Peyton Manning’s NFL journey started as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft and, by all accounts, is ending after Super Bowl 50.
If the reports are true, Manning will go down as the best quarterback in NFL history. Of course, Sunday’s win can be primarily credited to Denver’s defense — Manning’s passer rating was just 56.6 — but regardless, the man just won his second ring to pair with quite the impressive resume.
The two-time Super Bowl champion was named to 14 Pro Bowls and selected to seven first-team all-pro teams. Since the merger, no other quarterback has more than three first-team all-pro nominations. Not Tom Brady. Not Brett Favre. Not even Joe Montana. Manning also won five regular-season most valuable player awards, was named offensive player of the year twice and earned comeback player of the year as well. The Pro Football Hall of Fame named him to their second team all-2000s team.
In addition, Manning is the NFL’s all-time passing yardage (71,940) leader, over 11,000 yards more than Drew Brees, the closest active quarterback in the game today. Manning has also thrown the most career touchdown passes (539), 111 more than Brady and Brees among active players.
Plus, Manning has the second highest adjusted net yards per pass attempt (7.17). Only Aaron Rodgers (7.51) has been more successful.
Manning also leads all quarterbacks in approximate value, Doug Drinen’s method of putting a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year.
So there is no debate that Manning is the best regular-season quarterback to ever put on pads. His playoff performance, on the other hand, is less compelling. However, looks can be deceiving.
Chase Stuart argues that Montana, who is often in the running for best quarterback ever, was not beyond reproach.
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.
And even though Manning has fewer rings than Brady, Manning still deserves to be thought of as the NFL’s best quarterback ever because, according to Adam Steele, Manning has outplayed Brady in the playoffs through the 2004 season, despite not receiving the same team support.
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.
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.
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.
Even before Manning got his second ring he deserved to be looked upon as the NFL’s all-time greatest quarterback. Now that he has ring No. 2, there really shouldn’t be any debate.
More Super Bowl: