Let's Quit Talking Up Brady Versus Manning

When Tom Brady's teams faces off against Peyton Manning teams, the storyline is about the quarterbacks. But this weekend's matchup is different.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. 

In total, the two have faced each other 16 times, with four of the matchups coming in the playoffs.

Brady's teams hold a 9-3 advantage over Manning's in the regular season. However, in the playoff matchups, the two are tied at 2-2. Three of the playoff matchups have come in AFC Championship games, where Manning's teams hold a 2-1 advantage over Brady's teams.

With the two facing each other again this week, we're being constantly reminded that it's a Brady versus Manning matchup -- that we've got the big matchup once again. 

But, let's be honest: this is the wrong way to approach the big game this weekend. There are more important things surrounding this game to talk about.

Defensive Reliance

Based on our  Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Denver finished with the best defense in the regular season. The offense on the other hand finished 28th in Adjusted Offensive NEP (-15.48). The offense only scored 30 or more points twice in a game this year, as they held the 19th best scoring offense (22.2 points per game).

The dichotomy in the Broncos offense and defense is easy to see. This shows that Denver's relying more on stellar defensive efforts rather than Manning's quarterbacking to win games. Among 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs this year, Manning ranks 33rd in Passing NEP (-7.95), 32nd in Passing NEP per play (-0.02), and 29th in Passing Success Rate (42.94%).

Manning's backup, Brock Osweiler, is outperforming him in all categories, as Osweiler ranks 28th (22.83), 22nd (0.08), and 13th (47.99%), respectively.

The Broncos defense is loaded with talent in guys like Von Miller, Chris Harris, and Aqib Talib, and they're meeting the highest of expectations for their defense. However, the offense isn't close to approaching the levels we have seen before with stars like Demaryius Thomas.

If the Broncos plan on winning this weekend, then Manning shouldn't be the talk of the town. Instead, their defense needs to ensure that New England's offense does not turn this game into a shootout.

Tale of Two Halves

Brady enjoyed a great year quarterbacking this year, as he was second in Passing NEP (162.92), fourth in Passing NEP per play (0.25), and 14th in Passing Success Rate (47.88%). Breaking down these numbers, though, shows quite the split in his success this season.

Drop Backs Passing NEP Per Drop Back Success Rate
Through Week 9 344 125.47 0.36 53.20%
Since Week 9 316 40.45 0.13 42.09%

After Week 9, Brady has seen a sharp decline in his overall passing. While this isn't necessarily his fault -- the offense dealt with injuries to both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman -- it shows just how valuable the players around him are in helping with his success.

With both Edelman and Gronkowski back at full strength, the Broncos have a tough task ahead in shutting down the Patriots offense. It's a possible task, but it shows that their health deserves as much of the focus as Brady for the Patriots' offense.

This isn't to say they're the cause of all of his struggles, but the correlation is there.

Although the Patriots were not in the top 10 among defenses this year, they barely missed it, ranking 12th in Adjusted Defensive NEP (39.55). And that was with injuries to key players on that side of the ball.

The Patriots have a defense that can stop the Broncos from scoring, which can be a huge asset if anything happens to any of Brady's playmakers. 

While Brady's first start came against the Manning-led Colts, and Manning's final start could come this weekend against Brady and the Patriots, neither of the two deserve the headlines in this matchup. For Denver, their defense is leading the charge in their success. For New England, a strong defense and health concerns are the real storyline.

For once, let's all collectively take a step back, and not call the Broncos-Patriots game Manning versus Brady.