NOTE: This story originally ran Oct. 31, 2014, two days before the Broncos-Patriots game; all stats below have been updated to reflect outcome of New England's 43-21 victory over Denver on Sunday.
Short version: Brady is Manning's statistical equal, despite playing his entire career outdoors with inferior talent, Brady puts up more points, wins more consistently than any QB in history, typically beats Manning head to head even with inferior teams, and doesn't shit the bed every year in the playoffs.
The Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning debate has dominated the interwebs now for at least a decade. The debate will continue for decades to come after the careers of these two all-time greats are over.
But for those people devoted to the stats, the data, the truth; for those people devoted to the Cold, Hard Football Facts, there is no debate: Tom Brady is an empirically superior quarterback.
Here's the long version the story.
Brady and Manning are statistical equals; one's just played longer
The average Brady-Manning debate typically breaks down along this fault-line: Brady wins, but Manning is statisticaly superior.
Manning, for example, set the all-time touchdown pass record two weeks ago, and will soon own almost every single individual passing record.
Brady is not exactly chopped liver in the stat department, folks. He is right now fourth all-time in career TD passes (381) and is fifth in passing yards (51,541). Based on likely expectations, Brady will finish his career in the Top 3 or even Top 2 all-time in most major passing categories. It's unlikely he'll catch Manning's totals. But the notion that Brady is statistically inferior is a fabrication.
Manning's prolific records are largely volume stats – stats based upon how long and how often you play. Hell, Vinny Testaverde is an all-time top 10 quarterback if we rely on volume numbers. Even someone who believes in the myth that Manning > Brady would not put Testaverde on their all-time Top-10 list. He's just a guy who played a long time.
When it comes to volume stats, remember Manning has played three more seasons and 46 more games than Brady. His career has been nearly 25 percent longer than Brady's. Manning has attempted 1,841 more passes – nearly 27 percent more pass attempts than Brady.
Of course Manning boasts gaudier volume stats. He's played longer and thrown the ball far more often!
When we look instead at the two quarterbacks based upon averages, percentages and efficiency; in other words, when we look at them on an even playing field, their statistical careers are much, much closer than anyone realizes.
- Brady: 63.5% completions, 7.4 YPA, 5.5% TDs, 2.0% INTs, 96.1 rating
- Manning: 65.5% completions, 7.7 YPA, 5.9% TDs, 2.6% INTs, 97.7 rating
Manning's average attempt over the course of his career gains a 3/10 of 1 yard more than Brady's average career attempt. Over the course of 1,000 attempts, Manning will throw four more TD passes, but also 6 more INTs. In fact, the biggest single statistical difference between the two is that Manning is more likely to throw picks. Brady's ability to care for the ball as well or better than any QB in history is one major reason he's the greatest winner in the history of the game – and Manning is not.
As we've shown over the years, INTs have a direct impact on wins and losses. And Manning throws them more often.
Otherwise, we're talking a razor-thin margin in statistical performance between the two QBs. The difference in their career ratings, 1.6 points in favor of Manning, amounts to a couple pass attempts over the course of an entire season.
Despite the belief that one player continually puts up better individual stats, the reality is that there is no discernible statistical different between Brady and Manning game in and game out.
Brady plays outdoors in shitty-weather towns; Manning padded his stats playing most of his career in a dome
Brady has spent his entire career playing outdoors in Foxboro, one of the coldest and snowiest cities in the NFL, with a division schedule that includes the howling winds of Giants and MetLife Stadiums and the famously treacherous weather of Buffalo.
Manning spent much of his career playing in the cozy dome of Indianapolis, with a warm, soft division schedule that included the southern cities of Nashville and Jacksonville, plus the dome of Houston.
- Brady has played 92% of his games outdoors (185 of 202)
- Manning has played 49% of his games outdoors (122 of 248)
As we saw in New England's win Sunday night, Brady is all but impervious to the elements, playing well no matter the conditions. Manning, as we saw also on Sunday night, is simply not the same player when it gets cold. How can Manning be better, when he has such a hole in his game?
Sunday was Manning's first game this year in less-than-ideal conditions (wind, cold): He responded with his least efficient (80.9 rating) and and least accurate (59.7%) effort of the season. It was also his least efficient and least accurate regular-season passing performance since last year at New England (70.4 rating; 52.8%).
When we look at the razor thin margin of individual stat production that exists between the two quarterbacks, we can only wonder what they might look like if Manning played his entire career outdoors in nasty-weather towns and Brady spent his entire career at home in a dome.
We do know this: Brady is virtually unstoppable in a dome, outpacing Manning in accuracy, average per attempt, TD percentage and nearly 7 points better in overall efficiency.
Brady in a dome: 67.4%, 8.64 YPA, 6.9% TD, 2.62% INT, 106.42 rating
Manning in a dome: 66.16%, 7.8 YPA, 6.1% TD, 2.4% INT, 99.72 rating
Brady outdoors: 63.15%, 7.35 YPA, 5.39% TD, 1.93% INT, 95.28 rating
Manning outdoors: 64.97%, 7.62 YPA, 5.66% TD, 2.63% INT, 95.83 rating
Based upon all the data at hand, it's very reasonable and logical to declare that Tom Brady's would be statistically superior in every passing category had he the luxury of playing more than half his career in a dome, and had Manning played most of his career in bad-weather northern cities.
Brady puts more points in the board; in fact, he leads the greatest offensive machine in the history of football
Individual stats are nice. At the end of the day, playing quarterback is all about putting your team in a position to score points and win games.
And despite all the accolades for individual stat dominance heaped upon Manning, and despite the fact Manning has spent most of his career playing indoors and surrounded by more talent, Brady has led the greater offensive teams.
- Brady's teams score an average of 28.2 PPG
- Manning's teams score an average of 27.3 PPG
- Brady's teams average 452.5 points per season (full 16-game seasons)
- Manning's teams average 434.9 points per season (full 16-game seasons)
Brady's Patriots are the only franchise in the history of football to score 500+ points in four different seasons. With an NFL-best 281 points scored yet again, nine games into the 2014 season, they are on pace to reach 500 points for a record fifth time. .
Peyton Manning's teams have scored 500+ points just twice in 16 seasons.
For a little perspective, only 10 franchises have topped 500 points even once in their history. Brady's Patriots have topped 500 points 4 times in the last 6 seasons alone, and may make it 5 for 7 here in 2014.
Brady's teams have produced an average of 5.0 non-offensive touchdowns per season; Manning's just 3.5. But it's not enough to explain the 17.6 point-per-season advantage enjoyed by Brady's teams.
The result either way is advantage Brady: his teams score more points and win more games.
Peyton Manning has been surrounded by more offensive talent; Brady gets by playing with tackling dummies at wide receiver
Peyton Manning began his career with the luxury of legendary Hall of Fame dual-threat RB Marshall Faulk in the backfield and prolific Hall of Fame WR Marvin Harrison out wide. He's been paired with a long list of Pro Bowl performers throughout his career, including here in 2014.
Brady only briefly had a marquee ball carrier in his backfield, Corey Dillion for a couple seasons in the mid-2000s. He's rarely had a marquee wide receiver as a battery mate, Randy Moss for three seasons and that's it. That tandem merely set the all-time TD pass-catch record with 23 scores in 2007. He's currently paired with arguably the best tight end in the game in Rob Gronkowski. But downfield threats are and have been few and far betwen for Brady.
Otherwise, Brady has handed the ball off to no-name running backs and thrown to midget, no-name wide receivers. Hell, Brady turned special teamer Wes Welker into the most productive pass catcher in football history.
That same Welker can barely get on the field in Denver, where Manning is surrounded by a cast of Pro Bowl performers wherever he looks.
In fact, Brady's top wide receiver in the Week 9 win over Denver, and throughout the season, was former small-time college quarterback Julian Edelman. He was a 7th-round draft pick in 2009 converted to special teamer than wide receiver. Edelman tested the free-agent market this off-season and found little interest, re-signing with the Patriots.
Manning's top weapon this year is Demaryius Thomas, a blue-chip talent and 2010 first-round draft pick.
Yet, still, despite the dearth of talent, Brady puts up the same stats and, more importantly, produces more points and victories.
Brady is more likely to share the wealth
Tom Brady will never catch Peyton Manning's all-time touchdown record. He probably won't play long enough to challenge it. Plus, he spreads the ball around more.
- 70.3% of the offensive TDs scored by Manning teams have come via the pass (523 of 744)*
- 65.5% of the offensive TDs scored by Brady teams have come via the pass (388 of 592)*
If Brady kept the ball in his hands as often as Manning, he'd already be over 400 TD passes and we'd hear much lesss about Manning's alleged statisitcal superiority.
Of course, Brady's share-the-wealth strategy has paid team-wide dividends. As noted above, Brady's teams consistently score more points than Manning's teams.
Brady, by the way, has spread his 381 TD passes among a record 54 different pass catchers; many of them the long-forgotten, short-term journeymen he's been forced to play with over his career.
Manning has targeted 45 different receivers with his 515 TD passes.
*Totals include TDs by back-up QBs in rare spot replacement appearances for each player
Peyton Manning has played with plenty of strong, Super Bowl-caliber defenses
Manning played with really bad defenses in his rookie season of 1998 and again in 2001. Brady played with a strong defense in his debut season of 2001 and a great defense in 2003.
Those first impressions created storylines that linger today: the average fan says Manning's career has been burdened by terrible defenses, while Brady has benefited from the defensive genius of Bill Belichick.
The reality, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, are quite a bit different. The 2005 Colts boasted the No. 2 defense in football, surrendering just 15.4 PPG on their way to a 14-2 record.
The 2005 Colts, with Peyton Manning and an elite defense, went one-and-done in the playoffs, losing 21-18 at home when Manning and the offense struggled to get into gear and, indeed, had produced just a single field goal through three quarters.
Remember the 16-0 Patriots of 2007? Well, it was Peyton Manning's Colts which boasted the league's No. 1 defense that year, surrendering just 16.4 PPG. Those 2007 Colts, which paired Peyton Manning with the best defense in football, also failed to win a single playoff game. The heavily favored Colts lost at home 28-24 to the Chargers.
Manning in that game threw picks on consecutive possessions inside Chargers territory, including one with the ball sitting at the San Diego 4 yard line.
The 2012 Broncos paired Peyton Manning with the league's No. 4 scoring defense; yet again, that team failed to win a single playoff game. Manning threw a pick-six and an ugly overtime INT to seal Denver's fate in a 38-35 loss to the Ravens.
Including this season, Manning has played with seven different defenses that ranked in the Top 8 in scoring. Brady has played with eight different defenses that ranked in the Top 8 in scoring.
Manning's teams have surrendered an average of 21.4 PPG; Brady's teams 18.8 PPG. But Manning has played with Super Bowl-caliber defenses throughout his career, nearly as often as Brady.
Each quarterback has played once with the best defense in football. Brady rode that defense to 15 straight victories and a Super Bowl title during the 2003 season; Manning shit the bed with that defense and went one-and-done in the playoffs during the 2007 season.
Tom Brady is the greatest winner in the history of football
The NFL is very simple at the end of the day. You win when your quarterback plays better than the other guy's quarterback. And Brady's teams have won more often and more consistently than any other team in the history of football.
Brady is the top quarterback in NFL history in terms of win percentage, win-loss differential, home win percentage and away win percentage.
However you want to cut it, Tom Brady wins more often and more consistently than any quarterback who's ever played. The only QB who even challenges for that title is Otto Graham, who posted a better win percentage but played just six NFL seasons and 71 games (57-13-1; .810). Graham also last played in 1955.
- Brady career record: 155-45 (.775)*
- Manning career record: 173-75 (.698)
- Brady career win-loss differential: +110*
- Manning win-loss differential: +98
- Brady postseason record: 18-8 (.692)
- Manning postseason record: 11-12 (.478)
- Brady postseason win-loss differential: +10*
- Manning postseason win-loss differential: -1
- Brady total record: 173-53 (.765)*
- Manning total record: 184-87 (.679)
- Brady total win-loss differential: +120*
- Manning total win-loss differential: +97
We took a fact-filled look at the Tom Brady victory machine at the start of the season. The numbers are dizzying. The short version is this: no team in the history of North American sports has produced a higher win percentage over a longer period than Brady's Patriots.
Look at it this way: the Patriots could go 12-4 this year, earn the No. 1 or 2 seed in the playoffs, win both playoff games, win the conference title for a record sixth time under one QB, then lose in the Super Bowl ... and Brady's career winning percentage will DECLINE, simply by falling short in the Super Bowl. The pace of victory has been incredible and unprecedented.
* Denotes best mark in the history of football
Tom Brady's teams win head to head
Brady's record includes dominance over Manning's teams. Brady's Patriots are 11-5 against Manning.
Many Manning fans argue that head to head results are not indicative of the qualities of each quarterback. After all, they say, it's a team game and Brady played with better teams.
That's funny. But that's not how the public has looked at these games at the time they were played. In fact, football fans have generally argued with their hard-earned cash money that Manning had the better team. Manning's teams have been favored in 9 of 16 Patriots games, including this week: they were 3-point favoirtes at New England on Sunday.
The Patriots have won outright 5 of those those 8 past games in which Manning's teams were favored. One of the 15 meetings as a pick 'em. The Patriots won that game. The Patriots have been favored against Manning only six times. They are 5-1 in those six games.
- Manning's team favored: Patriots 5-4 straight up
- Pick 'em: Patriots 1-0 straight up
- Patriots favored: Patriots 5-1
- Head to head record: Patriots 11 wins, Manning team 5 wins
Bottom line: saying that Brady played on better teams is revisionist hsitory. The point-spread, which is nothing more than a reflection of what the pigskin public thinks about each team, has argued more often than not that Manning's teams were better.
Tom Brady's teams win more playoff games
Brady has appeared in more playoff games (26) and won more playoff games (18) than any QB in NFL history. Manning, by comparison, has a losing record in the postseason (11-12) – a mark which stands in sharp contrast to his regular-season success.
Brady has been to more conference championship games than any quarterback in history (eight) and he's tied with John Elway for the most Super Bowl appearances (five).
Manning's most notable postseason team records are most losses (12) and most one-and-done appearances (8). Brady's teams have lost a total of eight playoff games in 26 chances.
The Cold, Hard Reality: Peyton Manning shits the bed every year in the playoffs
Manning is a prolific Hall of Fame quarterback who will be remembered as one of the all-time great.
But the bottom line is that his otherwise brilliant career is burdened by one undeniable weakness: he shits the bed almost every f*cking year in the playoffs. In fact, based upon regular season production and postseason results, Manning is probably the worst Big Game quarterback of all time, always reserving his worst game of the season for the playoffs.
1997 regular season – Manning is dominant in his final season for the Tennessee Volunteers, passing for 36 TD, 11 INT while leading the team to 32.9 PPG in the tough SEC. The best QB in college football finishes No. 2 in the Heisman voting, behind triple-theat performer Charles Woodson.
1997 postseason – Manning produces just a single TD through three quarters and is benched in the fourth quarter as the talent-laden No. 3 Volunteers get smoked by Nebraska, 42-17. Manning completes 21 of 31 for 131 yards, a dismal 4.2 YPA. He is benched in the fourth quarter for Tee Martin, who leads a scoring drive and then leads stacked Tennessee to the national title the following season.
1999 regular season – The Colts roll through the season with a 13-3 record behind second-year phenom Manning. They score 26.4 PPG, third in the NFL.
1999 postseason – Manning completes just 45.2% of his passes with 5.4 YPA and a 62.3 rating as the Colts lose to the Titans, 19-16, playing at home in the Indy dome no less. One and done in the playoffs.
2000 regular season – Manning is brilliant (33 TD, 15 INT, 94.7 rating), while leading the Colts to 26.8 PPG (fourth) and a 10-6 record.
2000 postseason – Manning again struggles to get the ball downfield, completing just 53.1% of his passes for 194 yards, 6.1 YPA and an ordinary 82.0 rating. The Colts lose in Miami, 23-17. One and done in the playoffs.
2002 regular season – The Colts are merely ordinary on offense but go 10-6 and earn a wildcard spot behind one of the league's better defenses: 19.6 PPG (7th). They earn a cushy draw against the 9-7 AFC East champion Jets.
2002 postseason – Manning and the Colts come up lame in one of the most dismal offensive performances in modern playoff history. He completes 45.2% of his passes for 137 yards, 4.4 YPA, 0 TD, 2 INT and a 31.2 rating. The Colts are embarrassed by the 9-7 Jets, 41-0. One and done in the playoffs.
2003 regular season – The Colts explode for 27.9 PPG (2nd) on their way to a 12-4 record and the AFC South crown. Manning wins his first NFL MVP award, sharing the honor with Steve McNair.
2003 postseason – MVP Manning finally enjoys his first postseason success leading the Colts to the AFC title game with a pair of brilliant playoff performances against the Broncos and Chiefs. Then his statistical chariot turned into a pumpkin, with four picks and a 35.5 rating in an ugly 24-14 loss at New England.
2004 regular season – MVP Manning sets the football world abuzz, throwing a record 49 TD passes while leading the Colts to 522 points and a 12-4 record. Manning wins his second consecutive league MVP award.
2004 postseason – Manning is brilliant against the Broncos in the wildcard round, as he was the year before. Then the NFL MVP shits the bed against the Patriots, with just 5.7 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT and a 69.3 rating in a 20-3 loss. Compared to regular-season production, it is arguably the worst offensive performance in the history of the NFL postseason – at least to that point.
2005 regular season – The mighty Colts are teed up on both sides of the ball to win the Super Bowl: No. 2 in scoring offense (27.4 PPG); No. 2 in scoring defense (15.4), on their way to a brilliant 14-2 record and No. 1 seed in the AFC. It sets up a week rest and a home game against the 11-5 Steelers. By now you know how this story ends.
2005 postseason – Manning didn't exactly shit the bed. But after another brilliant regular season, the offense struggles with its worst performance of the year, producing just 3 points through three quarters. The Colts lose at home to the Steelers, 21-18. One and done in the playoffs.
2006 regular season – The Colts score 26.7 PPG (2nd) on their way to a 12-4 record.
2006 postseason – Proving that even a blind squirrel can find a nut, Manning throws 3 TDs and 7 INTs in four postseason games, but bumbles his way to his only Super Bowl victory behind Indy's brilliant defensive play (16.3 PPG in postseason). He posts the lowest playoff passer rating of any Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
2007 regular season – The defending champs roll through the season with a 13-3 record behind a prolific offense (28.1 PPG; 3rd) and the league's best defense (16.4 PPG; 1st).
2007 postseason – Manning passes for 402 yards and 3 TDs against the visiting Chargers. But the game turns on two costly INTs in San Diego territory at the end of the first half and at the start of the second half. His third-quarter pass was picked off at the San Diego 3, costing the team critical points in a 28-24 loss. One and done in the playoffs.
2008 regular season – The Colts go 12-4, led by a defense that's No. 7 in the NFL in scoring (18.6 PPG). They go on the road in the wildcard round, but get another gimme draw against the 8-8 AFC West champion Chargers. With foil Tom Brady out all year with an injury, the path is paved for Manning and the Colts to win their second Super Bowl.
2008 postseason – Manning doesn't shit the bed. But he hardly looks like the NFL's Most Valuable Player against the average San Diego defense. The Colts struggle to find a groove in a 23-17 loss. One and done in the playoffs.
2009 regular season – The balanced Colts go 14-2 behind a strong offense (7th in scoring) and defense (8th), and another MVP performance by Manning (33 TD, 16 INT, 99.9 rating).
2009 postseason – Manning advances to the Super Bowl for the second time in his career. The MVP has a chance to tie the game and cement his legend in the fourth quarter. Instead, his pass his picked off by Tracy Porter, who returns it 74 yards for the game-clinching score. Colts lose to the Saints, 31-17, as Manning is outplayed by Drew Brees.
2010 regular season – The Colts struggle through a 10-6 season, but it's still enough to win the AFC South. Manning throws 33 TD passes and again leads one of the best offenses in football (27.2 PPG).
2010 postseason – Manning plays well, passing for 225 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT and a 108.7 rating on 26 attempts. But his team, as usual, suddenly struggles to score points in a critical game. The Colts lose at home to the Jets, 17-16. One and done in the playoffs.
2012 regular season – Manning's first year in Denver is a great success. The Broncos are stacked on both sides of the ball (No. 2 scoring offense; No. 4 scoring defense), go 13-3 and earn the AFC's No. 1 seed.
2012 postseason – Manning threw a pick-six and an ugly Favre-esque across-his-body overtime INT to seal Denver's fate in a 38-35 loss to the Ravens. The Broncos fail to win a game in which they produced two special teams touchdowns. One and done in the playoffs.
2013 regular season – The Broncos dominate the NFL behind Manning's fifth MVP performance. He throws a record 55 TD passes while leading the first 600-point team in NFL history (606).
2013 postseason – Manning takes shitting the bed to new levels in Super Bowl XLVIII. Hell, he shit all over the floor and the walls, too. Wide-eyed Manning muffs the first snap of the game, handing the Seahawks a gift 2-0 lead. He's picked off in Seattle territory later in the first quarter, and throws a pick-six at the end of the first half.
The greatest offense in NFL history is shutout for nearly three quarters, behind Manning's worst game of the season (5.7 YPA, 73.5 rating). The Denver offense, after scoring 37.9 PPG in the regular season, is humiliated in a 43-8 loss. It is easily the worst postseason offensive performance relative to regular season success in the Super Bowl Era, replacing Manning's 2004 Colts for that dishonor.
So there you have it, folks: Brady produces similar stats, more points and more victories. He's won more playoff games and more Super Bowls. And he doesn't shit the bed every year in the playoffs. Brady, in other words, is better by every meaningful empirical measure.