Since Peyton Manning's historic, record-breaking 2013 season has come to a close, it is natural to ask where this season ranks among the greatest seasons ever for a quarterback.
This article will compare Peyton Manning's 2013 season with other recent, dominant seasons from the quarterback position.
Is Peyton's season the greatest. If not, which actually is the greatest season by a quarterback?
Before the comparisons are made, I will explain the method for how the quarterbacks were selected and rated.
Which quarterbacks will be considered?
The statistics considered in this article make use of NFL drive charts and Football Outsiders' tracking of drive stats. Since NFL drive charts for older games are hard to find these days, only quarterback seasons after 2001 are considered in this article.
In addition, for a season to be considered on this list, a quarterback must reach one or more of these three milestones:
- 5,000 passing yards in a season
- 40 passing touchdowns in a season
- 110 passer rating in a season
This leads to the consideration of 13 seasons from seven different quarterbacks: Peyton Manning (2013, 2004), Tom Brady (2011, 2010, 2007), Aaron Rodgers (2011), Drew Brees (2013, 2012, 2011, 2007), Daunte Culpepper (2004), Nick Foles (2013) and Matthew Stafford (2011).
How do "adjusted stats" work?
When considering offensive players in the NFL, most people's first instinct is to look at "raw" stats. These include passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, etc.
While these numbers have their uses, though, they are often removed from proper context and poorly analyzed.
One thing that is not accounted for is the number of offensive possessions that a team has to score the ball. It stands to reason that if a team has more opportunities to score, they will score more. Thus, if Team A has a higher number of drives than Team B, then Team A's players have a built-in advantage when comparing the raw stats of the two teams.
For the raw stats of each quarterback, I elected to include rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and fumbles lost under the categories "yards," "touchdowns" and "turnovers," respectively. If a quarterback contributes to a team's offense on the ground as well as through the air, that quarterback deserves to be recognized for these contributions.
Once these raw stats have been presented, the adjustment is made as follows: Take each raw stat and divide it by the total number of drives that quarterback had during the season. Then multiply this number by the league average of offensive drives during the 2013 season, which is 186.
A quarterback who played more than 186 drives during a season will have adjusted stats lower than their raw stats, while a quarterback who played in fewer than 186 drives during a season will have adjusted stats higher than their raw stats.
For more information about team drive stats, see the Football Outsiders' page concerning drive stats, which counts the number of offensive possessions each team has per year.
Comparison of raw stats
This section highlights raw numbers, which are not affected by the adjustment. Again, keep in mind that rushing stats are included in these numbers.
Total number of drives
- 192—Matthew Stafford (2011)
- 187—Peyton Manning (2013)
- 181—Drew Brees (2012)
- 175—Drew Brees (2008)
- TIE: 172—Drew Brees (2013), Tom Brady (2011)
- 169—Drew Brees (2011)
- 161—Daunte Culpepper (2004)
- 158—Tom Brady (2010)
- 155—Tom Brady (2007)
- 150—Peyton Manning (2004)
- 148—Aaron Rodgers (2011)
- 128—Nick Foles (2013)
- 5,562—Drew Brees (2011)
- 5,446—Peyton Manning (2013)
- 5,344—Tom Brady (2011)
- 5,214—Drew Brees (2013)
- 5,182—Drew Brees (2012)
- 5,123—Daunte Culpepper (2004)
- 5,116—Matthew Stafford (2011)
- 5,068—Drew Brees (2008)
- 4,904—Tom Brady (2007)
- 4,900—Aaron Rodgers (2011)
- 4,595—Peyton Manning (2004)
- 3,930—Tom Brady (2010)
- 3,112—Nick Foles (2013)
- 56—Peyton Manning (2013)
- 52—Tom Brady (2007)
- 49—Peyton Manning (2004)
- 48—Aaron Rodgers (2011)
- 47—Drew Brees (2011)
- 44—Drew Brees (2012)
- TIE: 42—Drew Brees (2013), Tom Brady (2011)
- TIE: 41—Matthew Stafford (2011), Daunte Culpepper (2004)
- 37—Tom Brady (2010)
- 34—Drew Brees (2008)
- 30—Nick Foles (2013)
- 4—Nick Foles (2013)
- 5—Tom Brady (2010)
- 6—Aaron Rodgers (2011)
- 11—Peyton Manning (2004)
- 12—Tom Brady (2007)
- TIE: 14—Drew Brees (2013), Tom Brady (2011)
- TIE: 15—Drew Brees (2011), Daunte Culpepper (2004)
- 16—Peyton Manning (2013)
- 17-Matthew Stafford (2011)
- 18- Drew Brees (2008)
- 20- Drew Brees (2012)
- 122.5—Aaron Rodgers (2011)
- 121.1—Peyton Manning (2004)
- 119.2—Nick Foles (2013)
- 117.2—Tom Brady (2007)
- 115.1—Peyton Manning (2013)
- 111—Tom Brady (2010)
- 110.9—Daunte Culpepper (2004)
- 110.6—Drew Brees (2011)
- 105.6—Tom Brady (2011)
- 104.7—Drew Brees (2013)
- 97.2—Matthew Stafford (2011)
- 96.3—Drew Brees (2012)
- 96.2—Drew Brees (2008)
Comparison of adjusted stats
- 6,158—Aaron Rodgers (2011)
- 6,121—Drew Brees (2011)
- 5,918—Daunte Culpepper (2004)
- 5,885—Tom Brady (2007)
- 5,779—Tom Brady (2011)
- 5,698—Peyton Manning (2004)
- 5,638—Drew Brees (2013)
- 5,417—Peyton Manning (2013)
- 5,387—Drew Brees (2008)
- 5,325—Drew Brees (2012)
- 4,956—Matthew Stafford (2011)
- 4,626—Tom Brady (2010)
- 4,522—Nick Foles (2013)
- 62—Tom Brady (2007)
- 61—Peyton Manning (2004)
- 60—Aaron Rodgers (2011)
- 56—Peyton Manning (2013)
- 52—Drew Brees (2011)
- 47—Daunte Culpepper (2004)
- TIE: 45—Drew Brees (2013, 2012), Tom Brady (2011)
- TIE: 44—Nick Foles (2013), Tom Brady (2010)
- 40—Matthew Stafford (2011)
- 36—Drew Brees (2008)
- TIE: 6—Nick Foles (2013), Tom Brady (2010)
- 8—Aaron Rodgers (2011)
- TIE: 14—Tom Brady (2007), Peyton Manning (2004)
- TIE: 15—Drew Brees (2013), Tom Brady (2011)
- TIE: 16—Peyton Manning (2013), Matthew Stafford (2011)
- TIE: 17—Drew Brees (2011), Daunte Culpepper (2004)
- 19—Drew Brees (2008)
- 21—Drew Brees (2012)
Observations and conclusions
The three seasons that stand out are Brady's 2007 season, Manning's 2004 season and Rodgers' 2011 season.
It is well known that Brady threw an NFL-record (at the time) 50 touchdown passes in 2007. It is not as well known that he did so on a team that was tied for the fewest offensive drives in the NFL. His after-adjustment numbers are 5,885 yards, 62 touchdowns and 14 turnovers.
Rodgers' numbers after the adjustment are ridiculous—6,158 yards, 60 touchdowns and eight turnovers.
These exceptionally high numbers can be credited to two things. First of all, the Packers ranked 30th in the NFL in total drives during the 2011 season, and second, Rodgers didn't even play during the final game of the season, leading him to have the second-fewest drives among quarterbacks on this list.
Manning threw 49 touchdowns in what was essentially 15 games in 2004, not to mention he sat out the end of several other games. His adjusted numbers for that season are 5,698 yards, 61 touchdowns and 14 turnovers.
Singling one season out as the greatest is much trickier.
I'm inclined to go with Rodgers in 2011. It's hard to argue against more than 6,000 yards, 60 touchdowns and fewer than 10 turnovers. That is jaw-dropping efficiency and productivity at the same time.
The adjusted stats definitely show that Foles has a bright future in this league, but his season doesn't quite measure up to the best ever. Considering that Chip Kelly's style calls for a fast-paced game, this leads to lots of offensive possessions for the Eagles. If Foles plays all 16 games next season, his numbers could potentially be something special.
Culpepper's 2004 season is very underrated. For a quarterback who posted more than 5,000 total yards and 40 touchdowns in a season, Culpepper isn't talked about very much; however, the adjusted numbers for his 2004 season were definitely comparable to the other great quarterback seasons of the 21st century. He deserves more credit for that than he gets.
The adjusted yards statistics show that a 6,000-yard passer is not out of the question during the next few years. It would take a special season to accomplish the feat, which has never been done before, but it is not impossible. It will just take the right combination of a quarterback playing exceptionally well and the game going at a fast enough pace.
Manning's record-setting 2013 season most definitely benefited from having the second-most offensive possessions of any quarterback listed here.
In 2013 Manning had 32 more offensive possessions than Brady had during the 2007 season, along with 37 more than Manning himself had in 2004. This is a perfect example of the impact that an overlooked stat, such as number of possessions, can have on volume stats.
While Manning has done more than enough this season to warrant consideration among the best seasons ever by a quarterback, it simply is not the greatest season ever by a quarterback.
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