A Complete and Utter Refutation of Cold Hard Football Facts

For too long, the ridiculous Cold Hard Football Facts article entitled The Complete & Unabridged Guide to Why Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning
has been allowed to stand unchallenged. The purpose of this article is
not to show that Manning is better than Brady. Though I believe it to
be true, I’m not sure that question can be adequately answered at this
point in time. Both players have the opportunity to build on or destroy
their legends on the field of play. Ten years from now, we should have
a better feel for this question. This article will instead show the
logical and methodological flaws in the CHFF article. The reader will
have to draw whatever conclusions may be reached for him or herself.

In life, it’s always a mistake to draw broad generalities from a small
sample size. When we form concrete opinions with limited experience, we
end up committing gross errors of judgment. Over the past several years
we’ve seen Manning win a Super Bowl and complete one of the greatest
comebacks in playoff history and we’ve seen Tom Brady laying on the
field of battle with a look in his eyes that said “I don’t want any
more”. According to CHFF, such a thing should have been impossible. How
could they have been so colossally wrong? How did their assumptions
miss the mark so thoroughly?

The premise
of this article is that CHFF article is flawed for two reasons: 1. They
intentionally skewed the statistics and facts to fit their conclusion,
ignoring stats and facts that undermined it, and 2. they wrote the
article too early in the game. Several of the premises that accompanied
it have since been called into question by recent events. The original
article was written for the 2005 Playoffs and then updated after the
playoffs.

Thanks to Shake n Bake
and Stan (as well as Bob M. after the fact) for their contributions to
this article. Portions of this article previously appeared on Stampedeblue.com and in our article here. All stats are courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.

CHFF Argument #1 Brady is better in the post season than Manning

CHFF said:
Brady’s superiority over Manning is built upon the stony, unyielding
foundation of each player’s postseason performances. Quite simply,
Manning, as we have long noted, is the Picasso of Choke Artists. Brady,
meanwhile, has already proven to be one of the great clutch players in
postseason history, a truly transcendent performer who reserves his
greatest games for the biggest moments. He has the Super Bowl rings,
Super Bowl records and Super Bowl MVP awards to prove it.

For
all of Manning’s brilliant regular-season fireworks in recent years, he
has simply failed to live up to expectations in the postseason – every
single year that he’s been there. That’s right. Every year. Don’t
believe us? Come, take a drive down Manning’s postseason memory lane.
But roll up the windows and lock the doors. It’s an ugly neighborhood.

The boys at CHFF then list the playoff performances of Manning one by one:

2000 Colts lose 19-16 to Tennessee.

CHFF said: Manning’s 60.9 passer rating was his lowest of the entire season. Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 19-16.

The truth:
There were lots of weird occurrences in this game, not the least of
which was the Colts’ #3 receiver (E.G. Green…their #2 was Terrance
Wilkins!) breaking his leg in the first quarter, and laying on the
field for 15 minutes in the middle of a drive where the Colts were
moving the ball. Ultimately, this game was not lost by Manning, but by
Edgerrin James.

Compare the following stat lines:

Tennessee

ATT

YDS

AVG

LNG

TD

Eddie George

26

162

6.2

68t

1

Indianapolis

         

Edgerrin James

20

56

2.8

14

0

 

Tennessee

CMP

ATT

PCT

YDS

LNG

YPA

TD

INT

RAT

Steve McNair

13

24

54.2

112

26

4.67

0

0

66.7

Indianapolis

                 

Peyton Manning

19

43

44.2

227

33

5.28

0

0

60.9

Manning had a similar if not better day than the opposite QB (the stats
here don’t list the 15 yard rushing TD he scored that day). But Eddie
George blasted the Colts defense while Edgerrin James (the NFL rushing
leader) couldn’t manage to break 3 YPC. No impartial observer could
look at these facts and stats and conclude that the quarterback was to
blame for the loss. CHFF, being neither impartial nor concerned with
facts, made the claim because it suited their premise.

1999 Colts lose 23-17 in OT to the Dolphins

CHFF said: Manning
struggled against the Dolphins and, in a game that lasted more than 70
minutes, was a non-factor. The Colts generated 11 points off Fiedler’s
interceptions but put a total of just 17 on the board, 10 points fewer
than their regular-season average. It was Indy’s second lowest scoring
output of the season. Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 23-17, in
overtime

The truth: THERE IS NO WAY
THIS GAME WAS MANNING’S FAULT.  Start with the fact that Manning’s
numbers were decent (82 rating, 1 TD 0 INT), add to it the fact that
Jerome Pathon dropped a TD pass in the first half that cost the Colts 4
points (had Pathon caught that pass that hit him in hands while he was
wide open, Manning’s QB rating would have been around 96 and the Colts
would have won).  Continue thinking about the defense that gave up the
lead late.  Think about all that you still don’t have the full story. 
On 3 rd 10 from the Miami 41 in OT, Manning hit Harrison for a 9 yard
strike to the 31.  There was a 5 yard penalty on the play, so Jim Mora
had a series of choices:

  1. Take the 5 yard penalty to the 36 and face 3 rd and 5.
  2. Decline the penalty and kick a 49 yard FG to win the game
  3. Decline the penalty and go for it on 4 th and 1.

Mora chose option 2, thinking that Mike Vanderjagt would win the game. 
Vandy shanked the ball so far right that you had to wonder what set of
goal posts he was aiming at.  Miami got the ball back and rammed it
down the defense for a TD and the win.  Manning played well in this
game (as did Edge).  You can blame Pathon, the defense, Mora, Vandy,
whoever, but only a moron would say that Manning lost them this game.
CHFF ignores the statistical facts (Manning outplayed his counter part)
and the context (a dropped TD, a 4 th quarter lead, a drive in OT into
scoring position) and claims that Manning choked. This is simply an
untrue ignorant claim.

2003 Colts lose 41-0 to the NY Jets

CHFF said:Manning
played the single worst statistical game of his entire career (14 for
31, 137 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs and a career-low 31.2 passer rating) and
failed to put a single point on the board. Result: Manning chokes.
Colts lose, 41-0
.

The truth: CHFF claims that Manning choked. They have the stats to ‘prove it’. They apparently didn’t watch that game.

Let’s recall the drive chart:

            IND-Punt (Manning threw 1 incomplete pass)

             NYJ-first drive TD (7-0)
            IND-first drive missed FG (thanks again Vandy)
            NYJ-Second drive FG (10-0)
            IND-Second drive-fumbled kickoff, recovered by the NYJ
            NYJ-Third drive TD (17-0)

Before Manning ever got the ball back a third time (and remember that
he drove the team downfield on the first possession), the Colts were
losing 17-0.  HOW WAS THIS HIS FAULT?  He had nothing to do with any of
those points.  Again, only an idiot would say that the Colts lost this
game because Manning choked.  Since 1972 NO TEAM has come back from 17
down on the road.  How can you say that Manning choked when his team
put him in an impossible position?  He did throw two ints in that
game.  ..IN THE FOURTH QUARTER WHEN THEY WERE DOWN 30.  There was no
choke here, at least not by Peyton.  Could have put up better numbers?
Possibly, but it’s hard to put up great numbers when you are down 17-0
on the road in the first quarter. Throw in the fact that Edgerrin James
had only 9 carries for 13 yards. No honest observer of football would
blame the quarterback for a loss like this.

2004 Colts lose 24-14 to the New England Patriots

CHFF said: But
Manning, facing foul weather and a good defense, returned to his
historic postseason form in the AFC title game against New England.
Manning tossed four interceptions and posted the third lowest passer
rating of his entire career (35.5).
Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 24-14

The truth
: Manning was horrible in this game. He made poor decisions and poor
throws and the Colts lost. In fairness, however, this was on the heels
of two of the best statistical games back to back by a QB in postseason
history. No excuses, however. Manning played very poorly on a day when
a good game would have put the Colts in the Super Bowl. I have no
quibble with them on this point.

2005 Colts lose 20-3 to the New England Patriots

CHFF said: . Once
again, Manning played his very worst game of the season in the
playoffs, completing 27 of 42 passes for 238 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT
and a passer rating of 69.3, his lowest of the year.
Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 20-3 .

The Truth:
Two critical fumbles did the Colts in that day, but the real difference
in the game was at the running back position: James carried 14 times
for 39 yards. He had 10 first down carries for a total of 14 yards,
consistently putting his quarterback in 2nd and long situations. Corey
Dillon carried 23 times for 144, including a 42 yard run that set up a
NE score.

The quarterbacks had similar
days. Brady completed 66% of his passes, Manning 64%. Brady had a TD
passing; Manning threw a meaningless pick in the final minute when the
outcome had been decided. The quarterbacks didn’t decide this game, the
run defenses did. It was snowing and conditions were poor. They favored
New England’s style of play, and the better defense won. The Patriots
played a ball control game, averaging 5.4 YPC and nearly a 2-1
advantage in T.o.P. Instead of lauding the Pats for a great game plan
and a well constructed run attack, the guys at CHFF chose to ignore the
facts and criticize the one Colt who actually played pretty well that
day: Peyton Manning.

Brady’s Postseason Review

In the same way that CHFF wears blinders with Manning, they wear
rose-colored glasses with Brady. They laud Brady’s Super Bowl MVP
performance in which he posted a rating of 86 (only four points higher
than Manning vs Miami). They site the snow game with Oakland as one of
Brady’s finest performances. He had a QB rating of 70 that day. True,
NE won the game thanks to a pair of dramatic field goals by Adam
Vinatieri, but note that Brady actually played WORSE in that game than
Manning did the year before in the Miami game that the Colts lost. CHFF
said that Manning choked. They said Brady was epic. In truth both men
played well, and the games were ultimately decided by field goal
kickers. Brady’s kicker nailed an all time clutch game winner in the
snow. Manning’s yanked a game winner on a sunny field in Miami. If CHFF
was consistent to the stats they love to quote, they would have
concluded that both men were but players in a larger drama. They may
respond, and rightly so, “but consider the context!”. In context,
Brady’s average performances are great; but if context is to be
considered, then Manning’s “pathetic” (their word) performances are
more accurately understood as solid play that gave his team a chance to
win but only to be let down by other players.

In fact in 4 of Brady’s WINNING playoff performances (2002 Oakland,
2002 Rams, 2004 Colts, 2007 Chargers) he actually posted a LOWER passer
rating than Manning did in a game that CHFF described as a “choke”.
Brady has had some epic performances to be sure, but Manning has as
well. CHFF conveniently left off Manning’s amazing 2 game run in the
2004 playoffs. Since that article was written, Manning has won a Super
Bowl, and Brady has suffered one of the worst 2nd half collapses in
history (2007 AFC Championship), and managed to ‘choke’ (their word)
away a perfect season by losing to one of the biggest underdogs in
history, posting “his very worst game of the season in the playoffs”.

In summary:CHFF
said ” In five playoff losses during the Manning era, the Colts have
scored just 10.0 PPG. It’s got even worse in recent years. In the past
three seasons, the Colts offense went down in a whimpering heap of
postseason futility, scoring a woeful and inexcusable 5.7 PPG in its
last three playoff losses – that’s a net difference of negative 21.8
PPG when compared with Indy’s scoring average over those same three
regular seasons. Think the problem in Indy is a Swiss-cheese defense?
Think again. In the playoffs, the problem is a pathetic offense and
pathetic play at quarterback”

They were
wrong then, ridiculously placing blame on Manning for things that were
not his fault and attributing to Brady a ‘clutchness’ that often had
more to do with the performance of other players than it did to the man
himself. Recent history has balanced the scales somewhat. Nothing can
detract from the amazing run the Patriots had in the early part of the
decade. Nothing can change the frustration Colts fans had with their
team, their coaches and on one very notable occasion, their QB. Overall
the two QBs have posted very comparable playoff numbers:

Manning:

G

14

W

7

Comp

323

Att

522

%

61.9

yards

3,898

YPA

7.5

TD

21

INT

17

Rush TD

3

Rating

84.6

Brady:

G

17

W

14

Comp

372

Att

595

%

62.5

yards

3,954

YPA

6.6

TD

26

INT

12

Rush TD

2

Rating

88.0

Note that Manning has thrown 3 INTs at the end of games that were
already decided (2 in the 2001 loss to the Jets, 1 in the 2005 loss to
the Patriots). Brady has thrown one ‘meaningless pick’ (Denver 2006).
If those three picks are discounted, Manning’s passer rating rises to
86.99.

Brady has a slightly better rating
overall, though hardly a significant edge given the small sample size.
His completion % is nearly identical to Manning’s, though Peyton holds
a significant edge in Yards Per Attempt. Brady has thrown 5 more scores
in three more games, hardly a massive edge. Manning has thrown a higher
number of picks than normal, but again, three of those came very late
in games that were already decided. In fact, the number that Brady
dominates very clearly is wins. Because of this, CHFF assumed that he
was clearly the dominant postseason QB, when the numbers clearly show
players that are very evenly matched. One has had consistently better
teams, and most importantly, a consistently better kicker than the
other. Ultimately, the sample sizes are far too small even now (they
were even smaller then!) to draw any real conclusions. Another game or
two could actually reverse the numbers completely. Brady’s wins and
Manning’s losses say more about the relative quality of their teams at
the time, than they do about the men running them.

CHFF Argument #2-Mano a Mano

The entire premise of this argument is flawed as it assumes that Brady
and Manning are playing against the same quality of defense or even
more hilariously, that they are playing against each other. They
compare Brady vs the awful Colts Ds of 2001-2004 against Manning vs the
very good Pats Ds. The Pats Ds ranked, 1st, 2nd, 17th and 6th in those
years, compared to 19th 20th, 7th, 31st for the Colts. The Colts D was
better one year, every other year the Pats D ranked at least 18 spots
higher. More importantly, the stats have changed since CHFF posted this
article. CHFF noted back then:

* Brady: 121 for 180 (67.2%), 1,322 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs, 98.0 passer rating

* Manning: 137 for 234 (58.5%), 1,542 yards, 9 TDs, 10 INTs, 73.3 passer rating

The Manning/Brady tally now stands like this:

Manning:

Comp

Att

Yards

TD

Int

Rushing TD

228

381

2761

16

14

3

Comp % 59.8

 

YPA 7.25

 

Rating 80.8

 

Brady:

Comp

Att

Yards

TD

Int

Rushing TD

205

314

2275

17

11

1

Comp % 65.3

 

YPA 7.25

 

Rating 90.1

 

As you can see, Brady still has the edge in rating and comp %, but the
numbers are now quite similar. The Patriots have won 7 of the 10 games
played, but one can hardly look to the Brady/Manning split as the chief
reason for that disparity. In fact, one excellent game by Manning and
one average game by Brady would reverse all the advantages Brady
currently has, while not reversing the records of the teams against one
another. The sample size is just too small, and the competition too
unequal to draw any firm conclusions. If anything, the similar stats
with dissimilar records would suggest that in fact the Patriots simply
had better teams than the Colts did for most of the past 8 years. That
is a fact that no one disputes.

CHFF Argument #3 The Formative Years

The actual argument is unclear but essentially it appears that they
claim that Brady was a better college player than Manning, or that
Manning was incapable of winning “the big game”.

The Truth: Tom
Brady went 20-5 in college and won two bowl games. He lost the big game
against Ohio State in 1998, forcing the Wolverines into a share of the
conference title and a lesser bowl.

Peyton
Manning went 39-6 as a college starter. He went 3-1 in bowl games. He
also led a huge comeback in the SEC Championship game as a senior (a
4-1 postseason record). He famously ‘struggled’ against Florida.
Florida averaged 40.25 points in four games against Manning’s Tennessee
teams (they never scored less than 31 points). Clearly, there were
problems at Tennessee that went beyond the offense. CHFF also ripped
Manning for not winning the Heisman. This letter from a reader sums up
that case as well as anything could:


Watching ABC college football while listening to the Tennessee-Southern
Miss game in November of 1997…  [As I noted, I’m from Tennessee,
although I never rooted for Heath Shuler or other Vols in the NFL.  I
went to Vandy Law School and family are Commodore Club boosters. 
Wasn’t til 2003 that I really watched Manning as a pro.]

Anyway,
it is halftime of the Vols game.  Southern Miss is ranked in the top 25
on the strength of an awesome defense (Patrick Surtain and about 10
other defenders, starters and subs, who would play in the NFL).  John
Thompson was the up and coming def coordinator and he apparently came
up with a weird, throw the sink-type defense which blitzed the house
one play and only rushed two the next, etc.  The Vols went three and
out on their first series, but Peyton finished the half at 19-29 for
199 and a TD while adding a rushing TD.  I’ll never forget because I
knew he’d been pretty good and the stats were announced on the radio
right after John Saunders’ televised orgasm.

ABC
is doing a halftime scoreboard show by Saunders and he gets to
highlights of Michigan-Penn St.  He shows Woodson at WR line up in the
slot, run straight to the post and catch an easy TD.  It was obvious
that Penn St blew a coverage and left him wide open.  He didn’t even
make a move, simply ran straight to the post and caught an easy pass (a
backup on a frat intramural team could have made the play).  Saunders
goes nuts.  Absolutely bonkers.  I think he wet himself.  Just fell
over himself praising the play.  Then he looks meaningfully into the
camera and says “And Peyton Manning is struggling today!”  No
highlights or stats, just that he was “struggling.” 

Silly
me.  I had thought 19-29, 199 and 2 TDs in just a half was pretty good
coming against one of the best defenses in the country.

The
problem for those who wanted to torpedo Manning’s Heisman campaign was
that it wasn’t enough to talk about Woodson and exaggerate his
abilities.  They had to trash Peyton.  And what could they say?  He
was, as Bob Griese said during the SEC title game broadcast, the best
QB to come out of college in at least 15 years (Elway, Marino?).  Note,
Bob’s son was the Michigan QB, and he had seen the propaganda campaign
close up.  He went on to say that it was a terrible disservice what the
national media had done to Peyton.  Thoughts echoed by Craig James, Lou
Holtz and others.  Note that they didn’t just say that Peyton should
have won, but that the national media had mounted a campaign to trash
him.

Peyton finished
his college career having won more games as a starter than any college
QB in history.  He had phenomenal stats.  What could they use to trash
him?  So they had to seize on the fact that Spurrier’s Gators had won
all three games Manning started against them (on the way to a national
championship and national runner-up).  Didn’t matter that Spurrier had
put over 120 points on the board in those three games.  Didn’t matter
that the Vols never used the draw or play action passes while Peyton
was there (can you imagine Peyton without the draw or play action
pass????!!!!)  There was nothing else they could say to trash him. 
“Never won a big game”  became a mantra.  The SEC title (with a
tremendous comeback when the rest of the Vols were horrible) didn’t
count.  Going to Birmingham as a soph to break Alabama’s 9 game
unbeaten streak against the Vols by throwing an 80 yard bomb on the
first play (remember, the Tide was Tenn’s biggest rival and the game
the South’s most important rivalry for three quarters of a century)? 
Nope.  Remember that Bear Bryant and General Neyland had both said many
times that the true test of a player was how he played in the Alabama-
Tennessee game.  Didn’t matter.  It wasn’t about truth, it was about
propaganda.  And the slander quickly circled the globe.  I don’t think
truth even tried to get dressed on that one.  The only big games Peyton
ever played were the three starts against Florida, although some of the
haters also blame for losing as a freshman on the bench.  Same thing
for his pro playoff games — all losses were big games and all wins
were not.

In Summary: Peyton
Manning lost 6 games as a college starter. Apparently, according to
CHFF 4 of those qualified as ‘big game losses’ (only one of those was a
bowl game). None of his other regular season games (in the SEC!), none
of his bowl game wins, nor his SEC Championship game win counted as
“big games” in their eyes. Tom Brady on the other hand lost 1 fewer
games in a 1.5 fewer seasons as a starter. He also failed to beat Ohio
State in 1998, which would have secured a Rose Bowl spot for Michigan.
Both men had excellent careers in college full of big wins and
sprinkled lightly with tough losses. To over-glorify Brady’s career or
vilify Manning’s as a failure would be ridiculous.

CHFF Argument #4 The Defense Issue

This argument seems to say that Tom Brady is better than Trent Dilfer.
Though it may have been a popular argument at the time, I don’t know of
anyone that would debate that issue today. It also claims that Manning
had one Super Bowl caliber defense (the 2002 defense).

CHFF said : Meanwhile,
Indy has had at least one Super Bowl caliber defense during the Manning
era. In 2002, the Colts fielded a defensive unit that ranked 7 th in
scoring and 8 th in total defense. It was, in other words, a unit that
was statistically superior to New England’s 2001 Super Bowl winning
defense, which ranked 6 th in scoring and 24 th in total defense –
which, as we mentioned, was the lowest rated defense ever to win a
Super Bowl.

The Truth:
Tom Brady played with great defenses. Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl
with the worst defense to win a Super Bowl in history (though in
fairness, it played to a dominant level in the playoffs due to the
miracle healing of Bob Sanders). The 2002 Colts’ defense is sighted by
CHFF as being “Super Bowl caliber”. There is one big problem with that:
the defense gave up 41 points in a playoff game. That defense put
Manning in a 17-0 hole before the dust even settled. That defense may
have been ‘Super Bowl caliber’ statistically, but in the one playoff
game it had, it never even gave the offense a chance to be competitive.
In the Manning era, the Colts have fielded two truly Super Bowl caliber
defenses: 2005 and 2007. The 2005 team lost in the playoffs when the
offensive line utterly collapsed. The 2007 defense never recovered from
the loss of Dwight Freeney and gave up 28 points in the playoffs.

In fact, in the three Super Bowl runs the Patriots had, their defense
yielded an average of 17.2 points a game. In Manning’s 7 postseason
losses, the Colts’ defense gave up an average of 25 points a game. In
his 7 wins, the defense gave up 18.6 points a game. Manning has simply
not had the defensive support that Brady has had in the playoffs. To
say otherwise is to ignore the facts.

CHFF Argument #5 The Talent issue

CHFF said: Indianapolis
might have a better shot at winning a Super Bowl should it put more
emphasis on defense. But the organization has made a strategic decision
to sacrifice defense in an effort to surround Manning with the greatest
talent possible and to sell tickets to a fan base that desires
high-scoring games.

The argument is
that Manning has had more offensive talent around him than Tom Brady
has. According to CHFF this was a strategic error.

The Truth: The talent ‘imbalance’ on offense between the Patriots and Colts has long been over played. First, let’s examine the line:

New England ‘s offensive line in 2004 featured a second-round draft
pick (Matt Light), two fifth rounders (Dan Koppen and Russ Hochstein),
a seventh-round pick (Brandon Gorin) and three undrafted free agents
(Stephen Neal, Joe Andruzzi and Tom Ashworth) Two of their undrafteds
are backups who started a combined 8 games.

The
Colts line is similarly constructed. Tarik Glenn first rounder, Ryan
Lilja undrafted, Jeff Saturday undrafted, Jake Scott  5th round, Ryan
Diem 4th round and backups Tupe Peko 7th round and Makoa Freitas 6th
round.

Verdict: Neither team has invested
a lot of high picks in the O line, so this issue must be about the
running backs and receivers. The CHFF piece seems to ignore the fact
that Tom Brady, while not throwing to a first rounder like Reggie
Wayne, was throwing to a second rounder who was traded for a first
round pick after winning the Super Bowl MVP award (Deion Branch).
Manning has had the advantage of throwing to a future Hall of Fame WR
in Marvin Harrison, a luxury that Brady didn’t have until this past
season. The piece also ignores the fact that Reggie Wayne wasn’t a
significant factor until the 2003 season. Before that, Manning was
throwing to Wilkins, EG Green and Jerome Pathon. The presence of James
ironically might have been part of Manning’s undoing. He was often over
used and worn down come playoff time. When the Colts switched to a two
back set in 2006, the backs both had phenomenal postseasons. In this
case, the presence of a Hall of Famer might have worked against
Manning.

The real problem with this point
is two fold: 1. it assumes that the Colts drafted poorly, and 2. it
blames Manning for the Colts draft record. If Manning was truly to
blame for the Colts drafts over the first several years of his career,
he should also go to the Hall of Fame for being one of the most
brilliant player/GMs imaginable. Pro-football-reference recently rated the Colts as the BEST drafting team in the NFL during that period.

In Summary:
This point is partially true, but overblown. Manning had a similar
line, one great receiver, and a player in Reggie Wayne that was
comparable in draft position and early production at the time to Deion
Branch. Manning has had better RBs, but note that Edgerrin James often
failed to produce in the postseason. Most importantly, the premise of
this charge is wrong. The%2

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