The Week in Overreactions: Peyton Manning, cold-weather QB

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com


Is Peyton Manning a different QB when the mercury drops? (USATSI)

New storylines emerge every week. Some are reasonable, most are not. "The Week in Overreactions" focuses on the latter. Those items that offer a cursory "How do you do?" as they blow past reality straight for THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER! We're here to keep everything in perspective. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.

So how does Peyton perform when the weather turns?

Conventional wisdom goes something like this: Peyton Manning might be an elite quarterback in domed stadium, or during the first three months of the season, but once fall gives way to winter and the elements play a more prominent role from one game to the next, Manning becomes something less than superhuman. Much of this goes back to Manning's inability to beat the Patriots in the postseason following the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

(Remember when Pats fans complained about the subsequent rules changes that favored wide receivers after New England's secondary manhandled Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne in the Jan. 2004 AFC Championship game that saw Manning throw four interceptions?)

Also not helping: During the playoffs following the '02 season, Manning and the Colts were on the wrong side of a 41-0 beatdown courtesy of the Jets.

And now, nearly a decade later, any time the temperature drops below 40, there are the inevitable questions about whether Manning, the old bag of bones with a popcorn arm, will be able to overcome the conditions.

Of course, critics don't need to summon ancient history to make their point; they can just go back two weeks when the Broncos showed up in New England on a 22-degree night and after building a 24-0 lead, disappeared for much of the second half and overtime as the Pats mounted the biggest comeback in the Tom Brady era.

So how do the facts match up with the anecdotal arguments that Manning is a fair-weather quarterback? The short answer is ... it's complicated. (This is what people say when the answer is neither easy to explain nor obvious. We realize this.)

Thanks to SBNation's Mile High Report for combing through the data, we know that Manning has played in 22 games where the temperature at kickoff was 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) or below. Not surprisingly, all but two of those games took place on the road (the two home games came last season when the Broncos hosted the Chiefs in Week 17 and the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs).

Manning's record in those 22 games: 10-12

But basing a quarterback's success solely on wins is a silly exercise, and it doesn't tell us anything about the other 45 players on the active roster who may have had a hand in the outcome.

Manning's cold-weather numbers are lower across the board than his career totals in Indianapolis and Denver. But there are mitigating factors. Chief among them: The cold-weather games -- and the playoff games, in particular -- are against some of the AFC's best teams; the expectation is that any quarterback wouldn't be nearly as productive.


When the mercury drops so too do Manning's numbers. (Table 1)

Of course, the myth grows when you compare Manning to Brady over the course of the season and into the postseason. There is no discernible difference between the quarterbacks from September to December, but once the playoffs roll around ... well, that's where the arrows on the graph diverge.


There's no discernable difference between Manning and Brady...except when it turns cold. (Table 2)

It's not that Manning is god-awful when the mercury drops, it's that he's something less than what we're accustomed to seeing during the first three-plus months of the season. And when Brady remains just as effective in December and January, it only exacerbates their differences.

Last week, following the Pats' win over the Broncos, ESPN Stats & Info showed that "Brady has proven to be one of the best cold-weather quarterbacks in the league as he's been provided no shortage of opportunities while playing in New England."

Since the beginning of 2001 ... Brady has had 1,031 dropbacks in 29 outdoor games at freezing or colder, both numbers the most by any quarterback in that timeframe. He has led the Patriots to a 24-5 record in those games.

If you think Brady has an uncanny ability to throw accurate passes in the cold, you'd be right. Since the start of 2001, Brady's 62.7 completion percentage in games played in freezing temperatures trails only Aaron Rodgers and Chad Pennington. However, it must be noted that Brady has more wins in such games than those two have combined to start.

Brady's cold-weather accuracy is confirmed in Table 2 above. Meanwhile, Manning completes just 60 percent of his throws when the temperature is 40 or below. And in only those games where temperatures were at or below freezing, his completion percentage drops to 41 percent and his QB rating dips to 70.7 (compared to 84.0 when it's 40 or below).

So what's the takeaway? Historically, Manning isn't nearly as good as Brady in cold weather. There are any number of explanations for this phenomenon but Brady is the exception to the cold-weather rule. He's also played the majority of those games in Foxborough, and as AdvancedNFLStats.com's Brian Burke wrote in Jan. 2012, "Home teams have an advantage across the temperature spectrum, which appears to be exaggerated at extreme temperatures."

Burke added: "The big takeaway should be that temperature does in fact hurt the passing game. ... [O]ne thing we can tell is that the colder the weather the lower the passing efficiency for all types of team climates."


Brady has gotten the best of Manning in the posteason. (USATSI)
We're not yet ready to say that snow and wind are Manning's kryptonite, but he's clearly not the same player. Instead of being great he becomes good.

Yes, we know: If Manning hadn't thrown that back-breaking overtime interception against the Ravens last January (it was 13 degrees at kickoff, by the way), the Broncos would have moved on to the conference championship game ... to face the Pats. But Manning didn't blow the coverage on Jacoby Jones' game-tying touchdown in the waning seconds of regulation. That was Rahim Moore. Just saying: Good teams can win with less-than-great quarterback play.

Here's the good news: The Broncos are currently in first place in the AFC, which means they would have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. And while lows can dip into the teens in January in Denver (see the Ravens game), it would mean that the Broncos wouldn't have to return to Gillette Stadium this season.

There's also this: Denver's four remaining regular-season games are home matchups against Tennessee and San Diego, and road tests in Houston and Oakland. Get through that stretch unscathed and the Broncos would have a first-round bye and they would only need to win two games for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Two potential problems: First, the Pats will almost certainly stand between Denver and the Super Bowl; Manning is 1-2 against Brady and the Pats in the postseason, the lone win coming in the comfy confines of the RCA Dome back in Jan. 2007. Second, this year's Super Bowl will be played in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. And the NFL is actually embracing the idea of snow.

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