This is a debate that has raged on ever since both quarterbacks rose to prominence early this decade, but who is the better quarterback: Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? Manning's advocates point to a proven regular season resume that is quite impressive, his 3 league MVP's, and his apparent ability to win games when there is absolutely no way he should win them. Manning's detractors argue that he has been shaky in the postseason, citing a losing overall playoff record (7-8) and a host of less than Manning-like performances. They also argue that Manning has had one of the best supporting casts that a quarterback has ever had, as well as coaching stability that very few quarterbacks could ever hope for. Brady's advocates point to the clutch performances that Brady has had, winning 3 super bowl championships and 2 super bowl MVP's in his first 4 years en route to being the only starting quarterback to win his first 10 playoff games, as well as his dominating performance in 2007 where he led the Patriots' offense on a rampage on the way to being the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to have a perfect record in the regular season. Brady's detractors argue that Matt Cassel's 2008 success is indicative that any quarterback could succeed in the Patriots' offense, as well as a shaky performance in a super bowl loss to the Giants. But all of this said, who's better? Here we go.
Statistically, the answer is Manning beyond question. Manning has 46,232 passing yards, 336 touchdowns, with only 166 interceptions with a career quarterback rating of 94.9. Brady has 27,040 passing yards, 199 touchdowns, with only 88 interceptions for a career quarterback rating of 92.5. (Note: Manning became a starter 2 years before Brady, and Brady missed all of 2008 due to his knee injury). Impressive numbers on both fronts.
At this point, many people would say "Oh, Manning's numbers are better, therefore, Manning is the better quarterback." If the sole purpose of quarterbacks was to put up impressive numbers, then everybody would agree and this discussion would be over. However, an important thing to remember is that quarterbacks are not thinking about scoring 40 touchdowns this year. They are concerned with winning football games, so we must look at their contributions to their team's success.
With Brady, the team success is obvious. The Patriots won the Super Bowl in 3 of his first 4 years as a starter. But how much credit does Brady deserve for that success? In his first playoff game against the Raiders, Brady took his team from being down in the 4th quarter by 10 points to tie the game and send the game into overtime, where they won on a Vinatieri field goal (this was the game with the controversial tuck rule call, but that's for another conversation). In the Super Bowl that year, the Patriots got the ball at their own 15 with 1:15 left in regulation in a tie game and no timeouts. Does Brady take a knee and send the game into overtime, where any one blunder could end the Patriots improbable run? No, he drove them down the field and set up a Vinatieri field goal to win the game. In his second Super Bowl, Brady took the ball down the field with only 1:08 left in regulation to win the game on another Vinatieri field goal. Such heroics are the reason for his 2 Super Bowl MVP awards. In his third Super Bowl, he led the Patriots to 24 points, which gave the Patriots a 10 point lead, and the defense held the Eagles at bay for the remainder of the game. Since those Super Bowl victories, however, many feel that Brady has not performed well in the postseason. Indeed his interception to Champ Bailey in the Broncos game and his failure to close out the championship game against the Colts would indicate a slump, and maybe he was losing his edge. However, in 2007, the Patriots were threatening again, with a 16-0 regular season record that was due largely to the seemingly unstoppable offense with Brady at the helm (I will discuss that in more detail a little later). Brady was able to mount enough points against the Jaguars and Chargers (although some have questioned his play) to give his defense enough of a lead to seal the game. The Super Bowl against the Giants is a game that needs no introduction, but was Brady the reason they lost? Spagnuolo's pressure schemes overwhelmed the Patriots' offensive line and harassed Brady all day, but with less than 4 minutes to go, Brady took his team from being down 10-7 to a 14-10 lead. At that point, it was the defense's job to seal the game for their 4th super bowl win with Brady at the helm. However, they didn't, and the Patriots lost 17-14.
The Colt's team success with Manning at the helm is significantly more complicated, because there are many that say that all of the Colts' success comes directly through Peyton Manning. There are others who say that Manning has had so much help throughout his career that there is no way he couldn't have succeeded. I will do my best to discuss Manning's ups and downs and the way I see them. Manning was named the starter immediately after he was drafted on a team that was not what one would call accomplished. His rookie season was somewhat of a struggle, although he did post a rookie record for touchdowns and yards. Such numbers are misleading, however, as his on the field play was shaky at best, and the Colts finished 3-13. Due to the lack of success by rookie quarterbacks in general, that's not something that should be held against him. Manning's second season was a pretty good year for the Colts, as they went 13-3, with Manning throwing over 4000 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Colts lost their playoff opener 19-16, with Manning posting a 62.3 rating and no touchdown passes. His third season was solid, putting up over 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns to obtain a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. The Colts lost the playoff opener 23-17 with Manning putting up average statistics (53.1 comp %, 194 yds, 1 TD, 82 rating). 2001 was a setback for the Colts as a team, who went 6-10 and missed the playoffs. Manning did post another 4000 yard season and had 26 touchdowns, but he also had an alarming 23 interceptions. 2002 was another solid regular season for Manning, with 4200 yards and 27 touchdowns (19 interceptions though), and the Colts managed a 10-6 record with him. Their playoff opener was not pretty, as the Colts lost 41-0. Manning's numbers: 45.2 completion %, 137 yards, 0 TD's, 2 INT's, 31.2 rating. 2003 was Manning's season as co-MVP with Steve McNair, and also the beginning of their 12 win a year routine. The Colts finished 12-4 with Manning throwing 4267 yards, 29 touchdowns, and only 10 interceptions. Their first 2 playoff games they won against the Broncos and Chiefs with Manning leading the Colts offense to very impressive numbers (377 yards, 5 TD's, 0 INT's, 158.3 rating against the Broncos and 304 yards, 3 TD's, 0 INT's, 138.8 rating against the Chiefs). However, the conference championship game against the Patriots did not end well for Manning and the Colts, as they lost 24-14, with Manning's numbers not being what one would expect from him (237 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT's, 35.5 rating). In 2004, the Colts went 12-4 behind what many would argue to be the best offensive attack of all time. Manning had 4557 yards, 49 TD's, 10 INT's and a league record 121.1 rating. The first playoff game against Denver showed Manning continuing his success (458 yards, 4 TD's, 1 INT,145.7 rating in a 49-24 win). The divisional playoff game was a disaster for the Colts' offense though. They lost 20-3 to the Patriots. Manning's numbers: 238 yards, 0 TD's, 1 INT, 69.3 rating. In 2005, the Colts were a dominant football team with a 14-2 record. Manning's stats: 3747 yards, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. The Colts lost in the playoff opener 21-18. Many say that it was the Vanderjagt missed field goal that lost the game, but I argue that Manning was lucky to even have that opportunity, as he attempted to run away from the rush on a 4th down play rather than step up in the pocket like he is normally so proficient at doing. Manning's numbers: 290 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 INT's, 90.9 rating. 2006 was the Super Bowl year. The Colts finished 12-4 in the regular season. Manning's numbers: 4397 yards, 31 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 101 quarterback rating. In 4 postseason wins, Manning threw 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions ( I didn't go into the normal amount of detail because I'm coming back to this one). In 2007, Manning had 4040 yards, 31 TD's, 14 INT's, and a 98.0 quarterback rating, and the Colts finished 13-3. In a 28-24 playoff loss to the Chargers, Manning threw an impressive 402 yards for 3 TD's and 2 INT's (97.7 rating), but a closer look at the game says Manning may not have played as well as he should have. On two very long drives, Manning took his team into the redzone, but threw interceptions (one of which would have been a touchdown return if not nullified by penalty. In the last two drives when the Colts were down by 4, Manning failed to capitalize, and both drives ended in turnovers on downs. Last season, the Colts finished 12-4, with Manning throwing 4002 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a 95.0 rating on his way to his third league MVP. In their playoff opener against the Chargers, Manning had a decent statistical day (310 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT's,90.4 rating), but the Colts as an offense only put 17 points on the scoreboard.
I know, that's probably an overwhelming amount of information for one person to read at one time, but I want to have all the information present so that my arguments will be clearer. As the statistics show, Manning has had several games where he did not perform up to par either statistically or in the clutch moments of the game where his team might have won. There are two instances I really want to discuss about Manning's success though. The first is the Super Bowl run. In the Colts' wild card win against the Chiefs, Manning was below par, throwing for 268 yards, 1 TD, and 3 INT's with a 71.9 rating. One of those three interceptions set the Chiefs up in the red zone, so with Manning having a day like this, you would expect the Colts to come up empty yet again, right? Wrong, as the defense only gave up 8 points, 126 yards, and 7 first downs, while registering 3 turnovers to save the game. The next week, the Colts played the Ravens. Manning struggled again (170 yards, 0 TD's, 2 INT's, 39.6 rating). Also, the Colts' offense managed only 15 points. Once again, you would expect a leaky defense to not be able to fix the game, but they do. The defense only gave up 6 points, 261 yards, and 15 first downs, while registering 4 more turnovers to seal the game. The conference championship game against the Patriots is considered to be Manning's greatest game. After falling into a 21-3 deficit ( Manning's interception that was returned for a touchdown helped put them there). Manning rallied the team back to win the game in the 4th quarter. However, the game was sealed not by Manning, but by the pass defense getting Brady to throw an interception at the end of the game. The Super Bowl was a rather anticlimatical game, with Manning throwing for 247 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT for a rating of 81.8, and most of his passes were underneath. The 29-17 victory was sealed by two interceptions by the defense towards the end, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Overall, Manning's Super Bowl run was marked by below average quarterback play and defensive excellence throughout, which is what many detractors of Brady argue.
I once read in an article on nfl.com that Peyton Manning won the league MVP last year because he "single-handedly carried his team to victory." However, there are three games that I would like to point to that illustrate otherwise. In his game against Minnesota, Manning struggled throughout the first 3 quarters of the game, missing receivers, turning the ball over, and putting 0 points on the scoreboard. The Colts' defense, ridiculed as it may be, kept the game within reach by only allowing 15 points, even though they were continually put in horrible field position and given no time to rest on the bench. Manning comes back and finds his rhythm in the 4th quarter, and leads a comeback. Does Manning deserve all the credit when he played so poorly for 3 quarters and then played well for one quarter? Or does the defense deserve the credit for making sure the game stayed within reach?
Another case from last year: the first meeting between the Colts and the Texans. The Texans were winning by 17 points early in the 4th quarter. Then Manning gets a touchdown to bring the game within 10 points. Afterward, the defense forces a fumble and returns it for a touchdown to make the game a 3 point game. The next Texans drive, the defense forces another fumble and sets Manning up in the red zone, where he throws the winning touchdown. Does Manning deserve all of the credit for that win?
One more case from last year: the game against the Browns. The final score of the game was 10-6. The Colts had fewer than 200 total yards and no touchdowns. The team won on a Robert Mathis fumble recovery for a touchdown. Does Manning deserve sole credit for that win? One might argue that the importance of such games is negligible, but consider this: if they lost all 3 of those games, they would have missed the playoffs last year.
Now, I will admit that there are many cases where Tom Brady has had help to win games as well, but the defense has deservedly been recognized for its contributions to the Patriots' success. Manning's defense has been thrown under the bus repeatedly for the Colts' shortcomings, when they do more than their share to help the team win football games, as these two cases clearly illustrate.
One last thing to cover is the relative receiving corps of Manning versus Brady. I don't want to take up too much more of your time so I will shorten it. Brady has had 3 1000 yard receivers in his career (Randy Moss 2007, Wes Welker 2007, Troy Brown 2001), and only 2 1000 yard running backs (Antowain Smith 2001, Corey Dillon 2004). Peyton Manning has had 14 1000 yard receivers (Marvin Harrison 1999-2006, Reggie Wayne 2004-2008, Stokley 2004) and 9 1000 yard running backs (Marshall Faulk 1998, Dominic Rhodes 2001, Edgerrin James 1999, 2000, 2003-2005, Joseph Addai 2006, 2007). Essentially, Manning has only had 2 seasons without a 1000 yard rusher behind him, while Brady has had only 2 seasons WITH a 1000 yard rusher behind him, and Manning has had more consistent play from his receivers over the years.
In conclusion, Brady has been a proven quarterback in clutch situations that can be the guy to help his team win, even when the talent around him is negligible. Manning has had more regular season success than Brady, but the difference in supporting cast and the repeated playoff shortcomings by Manning are undeniable, which makes Brady the quarterback I would have if I were building a team to win championships.