|Brady-Manning XVIII puts the two greatest passers of this generation on the field together one more time. But who's better? (AP Images)|
It used to be that everyone accepted that New England quarterback Tom Brady was the winner and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was the guy who put up eye-popping stats. We'd argue over which guy had more help, if rings should be part of head-to-head comparisons, and then move on after realizing that everyone was cemented to their stations and there was no budging.
It's no longer that simple. Brady may have started out as a system quarterback who was helped to glory by a talented New England defense and some timely special teams play, but he's spent the last decade one-upping the elder Manning in the record books and has changed the conversation.
It's no longer a matter of stats vs. rings -- throw the titles out and postseason records out (Brady 16-6, Manning 9-10), we already know who wins there. We can now boil this down to a matter or numbers and intangibles to crown a champion, even if it's a bit like choosing between "Hoosiers" and "Rudy."
Some numbers lie
Start this debate with a few friends and within five minutes someone will tell you that Manning has the best numbers of his generation. This was true five years ago, but Brady has come a long way since averaging 189.5 yards per game his first year at the helm.
He passed for 50 touchdowns in 2007, threw 359 passes without an interception between 2010-11 and topped 5,000 passing yards last year. Accomplishing those kind of feats has a funny way of boosting numbers.
Sure, Manning still has better overall counting stats, but we aren't interested in the fact that he's thrown 100 more touchdown passes than Brady (407 to 307), just like we don't care that Jim Thome has more career home runs than Stan Musial.
What we want to look at is each player's efficiency, and here, after picking nits, we begin to see a clear winner emerge.
Starting quick and dirty, we can easily see that Brady (96.5) tops Manning (94.9) in quarterback rating, but (speaking of quick and dirty) this may not be the best place to end the debate considering Tony Romo (95.9) has the fourth highest quarterback rating of all-time.
Looking at other things to measure efficiency, Manning tops Brady in completion percentage, but Brady holds a solid edge in touchdown-to-interception ratio (2.64 vs. 2.02).
And that's where Manning begins to fall apart. Outside of his peak years, his penchant for throwing interceptions has always been an issue, and it undermines his overall greatness. Yardage totals are great (Manning holds a 11,000-yard edge), but picks take potential points off the board.
Things become more lopsided when you isolate the last five seasons, where Brady has a 4.21 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Manning's best five-year run came in at a shade over three.
Here's another quick and dirty way to look at this: Manning's average interception total (14.14) during his time in Indianapolis is higher than any total Brady has posted in a single season.
So, since we've determined that Brady has been the more efficient passer throughout his career, the real question becomes who was better at the peak of his powers.
For Manning, we identified his peak as being from 2003-2006. For Brady, it's 2007, 2009-11.*
Here's Manning's line from that period:
- 66.7 completion rate, 16,968 yards, 137 touchdowns, 39 interceptions, 8.7 yards per attempt, 105.9 rating, 62 sacks.
And here's Brady's (*with one game from 2008):
- 66.5 completion rate, 18,415 yards, 153 touchdowns, 37 interceptions, 8.2 yards per attempt, 107.3 rating, 94 sacks.
There's no way to break that down with Manning coming out ahead. His completion percentage, sack total and yards per attempt are slightly better, but the difference in yardage and touchdown-to-interception ratio tilt things back in Brady's favor.
One thing Manning has working in his favor is his 2004 season, which rates as the second-most efficient season in history (122.11 QB rating), but Brady isn't far behind with the 117.18 he posted in 2007.
This one is still almost too close to call. It looks like Brady has closed the gap and maybe even come out ahead in the end, but it still ends up being a case of preference.
Manning got off to a faster start and will end his career with gaudier numbers. It took Brady a number of years before he received the weapons needed to post similar numbers. Now that he has those pieces around him, he has taken off and appears to be in the midst of his peak.
From where we sit, the numbers, as well as titles, favor Brady.