Let me say this: What happens today won’t change anything. If Peyton Manning wins the AFC Championship game, as a solid favorite on his home field with a superior supporting cast, he won’t suddenly be a better quarterback than Tom Brady.
He can close the gap, that’s all.
My opinion is well-established on the matter. I’ve considered Brady the best quarterback of all time since he won his third Super Bowl at 27. It would be easier to argue his case against Joe Montana if the Patriots had won another Bowl or two in the intervening years.
But this isn’t about Brady-Montana. It’s Brady vs. Manning, and while it makes for vigorous debate, it’s not that close.
Manning has the better career statistics. He has about 15,000 more regular-season passing yards than Brady, 132 more TDs. He has also attempted 1,866 more passes. If you want to hand the prize to the guy who throws it more, go right ahead.
As Bills fans know, the stats say Dan Marino was far superior to Jim Kelly. Hey, Drew Bledsoe and Kerry Collins had more career passing yards than Montana.
On closer examination, the stats aren’t so clear-cut. Manning has a slight edge in career completion percentage (65.5 to 63.4) and passer rating (97.2 to 95.7). Manning had a modest edge in TD passes per game; he has a higher interception rate than Brady.
Now take them out of their home stadiums. Brady’s raw passing stats are better away from Foxborough. Manning’s are worse outside the dome. In fact, Brady has a slightly higher yards per attempt (7.62 to 7.58) and QB rating (95.1 to 94.4) than Manning on the road.
Maybe I’m nitpicking, but it beats the tiresome argument that Brady is overrated, a system quarterback, because the Pats went 11-5 with Matt Cassel in 2008. Yeah, and I’m sure Cassel would have been 61-19 the last five years, too.
Manning resents the notion that he’s bad in the cold. But in freezing conditions, the stats show Brady has been far better. In November, Brady soundly outplayed him in the winds at Foxborough. Manning threw for 150 yards, the only time he was held below 250 this season.
Where they play matters. For most of his career, Manning played his home games in a dome and a lot of road games in the South after the Colts left the AFC East in 2002. Manning has poor road stats against the three northern teams in his old division:
In six games in Buffalo, Manning has averaged 173 yards passing, with four TDs and four interceptions. In 11 career games in Foxborough, he has 19 TD passes and 22 interceptions. In five games at the Jets, he has completed 53.8 percent of his passes with five TDs and nine picks.
So in 22 road games at Buffalo, New England and the Jets, Manning has 28 TD passes and 35 interceptions. I’m guessing he was happy to jump to the AFC South. Playing one game a year in Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville didn’t hurt.
But the stat that matters the most is wins. Brady has a regular-season record of 148-43. His winning percentage (.775) is easily the best of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Manning is third at .696. He would need five straight unbeaten seasons to catch up.
Brady is 18-7 in the playoffs. Today will be his eighth title game appearance in 12 seasons (discounting the year he was hurt). That’s amazing, when you consider his constantly shifting offensive cast and the lack of elite receiving options at various points in his career.
He’s 10-4 against Manning. Quarterbacks can’t guard one another, the way Bill Russell did Wilt Chamberlain. It’s fashionable to say Brady had great defenses early on. But he was a better passer than Manning in those games, and his team won.
It’s funny how people will attack Brady for not winning more Super Bowls, while rationalizing Manning’s 10-11 playoff record and unprecedented eight one-and-dones in the postseason. Hey, it wasn’t all his fault!
Winning in the playoffs is hard. Defenses are better. Brady has struggled in recent times, especially against defenses that rush him up the middle and force him out of his usual rhythm.
But if it’s “all about the quarterback,” and you need an elite guy to contend for the championship, how do you not like Brady? He’s played the game’s most vital position, improving as the years went along, and won more than any QB in the modern era.
So to summarize: Manning’s statistical edge isn’t nearly what it appears to be; he played in more favorable conditions; Brady has a better record head-to-head, overall and in the playoffs; he has three Super Bowls to Manning’s one. Manning has had better skill players around him for the most part. Brady had one great year with Randy Moss and went 18-1. He would have won the Bowl two years ago if Rob Gronkowski had been healthy.
Brady has the intangibles. He doesn’t stand at the line, gesticulating and yelling “Omaha.” But he’s one of the best ever at reading defenses, getting his team into the right play, and moving to gain time in the pocket.
Stats can’t always reflect what you do in the clutch. Manning hasn’t risen to the big playoff moment often enough. Like Favre, he has a way of making the bad throw at the critical time – like his late interception against the Saints in the Super Bowl four years ago.
It boils down to this: If you needed to win one football game, which guy would you want in his prime? It’s an easy call. Brady.