A Statistical Look at Peyton Manning's Historic Season
Anyone who’s ever played a football video game has done it.
Go into “Create-A-Player” and make the perfect quarterback. Give him a 99 overall rating with the highest scores possible in every area. Pass blocking footwork? Sure, 99. Kicking accuracy? 99, of course.
Then we watch as our very own Frankenstein’s monster wreaks havoc on defenses, running and throwing his way to NFL records and virtual wins for his make-believe football team.
Usually this kind of superhuman dominance from the quarterback position is reserved only to Madden. Being a quarterback in the NFL isn’t as easy as holding down the “A” button to lob up a deep pass to Jerry Rice’s virtual equivalent over and over.
But in 2007 when Tom Brady set fire to the NFL record books with his dominant performance during the New England Patriots’ perfect regular season, fans in Foxboro got to see first-hand just how dominant a good quarterback can be, and how close their virtual abominations at quarterback were to reality.
And in 2013, the neck-surgery-patient-turned-NFL-MVP Peyton Manning decided that Brady’s numbers weren’t good enough, and that it was time to set a new standard.
What follows are the incredible details of Manning’s historic season from a statistical perspective. I’ll be making references to Net Expected Points, or NEP, which you can learn more about here.
More is Better
Since the year 2000, there have been 20 quarterbacks to surpass 150 Passing Net Expected Points for the season. Three of them achieved this milestone in 2013, but none of them had a higher total PNEP than Peyton Manning did this season.
Manning’s Passing NEP total of 278.52 eclipses Brady’s old mark by just over 19 expected points, and is more than 47 points better than Manning’s previous best.
But just to prove how insanely good these numbers are, let’s provide some perspective.
Manning finished 103 tallies ahead of Drew Brees, who had the second-best total. To put that in its place, only four quarterbacks broke 100 PNEP this season. Peyton Manning’s “margin of victory” would have been the fifth-best quarterback in the NFL, and is higher than the best total his brother Eli has ever managed.
So how did Manning achieve such gaudy statistics?
Quantity and Quality
Among the 20 quarterbacks to earn more than 150 PNEP in a season, Manning’s 677 drop backs ranked third, behind only 2011 and 2013 Drew Brees.
The Broncos knew what they had in Manning, and they’re weren’t afraid to let the future Hall of Famer do what he does best.
But even with such a huge advantage in pass attempts, Manning still dominated all 2013 quarterbacks on a per play basis. No quarterback who threw more than 15 passes had a higher PNEP per play (0.41) than Manning, nor did any other quarterback who threw the ball with any regularity achieve a higher Success Rate.
A “success” is a play during which a player earns an NEP greater than zero. Peyton Manning did that 57.31 percent of the time. The next closest QB who played regularly is Josh McCown, who was successful 55.32 percent of the time. Past McCown, there were only three other quarterbacks with a Success Rate over 50 percent.
So how do those numbers rate historically?
Among quarterbacks with more than 400 drop backs in any given season, Manning’s 0.41 PNEP per play would be fourth-best since 2000, and his Success Rate would be third-best.
And just in case you were worried about Peyton having an easier strength of schedule than other quarterbacks in recent history, the adjusted stats still show Manning as the best.
Using Adjusted Team Passing NEP per play, which takes into account the opposition and adjusts for strength of schedule, Manning’s 2013 Broncos finished with the highest total since 2000.
And for 2013, the Broncos could have stopped playing after Week 13 and still finished ahead of Drew Brees and the Saints in Adjusted PNEP.
Similarly, the Broncos had more Passing Net Expected Points through five weeks than Matt Ryan and the Falcons had all season, when adjusted for strength of schedule. The Falcons finished the season fourth using that metric.
Greatest Quarterback Season of All Time?
Prior to 2000, only three quarterback seasons compare to the top performances of this century: Kurt Warner’s 1999 campaign, Steve Young’s 1994 season, and Dan Marino’s 1984 performance.
And no matter which statistic you use, there’s just no way to justify any of those season as being better than Manning’s 2013 campaign.
Young had a higher completion percentage, Marino was the closest in terms of yards, and all three had more yards per attempt.
But factor in Manning’s 55 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions, and sustained success over a ridiculous amount of passing attempts, and it’s easy to see why the volume of production from Manning outweighs the slight advantages other quarterbacks had in individual rate statistics.
So from a statistical perspective, it’s fair to say that no quarterback has ever had a better season than Peyton Manning did in 2013.