On Sunday evening, as the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens are facing off in the AFC Championship game for the second straight season, first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning will be where he usually is this time of year, at home. His supposed equal, rival and oft-compared peer, Tom Brady, will also be where he usually is during mid-January, on the football field.
Many experts predicted that the Patriots would be facing off against Manning's Denver Broncos for the AFC Championship, but it was not to be. Aided by some questionable late-game play calls by the Broncos, a complete defensive breakdown in the game's final minute and a Manning interception in double overtime, the Ravens were able to walk out of Denver victorious, squelching the chances of a Brady vs. Manning showdown in the process. Had the Broncos won, the Brady/Manning debate would have dominated sports coverage this week but, thanks to the Ravens, the debate is now over; we have the answer.
It's Brady and it's not close.
Manning is a great quarterback. He's won more MVP awards (four) than anyone else in the history of the NFL and never missed a start during his 14 years under center for the Indianapolis Colts prior to sitting out all of last season with a serious neck injury. (He started every game for the Broncos this year.) His regular season record of 154 wins and only 70 losses equates to a winning percentage just under 70 percent and Manning has thrown for over 4,000 yards in all but two of the 14 seasons he has been in the league. But, unlike little brother EIi, Peyton has had trouble getting it done when it counts, in the postseason.
Manning has made it to the postseason 12 times in his career, compiling a record of 9-11 overall, a winning percentage of 45 percent. Even more damning for Manning than his 11 playoff losses (tied for most all-time) is that he failed to win a game in eight out of his 12 trips to the postseason, including going one-and-done in two of his MVP seasons. Manning has made it to the AFC championship game only three times, winning twice. To put that in perspective, Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback who is regarded as good but never in the same class as Manning or Brady (by anyone outside of Pittsburgh at least) has gone 3-0 in his three chances to win the AFC title and actually has more playoff wins (10) than Manning despite going to the postseason half as many times (six).
As disappointing as Manning has been, his numbers only look worse when compared to Brady's, who will be playing in the AFC Championship game for the seventh time in 10 postseason appearances. Brady's playoff record of 17-6 is gives him a winning percentage of 74 percent, only a slight dip from the clip he wins at in the regular season -- 77 percent. In fact, even though he is largely given credit for his postseason play as opposed to his regular season numbers, Brady's regular season record of 136-39 is better than Manning's as well. Looked at another way, strictly by the numbers, Brady has actually been more likely to win a playoff game than Manning has been to win a regular season contest over the course of their careers.
Throw out the fact that Brady has only (only being a relative term) two MVP awards and has eclipsed 4,000 yards just five times in his career -- he's flat-out better, especially when it counts. Peyton's impeccable regular season numbers are what they are, but his postseason record more than speaks for itself, not in a good way. If Brady wins on Sunday, he'll become the first quarterback to play in six Super Bowls and will be poised to take the top spot in the "greatest quarterback of all-time" conversation away from guys like Joe Montana and John Elway. Good as he is, it's a conversation Manning should no longer be a part of. Like the Broncos' season, the Brady/Manning debate is over. Brady wins; he's playing on Sunday.