NFL Playoffs: Peyton Manning’s Legacy

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning

1/15/2013

With his loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, Peyton Manning fell to 9-11 in the postseason and exited the playoffs after just one game for the eighth time. Meanwhile, his contemporary Tom Brady advanced to the AFC Championship for the seventh time and improved to 17-6 in the postseason.

Based on the conventional wisdom that says quarterbacks should be judged by their playoff performances, Peyton Manning is a step below guys like Brady and Joe Montana. However, the playoffs offer such a small sample size and the circumstances vary so much year to year that it’s unfair to base a player’s legacy primarily on the postseason.

In Manning’s case, his playoff record makes the story look way worse than it really should be. While his stats in the postseason aren’t quite as good overall as they are in the regular season, neither are Brady’s. Both still put up solid numbers with Manning posting a QB rating of 88.4 while Brady leads by half a point at 89.1. The stat that looks concerning is Manning’s 21 interceptions in 20 games, but this really isn’t much worse than his ratio during the regular season. Brady does turn the ball over a little less than Manning (20 in 23 games), but he too throws more picks per game in the playoffs than in the regular season.

And if you look at Manning’s three turnovers on Saturday, he seems more like a victim of circumstance than someone who chokes. The first pick was off a tipped ball caused by what looked like early contact on the receiver Eric Decker. There’s also a reasonable argument that his fumble should have been called an incomplete pass based on the infamous tuck rule. And while the final interception was a bad throw and a poor decision, it’s somewhat understandable that he would be more apt to force something in double overtime, when really the Broncos’ defense should have closed out the game in the fourth quarter.

Also, the quality of opponents are obviously higher in the playoffs, which can cause regular season numbers to take a slight dip. And the difference between winning and losing has far more to do with how the whole team plays rather than just the quarterback. In Manning’s case, most years he has not had a great defense, while Brady had one of the best units during his three Super Bowl wins. Brady actually seems to be a much better player than he was during his championship years, but the Patriots’ defense has fallen off, causing him to lose more in the playoffs.

During Manning’s lone Super Bowl win, he didn’t even play that well, but that year the Colts had a much improved defense. So it doesn’t really make much sense to credit him with winning the Super Bowl while labeling him as a choker in other years…you have to look at the big picture.

Given a large enough sample size, players perform close to their career averages in the playoffs and win-loss records really just indicate how good a team is overall. So we should look at a quarterback’s complete body of work when considering where they rank, which means that Peyton Manning should still be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. You can make an argument that Montana, Brady, Unitas, or one of the other greats were better, but the postseason should not carry such a heavy weight.

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