Remember December

From the mailbag:

James O writes:

Hey, guys!  I have to say, I’m getting sick of all this “great career record in December” talk as it pertains to Brady and Rivers (18-1).  What’s Peyton’s record like in December when he is playing in a meaningful game?  Also, I understand that December seems like crunch time because the playoff picture is clearing up, but at the end of the year, a win in September is just as good as a win in December.  Also, concerning Rivers, are we supposed to praise him for making great December runs when the fact of the matter is that he apparently can’t win in September/October?

Thanks James.  Let’s run the numbers. 

As always, all of this is prefaced with my usual disclaimer:  Quarterbacks don’t win and lose games.  Teams do.  Talking about quarterbacks’ records is foolish.  Having said that, I’ll now talk about quarterbacks’ records, but not because I think it’s meaningful.  Half the known world seems to think things like this matter, so I have to deal with it, even though I don’t put any stock in it.

First, the Colts are 138-67 under Manning (.673).  That includes five ‘lay down’ losses to end seasons (2004, 2 in 2005, 2007, and 2 in 2009).  Without those five games and discounting the two garbage wins (2005, 2008), Colts are 136-62 with Manning taking most of the snaps (.687).

There’s different ways to break this down.  First, let’s just count all games played in December.  In all December games, the Colts are 35-19 (.648) with Manning as quarterback.  One of those losses was a playoff loss to the Dolphins in 2000.  Three of those losses (2005, 2007, 2009) were ‘lay down’ games.  That means that in meaningful December regular season games, the Colts are 35-15. That’s a .700 winning percentage, slightly better than his winning percentage the rest of the year.

In addition, the Colts are 2-3 in regular season games played in January.  They lost in Buffalo in 1999, beat Denver in 2001, laid down in Denver in 2004, beat the Cardinals in a ‘lay down’ game in 2005, and laid down in Buffalo in 2009.  That basically makes them 1-1 when they tried in January regular season games.

So, in short, when Manning plays significant snaps in December, the Colts win 70% of the time.  Of course, they win about 68% of the time in other months.  There’s basically no difference.

Part of the myth behind ‘December record’ is the idea that the games ‘count more’ as teams fight to make the playoffs.  That’s the issue with Phil Rivers.  His team is terrible in September and unstoppable in December.  It hasn’t done him much good in January though, so I guess it’s pretty weak record to hold.

Considering that the Colts have made the playoffs in 10 of Manning’s 12 years in the league, I’d say he’s played just fine in December…and every other month.