What a season we had in 2011. It started with a lockout and ended with some of the most impressive offensive performances this league has seen. The defending champs went 15-1 only to lose in the Divisional playoffs, and a team that started the season 0-7—ended the season on fire at 6-10.
Tim Tebow went from a third-string quarterback to becoming a playoff-winning quarterback, and the hot-button topic of the year.
Amidst all of those interesting storylines, two final storylines ironically took place at the same time. For the first time Peyton Manning, the league’s Iron Man who came off of a 208-consecutive game-playing streak, missed his first game since he began his career.
What was said to be a four-game or at worst eight-game absence, became a full-season layoff due to injury and precaution. It was odd to see one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks on the sideline for the whole season during what could still be considered his prime.
Meanwhile his younger brother Eli, who has been much maligned his whole career for his ups and downs and not living up to his brother’s outstanding shadow, blossomed to have a career-year this year.
It all started in an interview with Michael Kay from ESPN1050 in New York early in the season, when he declared that he should be considered among the elite quarterbacks in the league.
At the time, most reasonable minds that have paid attention to Eli over the course of his career were taken aback by this assertion. Sure as a leader of the New York Giants, in the huge media market of the Big Apple, you expect him to be confident in his abilities and not short himself—given his talent.
However based on his career thus far, there was very little evidence to back this assertion, especially given the elite category of QBs in this league was already stretched.
Eli can always hang his hat on the fact that he played one of the most dominant stretches of football that any quarterback has ever played late down the stretch during the 2007 season en route to winning his first Super Bowl Championship. He was Super Bowl MVP that year, but really at that point, especially in comparison to his brother—he just has not resembled much of an elite quarterback over the course of the years.
This season Eli has gone on to back up his bold claims, and played at an elite level that compares with any of his peers around the league. Despite his team’s ups and downs due to injury and inconsistency, Eli at times carried his team almost single-handedly to a 9-7 record and a NFC East crown.
He threw for an astounding 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns balanced by 16 interceptions (which is a good ratio for him) and a strong 92.6 rating. That 4,933 total was fourth in the league and believe it or not—better than any single-season total that Peyton had in his career.
Now that Eli has just won his second Super Bowl, placing him among elite company historically, and his second Super Bowl MVP—an honor that only five players have done in history—the conversation no longer is about whether or not Eli is elite or not, but has now advanced into a discussion on whether or not he can be considered the best Manning over his brother Peyton.
Let’s keep in mind that this is by far Eli’s best season to date, and his brother is “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” having missed this past season—leaving open the possibility of some “recency effect”. But this is an honest discussion.
Who is the best Manning?
I am a fan of Peyton Manning’s mastery of the quarterback position and his magical orchestration of the Colts' offense thus far this century, but you cannot ignore the fact that although Peyton is more decorated than his brother in every way—Eli seems to be more decorated where it matters most.
Peyton’s stats are nothing short of legendary. His regular-season record is an astounding 141-67, he has thrown for an average of 4,217 yards per season and just under 31 TDs a season. He has the sixth-best quarterback rating of all-time (94.9). His touchdown/interception-ratio is greater than 2:1 (398/198). Those stats are telling, but where Peyton stands out are his decorations.
He is a league record four-time MVP, has made the Pro Bowl eleven times, has been First Team All-Pro five times, Second Team three times and has been AFC Player of the Year six times.
To consider some of the peers he has had to compete against over the years including Tom Brady, these types of accolades are a testimony to the respect that he has garnered over the years. These awards culminated into him being named to the All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
Meanwhile Eli, although not quite as impressive—has had a solid career as well. He is 69-50 during the regular season. He has thrown for 3,447 yards per season and just over 23 TDs a season. His rating has been rather average at 82.1. He has struggled with interceptions over the course of his years. His 185 TDs have been balanced out by 129 interceptions He is not nearly as decorated as his brother, but he has made the two Pro Bowls and now has two Super Bowl MVPs to double his brother’s total.
As you can see, in terms of stats, Eli still does not even come close to his brother’s high-level of output. Peyton year in and year out has been a machine and churned out elite outputs, as well as put pressure on defenses consistently like few others have ever done in the history of this game.
However, when it comes down to what quarterbacks are "really" measured on and where greatness is solidified—it seems like Eli is the superior option believe it or not. Eli now has two Super Bowls, which doubles his brother’s total in five less seasons of play. Eli’s playoff-record has been phenomenal. He is 8-3 in the playoffs, while Peyton is a pedestrian 9-10.
Eli managed to grab an NFL record away from his brother with his 15 fourth-quarter touchdowns during the regular season this year—a record formerly set at 14 by Peyton. He has had his ups and downs over the course of his career, but he has demonstrated the ability to be clutch even more so than his older brother—who has garnered much more widespread respect as a weapon in this league.
He has had 20 fourth-quarter comebacks and 24 game-winning drives. Peyton has not been shabby, accumulating 35-comeback wins and 46 game-winning drives. When it comes to winning games late, especially during the regular season—there are few scarier.
With that said, the growing question becomes: Who has been the better quarterback?
I think it all depends on how you define things.
Do you define a quarterback by championships and clutch play in the playoffs?
Or, do you define a quarterback by stats, decoration and consistency?
Again it’s easy when Peyton has just sat down a season and has been relatively unsuccessful in the postseason, while his brother has been phenomenal in the postseason—leading his team to an NFL record five-road victories and two-Super Bowl Championships, which puts him in pretty elite company.
Peyton has amassed unbelievable statistics and has epitomized consistency year in and year out as an elite quarterback for almost his entire career in Indianapolis. After years of futility, Peyton was a huge reason for the Colts setting an NFL record for six-consecutive 12-plus-win seasons and eleven 10-plus-win seasons during his tenure.
He is a winner in every sense of the word, but unlike his brother—he has not been able to pull off as many big playoff wins as Eli has.
It must be noted that Eli has had his share of troubles. Just last year, Eli threw for league-leading 25 interceptions, he threw for 20 during the 2007 Super Bowl season—most of which were before he got hot and lead them to a title.
He has had several games and plays that left fans and observers scratching their heads, and it has been forgotten by many that he did not make the playoffs in 2004, 2009 and 2010. He also lost in the first round in his other three-non-championship-playoff runs (2005, 2006, 2008). So the notion that Eli has been made of steel and always comes up big in the clutch is rather faulty.
In fact, just last year in a must-win game against the Packers late in the year, he threw four interceptions to help the Packers extend their season with a 45-17 win. There have been many more games over the years, in which Eli has shown himself to not be elite. I personally have had no trouble making the argument for him being nothing better than above average—despite the fact that he is actually gifted with more talent than Peyton physically. He has a stronger arm and is more mobile.
The major difference that has set Peyton apart now and likely forever, besides his slight height advantage—has always been his consistency and accuracy. When Eli is on, he’s as good as anyone, but since this has never been something you can rely on year-in and year-out—you have to point to the fact that Peyton has been dominant pretty much every year since he established himself early in his career in Indy.
What's more important to you?
He is incredibly accurate, he constantly defeats defenses mentally in a game of chess at the line of scrimmage and he has always won in bulk throughout his career.
With the exception of two misses early in his career, he has not missed the playoffs at all during his career. In fact, in the last nine seasons he has played, they made the playoffs every time. It’s phenomenal how good he has been for so long.
Yes, he has not been able to dominate in the playoffs like Eli has during the 2007 and 2011 postseasons, but he has always had his team in position to win. He has had some success, but not great success over time.
I think that Eli’s impressive records should be balanced out by the fact that I put more weight into three years not making the playoffs, and three years being one and done (No.1 seed after 2008 season).
These setbacks have to carry as much weight or more weight than some of Manning’s disappointing losses in the playoffs—including one Super Bowl and one conference championship loss.
With that said and with all due respect to Eli Manning and what he has accomplish over the course of his career in big moments with his back to the wall (especially this season), I am not ready to declare his career more accomplished than Peyton’s.
Certainly, two championships and great playoff performances hold a lot of weight for me—but what big brother Peyton has accomplished over the course of his career and the high-level of play he has maintained over the course of his career cannot be ignored.
Eli does not have the benefit of the indoor environment and total control of the offense like Peyton had in Indianapolis, which are key factors—especially the howling wind in the Meadowlands. But at the end of the day, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the family still.
He has been declared the best player in the game four times, and made Pro Bowl almost every year. He simply has not had the type of rough stretches that Eli has had. His play has led the Colts to wins at a high-rate every year. Lastly, the Colts went 2-14 without Peyton this year.
Do you think the Giants, with all the talent they have, would suffer such a free for all like the Colts did without their quarterback?
I think that says a lot about how great Peyton is.
Congratulations to Eli Manning, you are a champion and you are among the league’s elite. However, you still have a little bit of work to do before you overtake your older brother as the best Manning to play the game of football.