Every football fan has voiced his or her opinion on the rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady; now that we're in the postseason, those opinions only get louder. Brady (30) and Manning (25) rank 1-2 in career playoff starts among NFL quarterbacks, and they will face each other for the fifth time in the postseason in Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Denver.
When the opinions turn to facts, the unique voices become harder to differentiate. For many, the following simple evidence ends any argument:
Brady (22-8) has the most playoff wins in NFL history.
Manning (12-13) has the most playoff losses in NFL history, including nine one-and-done postseasons.
Brady is 4-2 in the Super Bowl, while Manning is 1-2.
Even for fans capable of recognizing how unreliable the win-loss record is in evaluating quarterbacks, that difference in winning percentage is hard to overlook. Seventeen quarterbacks have started at least 12 career playoff games, and Dan Marino (8-10) is the only other one among them without a winning record.
What if I told you the main difference between Manning and Brady in the postseason was the outcome of four field goals and two plays by defenders with the last name of Moore?
Manning and Brady have had more than 1,000 dropbacks each in the playoffs, but six game-changing plays in which neither quarterback was on the field have shaped these records as much as anything. Close games often turn on one play. In the history of the NFL playoffs, there is no greater example than Manning when it comes to quarterbacks who get bad breaks, and no greater example than Brady when it comes to a quarterback who benefits from a teammate's triumphs.
The statistical comparison
If Manning had Andy Dalton's playoff stats and performed at Dalton's level, the Brady-Manning debate would have ended years ago, because Manning would have nowhere close to 12 playoff wins in that case.
What Manning does have are some of the best playoff stats and achievements in NFL history. This has been overshadowed because of early struggles and the fact that his career has run concurrently with Brady's. When you match them up in various efficiency stats from Football Outsiders (explained here) that adjust for situation, opponent and league averages, or a metric like Total QBR (explained here) that takes all types of plays into account, Manning's postseason performance is ahead of or on par with Brady's.