Who's Better: Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?
Just like the media tells us, quarterbacks - not teams - win football games. Right?
Tom Brady's won 10 of 14 contests against Peyton Manning, including last night's thriller in Foxboro. Tom Brady's won three Super Bowls, while Manning's only lifted the Lombardi once. Tom Brady's won a higher percentage of his games than Peyton Manning has. And, perhaps most importantly, Tom Brady doesn't have a fivehead.
Brady's clearly the better passer. Right?
Not so fast. While win-loss records can tell part of a quarterback's success story, advanced metrics can tell us just as much. And when it comes to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, rings and victories may not mean everything.
Manning vs. Brady: The Numbers
Perhaps you're new to the site and unaware, but here at numberFire, we look at a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP). Unlike traditional statistics, NEP looks at game situations and down-and-distances to provide context around numbers. You can read more about the metric in our glossary.
Passing NEP, in essence, looks at how many points a player is adding to his team's bottom line through the air. We'd expect two studs like Manning and Brady to have high Passing NEP scores, while someone like Mark Sanchez would score below zero, making him a detriment to his offense (no surprise there).
Since 2001 - Tom Brady's first year as starter - Brady and Manning have put together some of the most prolific seasons we've ever seen under the metric. Thanks to the boss man, Nik Bonaddio, the results, listed by Passing NEP, are below.
In all, Manning owns four of the top-six Passing NEP seasons between the two, and seven of the top 10. And he's been more consistent. Since 2003, Manning hasn't finished a single season with a Passing NEP of less than 138.36, while Tommy Boy has seen six seasons under this mark during that time span (excluding his 2008 torn ACL season). To put this in context, a score that high typically places a quarterback in the top five among all NFL passers in a given year.
Though Manning takes the cake (pretty clearly, too) in terms of passing efficiency, it wouldn't be fair to not mention Tom Brady's historic 2007 campaign. His 50-touchdown season with Randy Moss still ranks as the best one our numbers have seen, and although he may not be as reliable as Manning year to year, there've certainly been times where Brady was the better passer.
Manning vs. Brady: The Defenses
Offenses are mostly dictated by quarterback success, and as shown above, Manning has been the more effective quarterback. But again, he doesn't have the winning resume that Tom Brady does.
As I sarcastically pointed out in the intro, the masses want us to believe that quarterbacks win and lose games, not teams. The Ravens didn't win the Super Bowl last year - Joe Flacco did. Though it's the most important position in football, no doubt, we always have to recognize and remember that football is the ultimate team game, and other aspects of a pigskin squad can change a team's overall dynamic. Like the defense.
That's where Brady's benefited most over the course of his career compared to Peyton. Since becoming the starter in New England, Brady's been on teams that have averaged an Adjusted Defensive NEP total of -19.43. Need some context? That average would have placed the Patriots in eighth last year in total defense. And keep in mind, the "adjusted" part of that metric tells us that strength of schedule has been factored into the output.
No defense was better than New England's 2003 version, one that posted an Adj. DNEP score of -153.85. That certainly helps the average, but even so, the majority of Tom Brady's defenses throughout his career have been above average units.
You can't say the same about Peyton Manning. Number 18's defenses could've starred in The Replacements, averaging a 22.01 score across his career. Performing well below average, Manning played with just two defenses that executed above expectation during his time in Indianapolis.
The difference in defensive play has been sizable throughout these two quarterback's careers. If we take these defensive averages, Brady's teams were seeing a 41.44-point advantage across an entire season compared to the Colts, which comes down to nearly a field goal advantage per game. In an NFL where games are won and lost at the last second each weekend, that's pretty significant.
Manning vs. Brady: The Verdict
numberFire CEO and Founder, Nik, made a great comparison that only Canadians may understand. Peyton Manning is the Wayne Gretzky of football, while Tom Brady is the Mario Lemieux. Gretzky was healthier than Mario throughout his career, and certainly put up better numbers, forcing many to call him better. But to plenty of hockey experts, Lemieux was more talented. Lemieux had seasons of absolute greatness, making unskilled players skillful.
That's why this argument will never be won. You're not talking about Christian Ponder vs. Mark Sanchez. You're looking at two quarterbacks with historic pedigrees that are nearly perfect.
It comes down to what you, individually as a football fan, want to put more emphasis on. Is winning with a better supporting cast the most important factor in determining who the better player is? Is it the rings? The Lombardi lifts?
Or is it the player who has done so much with so little defensively, breaking statistical barriers en route to a winning, though not as much winning, career?
As a quarterback, Peyton Manning is better. But as a winner, that may not be the case.