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Peyton Manning has had incredibly bad luck in the teams he's had to face. Obviously any playoff team will be a tough matchup, but Manning specifically has had to consistently face top-ranked defenses. Here are, in chronological order, the rankings (by points per game) of the defenses Peyton Manning has played in the playoffs in both wins and losses:
Losses: 15th, 3rd, 14th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 15th, 20th, 6th, 12th.
Wins: 9th, 19th, 9th, 11th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st.
Combined average: 7.7
So, in 20 playoff games Manning has faced 10 top-five defenses, 13 top-10 defenses, and only two defenses in the bottom half of the league. While his stats have certainly fallen, they are still within reach of his regular-season numbers.
His yards per attempt fall from 7.6 to 7.46, his interception percentage rises from 2.7 percent to 2.76 percent and his completion percentage falls from 65.2 percent to 63.2 percent. Considering the level of defenses he was playing, I'd say that's perfectly acceptable.
A common argument people use in the Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady argument is that Brady plays better in the playoffs. Let's take a look at the rankings of the defenses he has played:
Losses: 6th, 23rd, 17th, 3rd, 6th, 25th.
Wins: 19th, 3rd, 7th, 13th, 20th, 10th, 19th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 10th, 5th, 24th, 3rd, 9th.
Combined average: 10.5.
That difference of around three spots might not seem significant, but remember the sample size is at least 20 games for each. That dilutes the averages a bit, and in truth over the course of their careers that is a very significant difference.
Aside from the averages, look at some of those individual numbers. Despite playing three more playoff games, Brady has played seven top-10 defenses to Manning's 10, 12 top-10 defenses to Manning's 13, and seven bottom half defenses to Manning's two.
Is it at all possible that the difference in playoff performance between Manning and Brady comes down to the level of defenses that they've played?