Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tom Brady v Peyton Manning: Even If Brady Wins A Fourth Super Bowl I Would Still Probably Choose Manning

Last week Tom Brady, quarterback for the National Football League’s New England Patriots, helped the Patriots into their sixth Super Bowl during his career. The week before Peyton Manning, quarterback for the Denver Broncos and formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, saw his team eliminated from the playoffs in their first game. This has been taken by some observers as further support for the argument that Brady, who has been in three Super Bowl winning teams compared to Manning’s one, is the better quarterback, including by Bill Simmons.

I disagree. Most of my reasons actually accord fairly well with the arguments put forward in this Salon article by Allen Barra. But here is why I think Manning has been the better quarterback, or at least about even.

First up, I put little weight on the argument that Brady holds an 11-5 edge in games between their teams. For one thing, Brady and Manning’s teams do not just play each other; there is the rest of the league where their performances matter as well. Second, as important as quarterbacks are, the head-to-head record tells me more that Brady has been in a better team. Third, Brady and Manning aren’t even on the field at the same time; they each face off against the opposing team’s defence, not each other.

I put slightly more weight, but still relatively little, on Brady having more Super Bowl wins. Again, it mainly just tells me that Brady’s teams have been better, not that Brady himself has been better. Now, given how important the quarterback is to an NFL side, the fact that Brady has been involved in winning three Super Bowl tells me that he is probably really, really good. But I prefer a measure that can abstract a bit more from the effects of his teammates.

For example, Manning has been voted five times the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, to Brady’s two times. Sure the MVP voting is quite subjective, but that tells me that more often football observers have considered Manning as more crucial to his team’s success. Interestingly in working out which quarterback ‘won’ each year, Simmons gives 2003 and 2004 to Brady, even though Manning won the MVP in both years, probably on the basis that the Patriots won the Super Bowl. But voters clearly judged Manning the better individual player, so Brady’s triumphs seem more reflective of team success.

Manning also has a slightly better career passing rating, at 97.5 to Brady’s 95.9. While a passer rating is not the be-all and end-all – and it is itself partly dependent on a QB’s teammates – it does capture many of the major statistics used to evaluate one quarterback against another (touchdowns, completions, yards gained, and interceptions). David Berri’s QB Score, which takes into account what quarterbacks do with their legs as well, rates Manning even higher.

Brady proponents though can always point to Brady’s great playoffs win-loss record to Manning’s so-so one. This argument was addressed recently at Fivethirtyeight, and while it showed Brady has been the better playoff performer, Manning’s playoff record is still somewhat better than if his teams had instead had an ‘average’ quarterback.

It is pretty close though, and perhaps my argument is as much that Brady is not clearly better as that I think Manning just shades him. But basically I think it is only Brady’s three Super Bowl wins in four years – certainly not a small achievement, by the way – that has stopped the consensus from favouring Manning.

On the other hand, maybe I just like Peyton Manning more.

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