Originally, the only threat to Manning's position at the top of the NFL quarterback hierarchy was Tom Brady. The arguments in favor of Brady go something like two Super Bowl MVP's, a league MVP, the eight postseason multiple touchdown games to Manning's four, and the six postseason games with a 100 or better quarterback rating to Manning's three.
However, I was told by Colts fans to look at the regular season productivity of the quarterback instead of even thinking that playing well in the playoffs should matter. Clearly, numbers tell the whole story in the Manning vs. Brady debate, according to the pro Manning side. And according to the career passing numbers, Manning has had the more successful career:
Manning: 188 games, 64.8 completion percentage, 49,313 yards, 358 touchdowns, 176 interceptions, 7.7 yards per attempt, 95.3 rating
Brady: 125 games, 63.3 completion percentage, 30,084 yards, 219 touchdowns, 96 interceptions, 7.3 yards per attempt, 93.3 rating
Sure, it's acceptable for a proponent of one player to judge quarterbacks on one standard as more important and a proponent of the other to judge quarterbacks on another standard. The problem is, over the past three years plus twelve games, another quarterback has exceeded Manning's regular season production.
Enter Drew Brees.
Brees: 60 games, 66.3 completion percentage, 17,446 yards, 117 touchdowns, 56 interceptions, 7.8 yards per attempt, 101.5 rating
Manning: 60 games, 66.7 completion percentage, 16,124 yards, 114 touchdowns, 46 interceptions, 7.7 yards per attempt, 98.7 rating
According to those statistics, Manning is a close second in terms of best quarterback in the NFL over the past 60 games. Colts fans don't want a close second though, they want to place Manning at the front of the class.
This makes it important for Colts fans to start bringing up all the factors that go into a quarterbacks' passing success. The ironic part is that many of the arguments that Brady proponents were making are the same argument that Colts fans are making now, simply applied to another situation.
Pro-Brady argument: The Colts have had 14 1,000 yard receivers under Manning. Brady has had three (prior to 2009). The Colts' have also had a Hall of Fame caliber running back in Edgerrin James for the majority of Manning's early career. Brady has only had such production from a lead rusher twice in his career.
Pro-Manning argument: The reason the Colts' receivers have had so much more success is that Manning has made them great. Brady has been unable to make such receivers great except for Moss and Welker who were clearly already elite receivers. Manning is also able to spread the ball more than Brady, who was clearly overly focused on Moss in 2007. The Patriots have had a better overall running game, an unfortunately false statement as shown here:
Now flip to Manning/Brees.
Pro-Manning argument: The Saints have so many talented receivers that Brees is in an excellent position to succeed more so than Manning is. The Saints are also a better running team, and the Colts are succeeding virtually without a running game.
Pro-Brees argument: Brees threw for over 5,000 yards without having a single thousand-yard receiver, something that's never been done before. He's also able to spread the ball around to just about anybody that plays offense for the Saints, and no one receiver is tearing the opponents up. The Saints were ranked 28th in the league in rushing in both 2007 and 2008 as well as 19th in 2006. Manning is throwing to Wayne and Clark too much, and as a result, both are on pace for around 110 catches.
2. Who's had the better defense?
Pro-Manning: Clearly Brady due to points and yards allowed.
Pro-Brady: Brady does have a better defense, but one has to acknowledge how many sacks and turnovers the Colts' defense has managed to create over the years.
Pro-Brees: Manning due to fewer points allowed and slightly fewer yards allowed.
Pro-Manning: Brees due to the sacks and turnovers.
Funny how things change...
Now that the Colts' fans are forced backward with this threat to Manning's place on top of the NFL, they have to find new criteria to place Manning ahead of both Brees and Brady.
They can't use big game performances because Brady would be on top.
They can't use stats because Brees would be on top.
So, they turn to the following argument: Which team would be the worse off if their quarterback was lost to IR tomorrow morning?
Beautiful concept, but it has some flaws:
First of all, only one of the three teams has played significant time with a backup quarterback. The last time we saw another quarterback play in the Colts' offense in a meaningful game was 1997. Brees has been New Orleans' starting quarterback since 2006, and nobody else has played significant time in his place. The Patriots 11-5 record with Cassel is indication to some that the Patriots don't need Brady, but they were 2-4 against playoff teams with Cassel starting. Don't tell me you think they didn't miss Brady in those games.
As a result, any judgement on that front used as evidence is completely subjective and opinionated. I may think that the Colts would be alright without Manning, another person might think that the Colts would be lost without Manning. Unless Manning goes on injured reserve, we just won't know.
There shouldn't be an argument made based on a hypothetical situation that hasn't happened for two of the three quarterbacks. If all three teams were placed in the same situation, I might agree, but more important than that is...
Second of all, the criteria doesn't tell us which player is the best, it tells us which player has the worst supporting cast. I think we would agree that the Rams would be a worse football team without Steven Jackson than the Colts or Saints would be without their quarterbacks. That doesn't necessarily put him above Manning and Brees in the MVP race.
Although Manning is a great quarterback, consistent standards need to be set to judge the three quarterbacks, instead of morphing the standards to keep Manning at number one.
If you are a stat cruncher, Brees is first with Manning a close second.
If you want a quarterback who is consistent in the playoffs, Brady would be first, although it's hard to judge Brees' playoff career with such a small sample.
If you want Manning on top, well, you could say that Manning has the most commercial appearances of the three.