Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 4/9/12

[Surgeon General’s Warning: Statistics!!!]

The age old debate: Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, who is the better QB? We’ve argued it time and time again.

Back in March of last year I recall a friendly discussion I had with a co-worker who happened to be a fan of the Patriots and Tom Brady. I argued, “Well, fine, forget the statistics and Super Bowls. Manning is better than Brady because he is more important to his team and does more with less. When Brady went down week one of 2008, the team still went 11-5 and made the playoffs. If Manning ever went down the Colts would be an 8-8 team at best. Probably 6-10.”

“But you don’t know that, because Manning’s never missed a season like Brady,” he replied.

Fortunately for me and quite unfortunately for the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning’s neck injury decided to help my argument out.

Peyton Manning Versus Tom Brady: Who Is The Better QB?

Manning missed the entire 2011 season due to injury. We now have exactly one full season of games to compare how Brady’s and Manning’s teams fared without them. Turns out I was a little too optimistic about the Colts’ chances without #18.


First, let’s dispose of the two traditional arguments in the Manning versus Brady debate.

1. Statistics

Statistically over their careers to date, Manning and Brady are pretty similar:

  • Manning wins in the completion percentage department.
  • Brady wins the TD/INT battle.
  • Manning wins the yards per game battle.
  • Brady has the better overall rating.
  • Manning has a lot fewer fumbles… Etc…

It could cut either way if you just focused on their statistical production.

One thing is sure: both Manning and Brady are impressive QBs.

2. Super Bowls

Manning 1 – Brady 3. Point Brady.

My only problem with simply comparing Super Bowl victories is that it would make Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson better than Dan Marino (as well as Jim Kelly, Dan Fouts, or even a current guy like Philip Rivers). Jim Plunkett is twice as good as Marino if we’re just counting Super Bowls. That has always seemed sketchy to me.

Instead of statistics or Super Bowls, let’s look at the “replacement factor:” how each quarterback’s team did without them and how their backups fared.

In 2008, when Brady got injured in week 1, Matt Cassel was unexpectedly forced to take over the starting duties. We’ll compare his numbers in 2008 to Brady’s career numbers.

Tom Brady versus Matt Cassel   Comp % TD/INT QB Rating Yards per Game W/L Record Matt Cassel ('08) 63.4% 1.91 89.4 230.0 11-5 (0.687) Tom Brady (Career) 63.8% 2.61 96.4 248.3 123-37 (0.768)

There is a relatively modest drop in each statistical category:

  • completion percentage down by .4%
  • TD/INT ratio down by 0.7
  • QB rating down by 7 points
  • yards per game down by 18.3 yards
  • won/loss record is down by .081

Considering that Cassel had not started a single NFL game prior the 2008 season, his performance was quite impressive.

Now, consider Manning compared to his replacements in 2011.

Peyton Manning versus Colts QBs in 2011   Comp % TD/INT QB Rating Yards per Game W/L Record Colts QBs in '11 56.5% 1.00 72.1 200.8 2-14 (0.125) Peyton Manning (Career) 64.9% 2.02 94.9 263.6 131-61 (0.682)

Manning’s backups’ statistics crashed worse than Lebron in the NBA Finals.

  • completion percentage down 8.4%
  • TD/INT ratio down 1.02
  • QB rating down 22.8
  • yards per game down by 62.8 yards
  • won/loss record down by .557.

Manning’s backups were on notice months in advance that Manning might miss some games due to his surgeries. They even brought in veteran Kerry Collins (remember him? He took the Titans to a 13-3 record just a couple years earlier).

How do the differences compare?

  • The Colts’ completion percentage without Peyton Manning was 21 times worse than the Patriots’ without Tom Brady. Let me write that again just to make sure you understand. The Colts completion percentage was twenty-one times worse than the Pats’.
  • The Colts TD/INT ratio without Peyton Manning was nearly 1.5 times worse than the Patriots’ without Tom Brady.
  • The Colts QB Rating without Peyton Manning was more than 3 times worse than the Patriots’ without Tom Brady.
  • The Colts average passing yards per game without Peyton Manning was more than 3 times worse than the Patriots’ without Tom Brady.
  • The Colts win percentage without Peyton Manning was nearly 7 times worse than the Patriots’ without Tom Brady.

Wait, wait, wait! I can already hear the Patriots fans saying “But Cassel was so much better than Collins/Painter/Orlovsky.” Interesting point, but totally false.

Seriously.

Go type “How is it physically possible to be worse than the Colts Quarterbacking crew in 2011” into Google and the search result will literally be a picture of Matt Cassel in 2009.

After the 2008 season, New England traded Cassel to Kansas City. Matt Cassel’s numbers with the Chiefs in ’09 went from their almost-Pro-Bowl-worthy 2008 Patriot levels to actually being worse than Indianapolis QBs in 2011:

  • He completed just 55% of his passes (1.5% worse than Indy QBs in ’11; Down 8.4% from 2008 with the Pats)
  • His TD/INT ratio was 1/1 (Identical to Indy QBs in ’11; Down .91 from 2008)
  • His QB rating was 69.9 (2.2 worse than Indy QBs in ’11; Down a whopping 19.5 from 2008)
  • His average yards per game was 194 (6.8 yards worse than Indy QBs in ’11; down 36 yards from 2008).
  • The only category Cassel was able to best the Indy QBs in was the win record.

Conclusion: Peyton Manning is a better quarterback than Tom Brady because he is irreplaceable.

Tom Brady can be replaced by any mediocre QB and the Patriots will still have success. The Pats are just that stacked personnel-wise, and they have been for years. Let’s admit it, that’s largely due to great team management, smart use of draft picks, and frugal free agent pickups.

So, the next time you get stuck in the middle of the Manning versus Brady debate, go ahead and talk about the statistics, talk about the Super Bowls, but don’t forget about the “replacement factor” because Peyton owns it.

*****

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