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Eli Manning vs. Peyton Manning: Which Brother Is the Better Quarterback?

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Eli Manning vs. Peyton Manning: Which Brother Is the Better Quarterback?
Travis Lindquist/Getty Images

As a result of the Giants beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, leaving him with one more than his older brother, Peyton.  This shocking development has left one question burning in the minds of football fans nationwide: Is Eli better than Peyton?

When judging the career of a top-class modern quarterback (within the past 30 years), there seems to be two different trains of thought in measuring greatness.  The first school, known as the “clutch group,” equates the greatness of a quarterback to the number of championships won in their career.  The leaders of this class are Joe Montana, Tom Brady, John Elway and Troy Aikman.  The second group focuses more on the statistics of the player, while looking past the number of championships won.  In this class are Dan Marino, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning

Depending on your point of view, you might be a supporter of either category.  Placing your perspective on either side of the argument can show problems with the opposite viewpoint.  Can Joe Montana really be the best quarterback of all time if he didn’t have better numbers than Dan Marino?  Can Marino be considered the best quarterback of all time if he never took his team to a championship despite all of his individual records?  Questions like these will never be answered easily or definitively. 

With Eli’s second Super Bowl victory in hand, he may be well on his way to firmly planting himself on the opposite side of the argument from his brother.  This in itself is no small feat. 

A couple seasons after Eli joined the NFL in 2004, no one in their right mind would have ever told you that he could end up being remembered as a better quarterback than No. 18 on the Colts.  At the time, Peyton was standing alongside Brady as the best quarterback of his era and was already thought to be one of the best quarterbacks of all time.  Much to Eli’s credit, the fact that eight years later this is even a question is mind-boggling.  Still, one can’t help but think that the idea that Eli is a better quarterback is still a bit off-base. 

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Statistically speaking, Peyton is king.  Peyton’s winning percentage is 68 percent; Eli’s is 58 percent.  Peyton’s completion percentage is 64.9 percent; Eli’s is 58.4 percent.  Peyton’s touchdown percentage is 5.5 percent; Eli’s is 4.7 percent.  Peyton’s interception percentage is 2.7 percent; Eli’s is 3.3 percent.  Peyton’s QB Rating is 94.9; Eli’s is 82.1.  Ranging to even the most technical statistics, Peyton reigns over Eli. 

There is one statistic, however, that Peyton can’t hold over his little brother, and it might just be the most important measure of all: 2-1, their respective Super bowl record. 

Eli also has two Super Bowl MVPs to Peyton’s one.  The playoffs are the one area where Eli has been able to outshine his big brother.  While this might come as a shock in viewing each quarterback individually, looking at the teams that support them makes it easier to understand why this is the case. 

Although Eli has shown dominance in the postseason, this can be partially attributed to the phenomenal pass-rushing talent that Eli was blessed with during his two Super Bowl runs.  The fact that Eli has had better defenses, which has aided his success in the postseason, is something that will forever cloud the argument.  There will always be a what-if involved.  What if Peyton had a better team around him?  Would he then have been able to defeat New England like the mighty Giants did?

These questions will likely remain seriously debated and largely unanswered.  One solution to the issue would be the off chance that Peyton recovers from his neck injury in time to play next season.  If he joins forces with a team of great defenders in need of a quarterback, such as San Francisco or Washington, he could go on to win another title.  This would build on the argument that Peyton was tragically on a highly-flawed team for most of his time in Indianapolis. 

Part of the argument for the Montanas and Bradys is that they were better in the clutch; they always found a way to win. 

But rather than give the quarterbacks all the credit, what if the teams behind them were just better?  A quarterback may have a lot of responsibility, but they are never the sole reason a team wins or loses. 

The Rams may have had a better team than the Patriots in the 2001 Super Bowl, but the Patriots’ staunch defense forced the game to be close enough to where Tom Brady could march up the field for the winning field goal. 

The same goes for Eli in 2008: The Patriots may have had a better team, but the Giants’ defense held them to only two touchdowns.  Eli only had to score 17 points to lead his team to victory.  In fact, in that same year, Peyton was able to score 20 points on that same Patriots defense, but the Colts, in turn, could not hold the Patriots to 14 points, giving up 24 points in defeat. 

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Peyton celebrates being the superior brother

In a team game, it’s hard to say that one player deserves all the credit for a team’s record when the entire team is instrumental in winning or losing each game.  You can’t necessarily say that Eli is better in the clutch than Peyton because Peyton’s inferior teams may not have presented him the same opportunities.  The fact that Eli’s teams held its opponents to fewer points, whereas Peyton had to score more points to make up for his defense, is an overlooked factor in the equation of a great quarterback. 

As for my money, I would take the statistically better quarterback over performance in the clutch and make it my responsibility to build a championship-caliber team around him.  If you structure the team around a great quarterback like Peyton Manning, he will have the chance to be the total package, providing statistics and championships.

Only once Peyton and Eli’s careers have ended will we be able to decide where each player ranks historically.  If Eli goes on to win a few more championships, he will firmly cement himself in the column with Montana and Brady.  On the other hand, if Peyton manages to steal another ring in the next few years to equal Eli’s total, there would be no argument for Eli as the better brother. 

As of now, Eli’s two rings and his ability to beat the Patriots are the only things making Peyton’s superiority disputable.

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