is to basically get open as fast as possible.

  • curt durt

    Nice article, reminds me of how bad Elway sucked before he won 2 SB’s too. I think theres some Irony in there somewhere. Maybe the magic number is 2.

  • Bob

    Thank you for the well-reasoned post, Chase.

  • Rupert

    I stopped reading at this line
    “He led his team to a Super Bowl victory. He began to reliably beat Brady’s Patriots.”
    Manning has lost 10 of his 15 games against Brady, Manning rarely beats Brady, so how can anyone sane say he reliably beats him? Manning is one of the greatest QBs of all time, but I’m not sure how anyone can argue he is better then Brady.

    • dmstorm22

      Considering he started out 0-6, i would say going 5-4 in their next 9 meetings is ‘reliably’ beating Brady’s Patriots. Since 2005, their matchups have been even, and Manning’s team has won the two playoff meetings.

  • GMC

    W-L record in the playoffs (and Super Bowl) says essentially nothing about a player’s greatness. Here is why.

    There are 32 teams in the NFL. Of those, only twelve enter the playoffs; roughly speaking, the 12 best teams of the year. Of those twelve, four do not play in the first round, and therefore are likely to face fewer weak-ish playoff teams, on average.

    Those teams are collections of players. Some of those teams are legitimately great on both sides of the ball (2007 Patriots, several Chargers teams in the 2000’s). Some are great defenses: (Any Steelers, Titans, Ravens team since 1999). Others are great balanced offenses (2005 Seahawks). Others are literally dragged to the postseason by their quarterbacks.

    In the last category you find about every Peyton Manning team since 2006 (and more than a few recent Patriots squads, the Kurt Warner Cardinals, and the Green Bay Packers in even numbered years when their defense stinks). Does anyone really think that a mostly Von Miller-less Broncos would have made the playoffs this year without Manning? With Brock Osweiler (or Kyle Orton, or Matt Cassel) at quarterback?

    Manning’s playoff record is what it is because he has taken teams that had no business having winning records and thrown them into games against very good football teams with their season on the line. They lose those games sometimes. But the Colts and Broncos are not the 2002-2007 Patriots of vast distributed talent; they have been uneven, flawed teams who made it to Super Bowls because they were lucky enough to obtain Manning’s services.

    [If you are still holding out, ask yourself if you can name a Super Bowl defender for Denver who would even make the roster in Seattle, let alone start. Maybe Terrance Knighton or DRC? Certainly no one else. And the 2013 Broncos are a vastly better football team than the 2010 Colts were.]

  • Tim

    To say that Manning’s legacy is the greatest of all time is not accurate at all. When we use the term “legacy” in this context, we are referring to how the general population views you. Whether it’s fair or unfair, the SB is by far the most impacting on your legacy, and when you come unglued the way Manning did in front of 112+million people in the most watched event in the history of the world (after already having the reputation for coming unglued in big games), it causes irreparable damage. Most do not consider him equal with Montana & Brady today. Fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter, it’s still fact.

  • prowrestlingisstrong

    Manning’s playoff failures are often (and rightfully so) linked to not only meltdowns by him, but also his entire team specifically his defense. I think one thing that plagues Mannning, especially in the playoffs, is the demands he puts on organizations to do things his way. For one he eats up around 1/6 of his teams salary cap every year meaning that depth at key positions and on special teams is extremely limited. Secondly he has traditionally forced his teams to spend resources both in the draft and in free agency on players that support the offense often leaving him with average to below average defenses which really harm him when the competition gets tougher in the playoffs. Third the style he demands his teams play is a one that is very soft and very finesse. His defenses are always soft because he himself becomes the soul of the organization and he himself is a soft finesse player. Mannings teams generally struggle with physical teams especially in the playoffs.

    The long and short of my rant is that Manning’s playoff failures are his fault, but not so much because of his stats but more so because the style of team he prefers building is not one that is prone to playoff success. I feel it’s the same issue plagues the Patriots to this day as they stopped winning titles once they became all about Brady and less about defense and team building. The Seahawks won a playoff game decisively when Wilson was 9-18 for like 108 yards. That is the definition of a complete team and one that Manning will never allow to be built with him in control.

    I think Manning’s playoff failures are not so much a referendum on him but more of referendum on the current model of team building where you surround a high priced QB ($17 mil +) with mediocre talent around him. While these teams will look amazing against poor competition in the regular season, being unbalanced to this degree roster wise will usually cost you against the more balanced and physical teams that you ultimately run up against in the playoffs. The entire Seahawks defense makes about $5 million more then Manning. He can keep the All Pros and MVP’s balanced teams will keep the rings.

    • Duff Soviet Union

      “Secondly he has traditionally forced his teams to spend resources both in the draft and in free agency on players that support the offense often leaving him with average to below average defenses which really harm him when the competition gets tougher in the playoffs. ”

      This is just plain wrong. From 1999 – 2010 the Colts drafted 97 players. Do you know how many of those were offensive players? Take a guess. Aim low. The answer is 33. Barely one out of 3. What about in the first three rounds? That’s even worse at 10 for 35. If Manning is “forcing” his teams to draft players that “support the offense”, he’s apparently not doing a very good job of getting his voice heard. What is true is that they had much better success drafting offensive players than defensive ones. Why? Either because Bill Polian is much better at drafting offensive players than defensive ones (while actually doing it half as often) or because Peyton Manning made those picks work. I know which option I’m betting on.

      The Patriots became “all about Brady” and “less about defense” at exactly the same time he stopped getting paid like a 6th round pick and started getting paid like Tom Brady. The same thing will happen to Russell Wilson. Those guys just happened to win rings early in their career while playing on cheap contracts, while Manning was a 1.1 draft pick under the old draft system. This isn’t his fault. The Seahawks winning a playoff game where Wilson passes for 106 yards does not reflect a flaw with Peyton Manning.

      “Third the style he demands his teams play is a one that is very soft and very finesse.” You mean like the Montana / Young 49ers?

      “His defenses are always soft because he himself becomes the soul of the organization and he himself is a soft finesse player.” I don’t even know where to begin on this. Are you seriously suggesting that Manning makes his team soft through osmosis? Who is he, Jeff George?

      “Mannings teams generally struggle with physical teams especially in the playoffs.” Which is different to other quarterbacks….how? Who didn’t struggle against the 2013 Seahawks? Every quarterback struggles when his offensive line is getting whipped, his running game can’t get anything going and his receivers can’t get open more than 3 yards downfield.

      You keep saying that it’s Mannings fault for taking such a big salary. Do you not think that every single team in the league would offer to pay him the same amount? Of course they would. Because he’s worth it. He single handedly makes any team a playoff team. The only difference between him and Brady is that the Patriots have done a great job filling their roster out on the cheap. He has never played on a team that wouldn’t be at least .500 without him.


    Peyton’s expectations are a product of his greatness, his failures are weighed against those expectations to form a legacy. That’s what happens with great players. That’s how you decide greatest. Michael Jordan couldn’t be considered by scoring 63 against Boston in a losing effort and sure wouldn’t have been considered the greatest for losing in the championship by scoring 8 points.

    I often hear with Brady’s name the greatness of Belicheck, yet the facts are Bellicheck was 5-11 his first year with New England and 0-2 going into his 2nd year before inserting Tom Brady. The New England Patriots defense didn’t receive any new players. Something happened with Brady that happens with many great players, the team’s fortunes change. They won the Super Bowl that year and then two of the next 3.

    What’s funny with Peyton fans is they recognize this in the regular season. They will say Peyton has lost so many playoff games because he has been in so many playoff games a tribute to his regular season greatness They will not bring up the great players or the great coaches that caused his teams to win in the regular season. It’s Peyton.

    When he predictably loses his fans reference a team game. When you wrap your head around Brady has played 12 full seasons and been to 8 AFC championship games, Brady’s legacy before I go anywhere else eclipses Peyton’s by far. When you factor in the two near misses where Brady though not having his best games gave his team a lead in both with under 2 minutes to play though he lost or he would be sitting on 5 Titles in 12 years. Or the fact that in the only year Peyton won the Super Bowl the most important game of Peyton’s career was the AFC championship (his only playoff comeback in his career although he is the regular season all time leader) against the Patriots, when Brady had a 20-3 lead and it took 31 points (against the defensive genius Belicheck) in the 2nd half by Peyton (that was great) or Brady with no receivers (sound familiar, compare it to this past year) would have been playing Rex Grossman and the Bears in another Super Bowl.

    By the way Peyton fans never mention Peyton’s coaches. Few know that Tony Dungy right now has a higher career winning percentage than Belicheck, or that Tony has a better record by far without Peyton than Bill has without Brady. They don’t mention that John Fox had already taken another team to a Super Bowl, the Panthers with Jake Del Home and Jake had a great Super Bowl though he lost to Brady. Or that Jim Caldwell was credited with coming in at the last minute just last year and teaching Joe Flacco to play well in the playoffs and the Super Bowl (he beat both Brady and Peyton in their home stadiums in the playoffs. Flacco is the only guy to beat Brady at home when Brady had a halftime lead. He was 67-1 a that time, AMAZING) . That very same Jim Caldwell was the QB coach who according to Tony Dungy helped a young Peyton Manning decrease his interceptions in order to win in the playoffs. Peyton prior to Caldwell and Dungy’s coaching had missed the playoffs twice in his first 5 years and had gone one and done in the other 3 years.

  • Ned

    ANDRE: “I often hear with Brady’s name the greatness of Belicheck, yet the facts are Bellicheck was 5-11 his first year with New England and 0-2 going into his 2nd year before inserting Tom Brady”

    New England also went 11-5 when Brady went down in 2006 and Cassel took over. Cassel’s best success was with Belichick, too

    (Compare that to how Indianapolis went to ruin when Manning went down)

    “The New England Patriots defense didn’t receive any new players”

    Let’s see, Anthony Pleasant came over from San Francisco and started at tackle. Ditto new outside linebackers Vrabel and Phifer. And rookie Richard Seymour became the new right end while Bobby Hamilton flipped to the left

    “Something happened with Brady that happens with many great players, the team’s fortunes change. They won the Super Bowl that year and then two of the next 3”

    The final drive of Super Bowl XXXVIII. Brady’s first three passes are to J.R. Redmond, two of which were check downs and Redmond did all the heavy lifting, including just getting out of bounds to stop the clock with 33 seconds left and no timeouts left

    The biggest play of the drive was the 23-yard catch to Troy Brown. Rams rushed just three, giving Brady all sorts of time to thrown. Brown managed to find a hole in coverage despite eight being in coverage and ran out of bounds untouched

    Short pass to Wiggins. Vinatieri kicks the game-winner

    Redmond, Brown, Wiggins, Vinatieri and the offensive line all played huge roles in the game-winning drive, but the narrative was that Brady led them to the title. All credit to him for being poised on that final drive, and he’s an all-time great, but it took a whole lot of guys to make that last drive successful

    “Flacco is the only guy to beat Brady at home when Brady had a halftime lead”

    Oh, dear Lord. Flacco didn’t beat Brady. Baltimore beat New England

    Football is a team game, no matter how often folks want to make it all about the quarterback. It requires 11 dudes being (as close to) in sync. Yes, it’s the most important position, but it, as Lombardi so correctly opined, they get too much credit and too much blame

    (There’s no dumber stat in football than a QB’s won-loss record)

    Praise the maker that the RINGS > LOGIC crowd don’t pollute other sports like they do with football. Imagine if they applied the same pretzel logic they use for quarterbacks to, say, baseball

    “Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams were better than Tom Seaver and Willie Mays because they won multiple titles while those chokers Seaver and Mays only won one each and ruined their legacies.”

    Well done feature, Chase. Appreciate you bringing up Starr given that the RINGS > LOGIC crowd forgets/ignores him. Ditto Otto Graham and Terry Bradshaw

  • Howard

    Manning is a great quarterback. He has always been surrounded by fine offensive talent. He has always had an average defense, be it Indy or Denver. He can certainly outscore the opposition most times. But, as last week demonstrated, a one sided team even with a super quarterback rarely if ever can beat a talented, balanced club. Seattle was better in all three phases.

    Manning did not play smart, however. He forced throws and paid for it. Just like against the Saints, he threw a pick-six and those are usually fatal. Perhaps being a “game manager” last week would have been better! Who knows?

  • Ajit

    What I find amazing is manning has had every sort of situational force argument hurled against him and he dispelled them all. “He plays in a DOME!” Funny, he just had the best statistical season for a qb playing outdoors. Oh, and his playoffs on the afc side were fantastic(both, outdoor games). “He can’t beat tom brady or the pats” Yup, that’s held up. “His offensive talent is what makes him” Except, he succeeded after harrison left, after edge left. He went to a team that had a running style gimmick offense and molded it into the best pass offense two straight years. “He is a playoff choker who can’t win the big one!” Except he did.

    The other thing that puzzles me is the statement, “I don’t care what he does in the regular season, wake me up when he gets there.” Excuse me but, since when were the playoffs guaranteed in the nfl? The browns have been to the playoffs once in their lifetime. The lions have been there once in over a decade. The raiders and bills have already pushed past that decade mark. Drew brees(an elite awesome qb) has missed the playoffs three times since he’s been with the saints. Eli(the clutch) manning has missed the playoffs numerous times. So has Favre. So has Unitas. So has many other great qbs. Aside from one year in 2001, he has made the playoffs EVERY SINGLE YEAR he’s played. I don’t get how that accomplishment is now used against him.

    Alas, there is still that crowd that points to his lone sb ring. To them I ask, and this is open to anyone who wishes to respond, think through the logic of what that question ultimately implies. IT seems to me, it implies that hes a playoff chocker. That he lacks something in his dna to rise to the occasion. And that come playoff time, his nerves get to him, he tightens, and just fails. To those people, I want to know, do you REALLY believe that’s true? That Manning truly cannot handle the playoffs?

    If that is what is believed, then so be it. Stats will be ignored. Narratives born and opinions swayed. In the end though, I suspect deep down, even manning’s biggest detractors feared that he would get his 2nd ring. And that’s the ultimate test. If he was truly a playoff choker, there would be no reason to doubt what might happen.

  • RD Reynolds

    @Ned: “New England also went 11-5 when Brady went down in 2006 and Cassel took over. Cassel’s best success was with Belichick, too

    (Compare that to how Indianapolis went to ruin when Manning went down)”

    What most people forget is that the 2008 Patriots (as did the rest of the AFC East) played a weak AFC West and NFC West (where neither division had 10+ win teams).

    The 2011 Colts, OTOH, played a tough AFC North and NFC South, and knew they were finished without Manning (Tom Moore once said, “If ’18’ goes down, we’re fucked, and we don’t practice fucked.”)

    One could say that it’s more about Cassel vs. Collins/Painter/Orlovsky.

    • Trepur

      Cassel went 10-6 in Kansas City 2 years later, so he had success elsewhere. Meanwhile Collins/Painter/Orlovsky won a combined 0 games outside of Indianapolis.

      And I also like to emphasize strength of schedule:
      2007 Patriots go 16-0 on the 7th hardest schedule
      2008 Patriots go 11-5 on the 28th hardest schedule