Last weekend, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning faced each other on the gridiron for the tenth time. The Patriots win gave Brady his seventh win in those matchups including a 2-1 head-to-head record in the playoffs. Add that to Brady’s three Super Bowl wins and many people would tell you that, stats be damned, they would prefer Brady as their quarterback.
But judging a QB solely on wins is about as silly as using wins to pick a Cy Young Award winner in baseball.
Likewise, we can’t just compare quarterbacks based on their touchdowns and yards, when so much of a player’s stats can be attributed to the type of offence a team runs.
To reconcile the differences, we can turn to a couple of fun stats called Win Probability Added (WPA) and Expected Points Added (EPA). In short, WPA sums up the importance of every single play the player was involved in, and whether that play increased the team’s chances of winning that game. WPA also considers context, so that a 50-yard TD pass in a tie game is worth more than the same play when the team is already winning by 28. Similarly, EPA measures how much a player increases (or decreases) a team’s chance of scoring on a particular drive.
So let’s look at these numbers for Manning and Brady as well as some more traditional stats…
Surprisingly, on a per game basis, Brady’s stats are comparable to Manning’s, and even a little better if we consider the all-important touchdown-to-interception ratio.
However, where Manning separates himself from Brady is in WPA and EPA (which are measured per 16 games). Manning, on average, has been directly responsible for 1.5 more wins and 51 more points per season than Brady. The points may be explained in part by the differences in their home fields. But wins are wins.
And considering the players actual per game numbers are so similar, the WPA data suggests that Manning is making plays when it matters most. In other words, despite Brady’s heroics in the spotlight, Manning has actually been the more clutch quarterback for their careers.
Make no mistake, Brady’s resumé is remarkable. But if Manning had the benefit of the rest of the Patriots’ roster, he would be the one with three Super Bowl rings. And maybe one or two more.
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