Pages Navigation Menu

Manning vs Brady, The Ultimate Comparison Part IV: The Final Verdict

Manning vs Brady, The Ultimate Comparison Part IV: The Final Verdict

by Steve Caronia

Sunday January 19, 2014 will be a glorious day to be a football fan.  At 3pm EST, we’ll all be able to watch another installment of Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning.  It’s an unusual sort of match up; how often do you get to see 2 athletes who are in the conversation for greatest of all-time at what they do compete against one another?  Manning and Brady will be linked to one another for as long as people will talk about football.  They’re like DiMaggio and Williams, Russel and Chamberlain, Bird and Magic, Hogan and Savage.


You know they belong in that group.

This week, the Brady-Manning comparisons have reached a fever pitch.  Most things I’ve read throw junk stats around or talk about wins and losses as if the other 104 players and every coach involved don’t exist.

I’m trying to change that.

Before we move on, check out the first 3 parts:

Part I: The Defenses

Part II: Running Backs and Offensive Lines.

Part III:The Playoffs

Now that we’ve looked at the moving parts not related to the passing game, let’s look at Brady and Manning themselves.

The Numbers

Everyone loves numbers.  We are stats-obsessed, and the data gets more and more specific and convoluted.  We love boiling down immense, complex scenarios into a nice little number.  I’ve used a lot of numbers so far in this series, but I don’t think they’re the be all and end all.  Having said that, they can tell a decent portion of the story.  But we need some context.

Let’s start with basic numbers.  Here’s a quick chart of their conventional career stats. The top row is Brady, the bottom, Manning:

A quick glance will tell you that Manning’s the winner, but by a moderate margin.  Although Manning’s got way more total TDs and passing yards, their percentages and per game numbers are really close.

What does this mean to you? Yes, Manning’s got a moderate edge, but so what? These are regular season conventional numbers, big deal.

Let’s dig deeper.  Here’s their QBR and DYAR:

          Manning QBR      Brady QBR      Manning DYAR           Brady DYAR
2001 965 491
2002 1076 780
2003 1891 698
2004 2434 1345
2005 1636 1405
2006 87.2 62.4 2317 999
2007 78.4 87.1 1721 2674
2008 79.8                 —– 1554                       —–
2009 82.9 65.1 1771 2021
2010 69 76.9 1400 1918
2011                        —– 72.7                     —– 1997
2012 84.1 77.1 1805 2035
2013 82.9 61.1 1630 352


Advantage, Manning.  If you dig the advanced metrics, Manning wins hands down.  The question is: why?

There are 3 main reasons this could happen.  First is because Manning is just…better.  Second is that Manning was relied upon to do more and thereby inflated his numbers a little bit when compared to Brady.  Third is that Manning had better weapons around him and was able to accomplish more as a result.  Or, and I think we all know the answer here, is that it is a combination of the last two, which then puts number one into question again.

Just like Brady’s superior playoff record is a result of a confluence of many factors, so are Manning’s numbers.  Until he starts drafting his own team, blocking, and throwing passes to himself, Manning’s (and Brady’s) number are somewhat a result of other elements.

Peyton Manning was drafted number 1 overall.  The Colts knew he was going to be the man for them for at least a little while.  As time went on, it became clear that the Colts main objectives were to keep Manning upright and give him plenty of weapons to keep him happy.  In the drafts since Manning had been a Colt, Indy used 8 of 13 1st round picks on offensive players.  Compare that to the Patriots, who used 9 of 13 first round picks on defensive players.

This speaks not to Manning’s bevy of weapons as much as to the respective philosophies of the Colts and Patriots.  For the Colts, this was PEYTON’S TEAM.  The pressure was on him to lead and make things happen or they didn’t happen.  For the Patriots, this was BELICHICK’S TEAM.  Brady was the Darth Vader to Belichick’s Emperor.  Peyton was the Colts’ Death Star.


You can kind of see the resemblance in this one.

Look what happened to the Pats when Brady went down with an ACL tear.  Matt Cassell (!) began his elaborate process of stealing money from the Kansas City Chiefs by playing exceptionally well and nearly winning the division.  This was a master stroke of Belichick.  People talk about him having Troy Brown masquerading as a corner, but having Cassell masquerade as a legit starting NFL QB was his greatest trick. This is no slight to Tom Brady in a vacuum.  But name another coach who can do the things that Belichick does under these circumstances?

In sum, Manning’s numbers are better.  But maybe they are better because the Colts made damn well sure they would be that good.  The Patriots made sure they had balance and the world’s greatest evil genius pulling their strings.  So we have to give Peyton the edge here, but just like Brady’s playoff record, we need to think about why.

The Intangibles and “Clutchness”

I’m not going to dwell on this too much because I think I made my point about this in Part III.  But let’s talk a little about being “clutch”.  Whether or not a player is clutch is a fascinating phenomenon because once you are labeled as clutch or not-clutch it takes and act of God to change that perception. Our own Jim Derochea compared Derek Jeter to Tom Brady in terms of having that “unique drive and that intangible, ” ‘winner’ quality you can’t quantify with numbers”.  He’s not wrong.  A rookie performing a game winning drive to win a Super Bowl as 10-point underdogs and “The Flip Play” aren’t done by mere mortals.  But does that carry through for all-time?  Has Jeter had as many Mr. November moments in the last 7-8 years?  Has Brady replicated his early magic?

For Brady, the answer is no.  According to Pro-Football Reference, Brady hasn’t had a playoff game winning drive or comeback since 2006.  He’s still productive, but the idea that he is infallible is just not true. He’s had several playoff stinkers (again more of this is in Part III).

This brings us to Manning and how he still, despite being tied for the all-time NFL record in game winning drives, is seen as not clutch.  To some degree, he has earned this.  The biggest issue is that he’s had some explosively bad single moments. This is where he differs from Brady, who’s only awful 4th quarter moment in a close game resulted in a Patriots win anyway.  So Manning gives people the jitters a bit.

I truly believe this phenomenon relates back to the Colts’ reliance on Manning for so much.  You can tell Manning presses sometimes, especially with the game on the line.  Many times, it works out.  Others, not so much.  But deep down, he knows he doesn’t have a Belichickian defense to have his back.  He knows he’s the straw that stirs the drink.  He HAS to make plays or the ship is sunk.

As for Brady, the man doesn’t seem to get jitters.  Why? Part of it is innate, but I bet most of it is from coming into the league without having to shoulder the load of leadership.  In a recent ESPN article on the hypothetical scenario of Brady and Manning switching identities, Ty law said the following:

“Peyton would have more support on our team, and that would have leveled the playing field. We had so many leaders, particularly on defense. Tom didn’t have that pressure to lead. On our team, Peyton would have relaxed a little bit more.”

Food for thought.  While I think the difference is grossly overblown, Brady always seems cooler when the chip are down. Which leads us up to…

The Final Verdict…?

We’ve weighed everything.  All the numbers, wins & losses, intangibles, teammates, everything but what level they’re up to in Candy Crush.  Unfortunately, the water is still pretty murky.  It’s too close to call.

So, I guess you’ll just have to watch them play. (AWTFGP will help guide you)

I’m not going to write an advanced scouting report.  It’s been done by people who are way smarter than me.  Both have amazing arms, both in terms of strength and accuracy.  Both have nearly perfect pocket presence. Both are amazing at exploiting weaknesses and finding open players.

But there’s a major difference, and I can sum it up in two sentences.

Tom Brady does all the things a modern amazing QB does and does them as well as anyone, ever.  Peyton Manning does everything a modern amazing QB does AND what quarterbacks from 60 years ago did.

Simply put, Manning controls his offense like no quarterback today and maybe like no quarterback to ever play the game.  Sure, Slingin’ Sammy Baugh and the great Johnny Unitas called their own plays.  But to do it today? With the ridiculous snap counts? The audibles? The posturing? The Omaha madness?

Brady just doesn’t do all those things.  He never has.  He runs a great no-huddle.  He does his share of checking out of a play.  His play-fakes are second to none.  But Manning is like having an offensive coordinator and QB rolled into one person.  He is the framework for the entire offense, not a vehicle for it to be carried out.

That is why I take Peyton Manning over Tom Brady.  Manning’s brain is a freak of nature.  I know he’s made some mistakes.  I know Brady has more wins.  But a lot more goes into those two variables than most people want to remember.


Steve Caronia is a New York City based physical Therapist. He can’t wait to get more New England Fanboy hate-tweets!