It feels weird to legitimately discuss the legacy of the NFL’s career passing leader as he enters his fourth Super Bowl weekend, yet here we are with Peyton Manning. As a member of the Colts and Broncos, Manning, in addition to career passing yards, has racked up five MVP trophies, 14 Pro Bowl selections, season records in yards and touchdowns, the career record in touchdowns, and the list goes on and on. He’s brought his teams to 15 playoff seasons, yet he can’t shake his reputation as a playoff flop, and it’s killed his overall legacy as one of football’s greatest ever. Let’s investigate his legacy by comparing him to his greatest competitor to the title of GOAT, Tom Brady.
Being from Boston, I’ve often heard Peyton Manning described as “Pro Bowl MVP,” while Tom Brady is “Super Bowl MVP.” But is that entirely accurate?
As you may well know, the Pro Bowl is played the week before the Super Bowl, and traditionally participants of the big game are exempt from playing in the NFL’s All-Star game (except this year, when seemingly every star was exempt). The argument follows as such: because Brady leads his team to the Super Bowl so often he cannot play in the Pro Bowl, while for Peyton Manning, well, let’s just say he’s always available in late January.
While in reality Manning only has one Pro Bowl MVP, that label is used more in jest of his perceived playoff failures. The most convincing piece of evidence to defend that label is his nine career playoff one-and-dones. This means that out of his 15 playoff seasons, he has lost in the first round an astounding nine times, another NFL record that’s all his. Even though he owns a career regular season record of, 186-79 he is merely .500 in playoff games, with a record of 13-13. Above all, despite five MVP seasons, he’s only won one Super Bowl, while being blown out in his other two appearances by a combined score of 74-25.
Meanwhile, Brady has only two one-and-dones, owns four Super Bowl Rings (3 Super Bowl MVPs), and has participated in the last five AFC Championship games. His career playoff record is 22-9.
These raw playoff stats definitely suggest Manning can’t perform when it matters the most, but perhaps they don’t tell the whole story. Playoff success is often dependent on more than just one player, and some questions can be raised about the the strengths of his Colts teams. In the cold playoff months, good defense and a strong running game help overcome adverse conditions. Brady’s teams (and especially Bill Belichick) understood this, and oftentimes sacrificed success in October for wins in January. Manning’s teams were built to amass passing yards and, on defense, get after the quarterback. When games tighten up in the postseason, this strategy often fails.
Despite that, Manning is currently 3-2 against Brady in the playoffs, including his 3-1 record in AFC Championship games. That’s a surprising stat, but it’s true. Head to head at least, Manning has gotten the better of Brady when it counts the most; it just hasn’t translated to Super Bowls.
This season however, the Broncos have seemed to win despite Manning, not because of him. He threw for nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, with the league’s worst passer rating at 67.9. While you can certainly make the case that Brady’s first Super Bowls were owed to his defense and kicker, it was never to this extent.
How would you assess Manning’s season if the Broncos end as NFL Champions? He looks nothing like the GOAT yet he’s added another Championship game over Brady and might get his second ring. Vontaze Burfict (who knocked out Antonio Brown and mauled Roethlisberger’s shoulder) and the rest of the Steelers’ injury crisis were more of a factor in the Broncos’ first playoff win, while Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware almost single-handedly beat the Patriots. Should this Super Bowl trip count as much for Manning? It’s an interesting question for sure, but I’m inclined to say no. He’s been one of the worst passer in the NFL this year, that affects his legacy more than the fact that his defense brought him to a Super Bowl.
What was once a fierce debate between regular season records and postseason success earlier in their careers, the gap in this rivalry has opened up in the past few season. While Brady has transformed himself into a top MVP candidate almost yearly and won his fourth championship, Manning’s injuries and other issues have caught up to him as he transitions into a game-manager role. A Super Bowl trip does not change that.
While Manning is certainly a top-ten football player of all time, he unfortunately does not come close enough to the top spot to merit the title of GOAT.