Please drop the pitchforks, and give me a chance to explain the title. I have nothing but respect for Peyton Manning -- he's a consummate professional, a leader on and off the field, and is arguably the most talented quarterback in NFL history. But even more than I feel the need to respect all that, I feel the need to respect the facts -- facts that say unequivocally that betting on Peyton Manning in big games isn't such a great idea.
Yes, he has a Super Bowl ring. He also threw more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns in the playoffs that year. Regardless, even if he had won those games based on his skill, rather than the skill of his teammates, that year is a statistical anomaly for Manning regarding winning big games.
It's well established in the public consciousness at this point that Peyton Manning has a record below .500 both in cold weather and in the playoffs. But what if I told you that the story of his struggles extended both to the regular season and to warm weather and domes? What if I told you that the very thing that supposedly is holding the Chiefs from being considered great this year -- beating bad teams, and losing to good teams -- is the story of Peyton Manning's recently "brilliant" years?
Again, I respect the awesome numbers he's amassed, regardless of anything I'm about to say, and I consider him to be among the greatest players to ever play the game. That said, if I was picking a QB to lead my favorite team in a big game, I'd just as soon pick Papa John as I would Peyton Manning.
Think I'm crazy? Since his last Super Bowl appearance, Peyton Manning has played 19 games against winning teams in the regular season and playoffs. In those games, his record is 9-10, and he's thrown 42 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. In the rest of his games over that span, the games against losing teams, he's thrown 79 TD and 9 INT on his way to a 25-3 record.
Is a 9-10 record good? No way. But I see, and I'm sure you do as well, that Manning is averaging almost exactly 2 TD and 1 INT per game against winning teams. Those numbers certainly aren't awful, even if they're not Manning-esque. The fact that his TD-INT ratio drops from 8-1 against losing teams to 2-1 against winning teams, however, is not insignificant.
Why does it matter? To answer that, I looked at a similar period of time for Tom Brady -- but because Manning missed a year in due to injury that Brady didn't, I only went back to the beginning of 2011, rather than 2010, for Brady. For both men, I looked at the same period of time -- their last two years in which they actually played, plus the first 14 games of this year.
What I found was that Tom Brady was 13-10 in 23 games against winning teams, and had thrown 51 TD and 19 INT. This represents a significant improvement over Manning's numbers in the same situations. To make things less confusing, over approximately the last 3 years, Brady wins 57% of his games against winning teams, and Manning wins 47% of such games. In fact, Alex Smith wins 66% (12-6 record) of the same type of games over the same period of time, and has a TD-INT ratio of better than 3-1 while amassing that record.
But it doesn't really matter how Manning compares to other players when it comes to games against winning teams -- what really matters is that because he loses more than he wins in those games, there is no factual, statistical, or logical reason for anyone to feel comfortable with Peyton Manning leading their team in a big game.
I wish the answer was as simple as "But his defense has always been worse than the other guys" but that's simply not the case. To start with, over the period of time in question, Manning's teams have surrender 23 PPG, and Brady's have surrendered 22 PPG. Obviously that is a difference, but at only 1 PPG, I'm not buying that difference as an excuse.
The second reason the defenses don't matter is that over such a large sample size, the probability that Manning is just "unlucky" to have his defense play worse in big games is infinitesimal. Over a sample size of nearly 2 entire seasons, Manning has won 89% of games against losing teams, and won about half as often (47%) against winning teams, with sample size against those teams of over an entire season's worth of games.
I'm a fan of Peyton Manning, the leader.
I'm a fan of Peyton Manning, the professional.
I'm a fan of Peyton Manning, the talent.
But Peyton Manning, the big game QB? That's a different story altogether.