This is how it works, I guess.
Until now, I don't think Eli Manning has ever been considered one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL. Two Pro Bowls (as many as Vince Young and Brandon Meriweather), no All-Pros, never received a single MVP vote.
But couple a tremendous run through the postseason (eight TDs, just one pick in wins over the Falcons, Packers and 49ers) with a Super Bowl from four years ago and now there is an idea Out There that Manning has skipped past elite and is flirting with immortal.
We've read all the stuff this week. The Greatest Quarterback in Giants History (might be true). Best Quarterback in The Manning Family (I'd still slap the silver medal on him, but he's gaining), and now this question is being kicked around:
With another Super Bowl win over the Patriots, will Eli Manning be in Tom Brady's class?
Strikes me as hyperbolic -- something that might kill three minutes of air time for the hideous Skip Bayless -- but for the sake of accuracy we'll take a look and find out.
Not even close. This is Reagan/Mondale, a complete landslide for No. 12. Now, of course, Brady's career numbers -- TD passes, completions, passing yards -- are going to be higher partly because he's been in the NFL longer (Brady's played in 161 games, Manning 121). So let's throw out Brady's first three years and compare the two since 2004, Manning's rookie season:
20-TD seasons: Brady seven, Manning six
30-TD seasons: Brady three, Manning one
35-TD seasons: Brady three, Manning zero
4,000-yard seasons: Brady four, Manning three
15-INT seasons: Brady zero, Manning five
20-INT seasons: Brady zero, Manning two
(Manning has thrown 14 more career INTs than Brady in 1,400 fewer attempts)
QB rating of at least 90: Brady six, Manning two (Brady's career passer rating -- 96.3 -- is higher than any season of Manning's career)
Completion percentage of at least 60.0: Brady seven, Manning four
And let's not forget Brady missed a full season. Look, we associate Brady with winning first -- five Super Bowl appearances will do that -- but strictly on his regular-season numbers alone Brady is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. If he had never won a playoff game that would still be the case. Eli is Jack Morris, he needs that playoff success to make a legitimate Hall of Fame case. Without playoff wins and the same career regular-season numbers Eli is Jay Cutler or Philip Rivers.
Here are the numbers (stole these from Albert Breer, who posted them on his Twitter account Tuesday).
Brady: 472-752, 5,009 yards, 36 TD, 19 INT, 87.6 rating
Manning: 190-316, 2,220 yards, 15 TD, 7 INT, 88.1 rating
So it's about a push, right? But Brady's done that in 21 games (16 wins) vs. Eli in 10 (seven wins). Another head-to-head win a week from Sunday makes this closer -- and if Eli outplays Brady again and picks up an MVP it gets even more interesting -- but as it stands right now the numbers would have to be overwhelmingly in Manning's favor to make up for two Super Bowl wins.
(Two quickies: Brady's best postseason was 2004, throwing for five TDs and no picks, completing 67.9 percent of his passes and putting up passer ratings of 92.2, 130.5 and 110.2 in wins over the Colts, Steelers and Eagles. After that Super Bowl win, Brady was 9-0 in the playoffs with 12 TD passes against just three interceptions. Since then, he's 6-5 in the postseason with a 22-16 TD/INT ratio. The truth is that Brady defined himself very early as a "clutch" quarterback -- three Super Bowls in his first four seasons with terrific postseason numbers -- and has been just OK since, a little better than average. Still some superb efforts mixed in -- Denver two weeks ago, Jacksonville in 2008, -- but some very shaky ones also, with last week vs. the Ravens as the latest example. Also this: If Eli has another great game in Indianapolis, you'd have to put his run through this postseason up with any in the history of the NFL.)
Slight edge: Brady
As I’ve written before, I think Brady is most consistent great quarterback the NFL has ever seen. No stinkers on his pro-football reference page, unlike the other Mount Rushmore candidates. Dan Marino had a two-year stretch smack in the middle of his prime (1988-89) with 52 touchdowns but 45 interceptions. Joe Montana threw more picks than touchdowns in 1986 and Eli's brother had 23 INTs for a 6-10 Colts team coming off 13-3 and 10-6 seasons in 2001. Every all-timer has one of those seasons except for Brady. He's never had a season with a completion percentage under 60 percent, has never been outside the top 10 in passer rating, always has a very healthy TD over INT edge and has had a winning record as a starter in each season (his career won/loss record is 124-35, Eli's is 69-50).
Manning has already had a couple of subpar seasons in his career, twice leading the league in interceptions, including 25 in 2010 (Brady had a total of 25 interceptions from 2007-10). We can debate just how important passer rating in evaluating a quarterback, but Manning ranking in the top 10 of that category just once in his career is a fair indication that we aren't talking about a dominant player.
Well, Manning had his best season in 2011. Most passing yards, a 29-16 TD/INT ratio, highest yards per attempt, second-lowest INTs per attempt, first time in top 10 for passer rating, career-best yards per completion. A perfectly swell season, close to great if not quite there. Whatever The Leap is, it sure looks like he made it.
Problem is, it would be just another season on Brady's resume. Probably it would be, at best, his fifth-finest year. The two MVP seasons and 2011 are clearly above (those are three of the dozen or so best in history at the position) and I'd also put Brady's 2004 (28 TDs, 14 INTs and a 92.6 passer rating for a 14-2 team) ahead of Manning's 2011.
HEAD TO HEAD
Eli's best card. He's 2-1 against Brady, with a win in Foxboro and in Arizona. Manning won MVP of Super Bowl XLII and deserved it, throwing the two go-ahead TD passes in the fourth quarter, the second capping the most painful two minutes and seven seconds in Boston sports history (not counting every Jim Corsi appearance on NESN). Manning was 19-of-34 for 255 yards, two TDs and an INT in the game, while Brady was 30-of-48 for 266 yards and a TD (I still maintain Wes Welker -- 11 catches, 103 yards -- and not Brady would've won MVP if not for David Tyree). The two regular-season matchups? Manning is 42-of-71 for 501 yards, six TDs and two picks, Brady 60-of-91 for 698 yards, four TDs and two interceptions. Pretty much a push, but there's this: In his last two fourth quarters against the Patriots, Eli Manning is 17-of-27 for 245 yards with four touchdown passes, zero INTs and two game-winning drives. Maybe he’ll never be in Tom Brady’s class, but for now he owns Tom Brady’s team.
As expected. Tom Brady is one of the three or four -- conservatively -- greatest ever at the position, and Eli Manning might be somewhere in the top three or four dozen. It's an impossible task for Manning to match up to Brady, just lousy casting, the numbers don't work. If they were close, and Manning had two Super Bowl head-to-head wins, the case could be made. But there is an enormous statistical gulf.
So with a win in Indianapolis, Manning still wouldn't be in Brady's class. OK. But as long as he stays healthy and puts up the numbers he has the past couple of years, the Hall of Fame seems be an absolute lock.
And the Best Quarterback in the Family debate would still be open.