Monday, February 3, 2014

If Peyton Manning is Football's Roger Federer, Then the Postseason is Manning's Rafael Nadal

Roger Federer is often praised as the greatest tennis player of all-time; his game is aesthetically pleasing and technically precise and he has claimed a large portion of the sport's all-time record book--but Rafael Nadal, whose record-setting career is even more impressive than Federer's was at the same stage, has defeated Federer 23-10 in their head to head meetings. When Federer faces Nadal he does not look like the greatest player of his own era, much less the greatest player of all-time.

Peyton Manning is often praised as the greatest quarterback of all-time; his game is aesthetically pleasing and technically precise and he has claimed a large portion of the sport's all-time record book--but Manning has just an 11-12 record in playoff games, including 1-2 in Super Bowls after his Denver Broncos lost 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

A tennis player battles one on one against his opponent in singles matches, while a quarterback is just one of 11 offensive players--but quarterback is the most important position in football, if not all of team sports, and a great quarterback can have a disproportionate impact on the outcome of a game. Manning has no problem making his presence felt during regular season play but his playoff record does not measure up to the postseason success enjoyed by Otto Graham (10 championship game appearances and seven championships in a 10 season career), Johnny Unitas (2-1 in NFL championship games, 1-1 in Super Bowls, 6-3 overall playoff record), Joe Montana (four Super Bowl wins in four appearances, 16-7 overall playoff record) and Tom Brady (three Super Bowl wins in five appearances, 18-8 overall playoff record). Terry Bradshaw was not as efficient statistically as Manning--though Bradshaw played in an era during which the rules heavily favored the defense, while the opposite is the case now--but Bradshaw went 4-0 in the Super Bowl and posted a 14-5 overall playoff record. Steve Young began his career in the USFL, played two seasons for a terrible Tampa Bay team and then spent several of his prime years backing up Montana in San Francisco but Young still assembled a 12-8 overall playoff record, including 1-0 in the Super Bowl. Kurt Warner has the same 1-2 Super Bowl record as Manning but Warner went 9-4 overall in the playoffs and he performed better in his three Super Bowls than Manning has.

Manning receives a lot of credit for "making his teammates better"--an ambiguous phrase at best in terms of defining an athlete's greatness--but even if we accept the very debatable premise that Manning has elevated mediocre teammates and/or teams to greatness during the regular season and thus deserves praise for doing so then don't we also have to assign some of the blame to Manning if those same teammates are nervous and/or tentative at the biggest moments? More to the point, Manning himself seemed nervous and tentative during Super Bowl XLVIII; although Manning set the Super Bowl single game record for completions (34) and threw for 280 yards, Troy Aikman commented during the telecast that it was difficult to remember when Manning accumulated all of those completions and all of that yardage: Manning's performance did not pass the eye test and anyone who watched the game analytically could see that Manning did not play at a high level, regardless of how one spins the numbers.

Furthermore, the idea that Manning has thrived despite being surrounded by lesser talent does not withstand close scrutiny. Manning's teams do not generally sneak into the playoffs only to lose to clearly superior squads; his teams race to tremendous regular season records only to stumble against lesser teams: Manning has lost his first playoff game (either in the Wild Card round or after enjoying a bye week)  a record eight times. Just as it would be wrong to deny that Manning's gaudy regular season numbers have earned him a prominent place in the all-time quarterback pantheon, it would be wrong to deny that Manning's relative lack of postseason success (compared to several other members of that pantheon) strongly argues against placing Manning at the very top of the all-time quarterback list.

The title "greatest of all-time" may be largely mythical, something that is impossible to determine by purely objective means--but it is difficult to believe that someone with a glaring hole in his resume should be ranked ahead of great players who do not have a similarly glaring hole in their resumes. Is Federer one of the greatest tennis players of all-time? Of course. Is Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time? Of course. Federer never mastered his main rival Nadal--or even figured out how to play against him on close to even terms--so it makes no sense to label Federer as the greatest of all-time; Manning never dominated NFL postseason play--or even came close to matching the championship success of quarterbacks like Graham, Unitas, Montana and Brady--so it makes no sense to label Manning as the greatest of all-time. Super Bowl XLVIII did not hurt Manning's legacy, because objective observers already understood where Manning should be placed in the quarterback pantheon--but Manning's mediocre performance during Denver's loss represented a missed opportunity for Manning to add to his legacy. If Manning had been sharp while leading Denver to victory then he would have written another chapter in his story, much like Federer could have done if he had ever figured out how to deal with Nadal's relentless groundstrokes.


Anonymous said...


I agree with.ur nadal vs federer.analysis now that nadal wit 13 grand slams and a 23 to 10 record he is the better overall player. And i agree that peyton manning is greatest reg season qb ever but wen it comes to the postseason he not even the best qb in his family lol. I want eli in a big game over peyton. .i got to give him a little leway in paticular of yesterday game he may of faced the greatest single season defense of all time the legion of boom is a team full of 25 year old guys who tackle well put pressure on qb rally to every screen give nothing up deep and stop the run. Denver had no chance in that game and it was clear early. The 85 bears gave up ten points the whole playoffs and 2000 ravens gave up 191 points in 20 games maybe those teams were a little better than lob i didnt see them but its hard to imagine even joe montana or brady going up against that d fareing much better than manning. Where i think ur argument is very strong is all the other times he choked. When he lost to ravens san diego jets pittsburg all wit home field advantage or pick six vs new orleans to lose super bowl etc. i rank montana brady unitas elway favre marino all ahead of manning in modern era. He is not greatest qb all time when combineing post season and reg season and should not be in conversation

David Friedman said...


It would be interesting to see Montana in his prime with Rice, Taylor and company going against Seattle's defense. If Montana could hit Rice and/or Taylor on a couple quick slants that might curb some of Seattle's aggressiveness. Montana lost a few playoff games (not many) and he got physically knocked out of at least one (versus the Giants) but I never saw him look as rattled mentally as Manning looked against Seattle or as Manning has looked in some of his other big playoff losses.

Graham's 10 championship game appearances in 10 seasons will never be matched--and he led the Browns to victories in seven of those games. Unitas could make every throw and he was a clutch player. Of the quarterbacks who I have actually seen, it is hard to top Montana; Brady is the closest one that I have seen but I think that Montana protected the ball slightly better.

Anonymous said...


Otto graham was great im sure but that was a diff era. Of the guys i seen brady marino was the best and i was little wen i seen marino. Johhny unitas favre etc was all great. At the end of the day they were all better in postseason than manning and they reg season numbers are great too. Manning lack of post season sucess cannot put him on the pantheon of all time great qb. But media members still say he in the conversation based on how gud a person he is etc that crazy to me cause his stats dont add up