If Eli Beats Brady (Again), Does That Make Him Better?
You know, this article could be very short. I could just write the word "NO" in big letters and post it with a picture of Tom Brady smiling next to his supermodel bed warmer, could probably find one where he's giving a big thumbs up. Granted, a win for Eli Manning in Super Bowl XLVI would officially make him one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the NFL for the last decade, but to think that it makes him a better QB than Brady... well, that's a bit of a reach (or hail mary, if you will). To borrow a line, the difference isn't qualitative, it's quantitative, and Brady's just got more of everything.
Sure, head-to-head match-ups are important in gauging a player's worth and the Super Bowl is the one great stage by which to judge those match-ups, but it is not the summation of an entire career for a player. More importantly, the Giants' defense will be the one out facing Brady on the field and though Manning will have to do work on his own side of the ball, to say that Eli can somehow "beat" Tom without giving credit to the rest of the team on both sides is ridiculous. The first Super Bowl ended on a lucky catch to the helmet and Manning was given less than his due in winning that one, so he needs this win just to be elevated to that elite level QB in the NFL, to be given that respect due Brady and big brother Peyton. Now people are jumping to wonder whether he's better than Tom? Can't we let Eli walk before he runs?
Let's break this argument down to three areas: expectations, numbers, and accolades.
First, there's the expectations out of college, who we thought these two guys would be. With Brady, we're talking about one of the lowest rated quarterbacks coming out of the Combine. He was a backup at Michigan and was taken with a 6th round Draft pick, but it's the things you least expect that can surprise you the most. Since taking the starting role when then superstar Drew Bledsoe went down with injury, Tom has done more in 10 seasons than most, including Eli, could ever do (12 actually, but he was injured in 2008 and didn't play much in 2000, his first year). Say he was lucky to be on good teams, or tell me it was all Coach Bill's system, but Brady is a proven winner who had to fight from anonymity to win respect.
Then, there's Eli. Little Eli who didn't want to play in San Diego when he was taken with the first pick of the 2004 Draft and demanded a trade to New York. He came out in the same Draft as Roethlisberger and Rivers, but was seen as a bust in comparison until he won begrudging acclaim by beating the perfect Patriots in 2007. He didn't even get to start most of his first year, as veteran Kurt Warner was just doing it better and would continue to be the starter until he decided to leave in 2005. Enter Eli and though the growing has been slow, the younger Manning has slowly been growing in confidence and talent until he is now on the cusp of being top 5. However, with the expectations he had coming out of Ole Miss, you'd think there'd have been more movement at the start, a shorter learning curve. Where as Brady seemed comfortable in his first full year, Manning seemed skittish. Though they both put up decent numbers, Tom could win in the big games early, winning his first Super Bowl in 2001, just his second year. If Eli, as a first-rounder, needed to wait until his 4th season to win it all, how can you say he's better than a sixth-round pick winning it in his first season as a starter?
Second, there's the stat-line. Brady didn't put up any significant numbers in 2000 or 2008, so we'll say that he's played ten season to Eli's eight. If you remove Brady's two best seasons (that's this year's record-breaking 5,235 yards and the 2007 perfect season of 4,806 yards), he's still got Manning beat in yards by 2,359 on his career. Take away Brady's TDs from those two years (39 in 2011, 50 in 2007) and Eli still has 26 fewer. Brady in his formative years put up better numbers than Eli did, but it was the mistakes Tom didn't make that elevates his stat-line so much higher. While Tom has never had more than 14 INTs in any season, Eli averages16 per season, has thrown 20+ twice (Brady's high is actually 14), and, as a result, has a lifetime QB rating of 82.1. Tom's QB rating? 96.4.
Brady has thrown over 4,000 yards four times throughout his career, including a 5,000-yard year in 2011, and while Eli is close behind with three 4,000-yard seasons the last three years, two just barely qualify (4,002, 4,021). However, this year's Eli has been a beast and recalls Brady in his prime, picking apart defenses with greater confidence and fewer mistakes. Comparing just this year, you could make the case that Tom, in his 12th year, and Eli, now in his eighth, are at about the same level, but 34-year-old Brady's got four more years of bumps, bruises, and rust and still managed better yards, more TDs, and fewer INTs than the 31-year-old Giants' QB. Even with youth on his side, here are the two stat-lines for 2011 to show that Brady still has the edge.
Manning (2011): 359-589, 4,933 yds, 29 TD, 16 INT, 92.9 rating
Brady (2011): 401-611, 5,235 yds, 39 TD, 12 INT, 105.6 rating.
Finally, awards, accolades and records. Let's start with Manning, who has been a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was the Super Bowl XLII MVP, and holds three records: most 4th quarter TDs in a season (15), most road Playoff wins (5), and has the tie for longest NFL reception for a TD (99 yds). That's it, end of paragraph. He doesn't even hold any of the passer records for New York, let alone hold NFL QB records.
Here's a brief list of some of Tom Brady's records and achievements: seven-time Pro Bowl selection (eight if you count the invite he turned down when he was injured), three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVPs, five AFC Championships (he's 5-0 in the AFC Championship game), two NFL MVPs... NFL records in fewest starts to 100 wins (131), consecutive wins (31 including the postseason), most seasons 8-0 at home (5), only QB to win 3 Super Bowls before his 28th birthday, and touchdown records in 20 categories, including most in a season (50), most in a quarter (5), the highest recorded TD to INT ratio for a career (2.52-1), most games with 3+ TDs (12), and has the most consecutive games with 3+ TDs (10). Not enough you say? He has the most 300+ yard games in a season without an INT (8), has more postseason wins than any other QB (10), is tied with Brees for most completions in a Super Bowl (32), and is tied for most TDs in a Playoff game (6). There's more, but I think my point has been made.
If these two quarterbacks played in their primes at the same time on the exact same teams, Brady would look better come the end of his career. Sure, Eli might be peaking at the present time, finally shaking off that indecision and those big game jitters to start winning consistently, but he's still a little mistake-prone and, too often, had to come back in the fourth to win games. His INTs are still a big question mark (his 16 this year are his second most since the Super Bowl), but he made the right strides the past few years and deserves to be mentioned in the same group as Brady, with or without a second Super Bowl.
If Eli wins XLVI, he'll go to 8-3 in the Playoffs, but previous to losing the Super Bowl in 2007, Brady's Playoff record was 14-2, he just had a bad couple postseasons following, and now it's at 16-5 (still double Eli's). Perhaps Manning isn't better than Brady, even with the potential of putting another ring on his finger this year, but what about Peyton? If Eli grabs another Super Bowl, do we start to ask, "Is Peyton the best quarterback named Manning?"
Interesting, huh? A discussion, perhaps for another time.