Posted January 01, 2014

The greatest QB season ever? 2013 may not even be best of Peyton Manning’s career

AFC West, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning threw an NFL-record 55 touchdowns in 2013.

Peyton Manning threw an NFL-record 55 touchdowns in 2013. (John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Recent bias, knee-jerk reactions and hot-sports takes cloud the discussion surrounding Peyton Manning’s historic 2013 season. The Broncos’ future Hall of Fame quarterback smashed the NFL record for touchdowns and holds the single-season passing yards record, barring a reported league review of a throw in the last game of the regular season.

But how great was Manning this year? Where does his year rank in terms of the greatest season ever by a quarterback?

The answer seems obvious: it was the best ever. Look at the stats. But the numbers may mislead you.

Consider the following: In 1984, Dan Marino set the NFL record for single-season touchdowns with 48. It took 20 years for Peyton Manning to break that record, with Manning tossing 49 as a member of the Colts in 2004. Just three years later, Tom Brady broke Manning’s record, throwing 50 in 2007. Now, six years later Manning has the record once again.

After Week 17, when asked about the record, Manning quipped that Brady would probably just break his record again next year.

He might. And that’s part of the problem with trying to put this season into perspective; we’ve reached a new normal in terms of passing. When Drew Brees set the passing yardage mark in 2011, three other quarterbacks threw for 5,000 or more yards. If Aaron Rodgers had played in Week 17, he likely would have been the fourth (Rodgers passed for 4,643 yards and sat out Week 16 with the Packers sitting 14-1).

In the last six seasons, the touchdown and yardage marks have been broken twice each. The single-season completion percentage mark –nearly 30 years old — was toppled (Drew Brees posted a 71.2 completion percentage in 2011), as was the passer rating record (Aaron Rodgers finished with a 122.5 QB rating in 2011). And Philip Rivers had a shot at the percentage record most of this season.

Here’s a look at the four most recent record-breaking seasons side by side.

Player (Year) Completions / Attempts Completion % Yards Yards per Attempt TDs INTs Rating
Tom Brady (2007) 398/578 68.9 4806 8.3 50 8 117.2
Drew Brees (2011) 468/657 71.2 5476 8.3 46 14 110.6
Aaron Rodgers (2011) 343/502 68.3 4643 9.2 45 6 122.5
Peyton Manning (2013) 450/659 68.3 5477 8.3 55 10 115.1

Manning’s sheer production, in the lens of the current season, seemed overwhelming. Compared to these recent record-breaking seasons, Manning’s numbers aren’t all that special.

Manning and Brees attempted nearly the same amount of throws and finished with essentially identical yardage totals. Had Brady thrown the ball as often as Manning, his touchdown pace would have exceeded that of Manning’s. And Peyton’s efficiency is second-lowest as measured by passer rating.

In fact, 2013 may not even be the best Peyton Manning season ever. That distinction must go to 2004, at least statistically speaking.

Player (Year) Completions / Attempts Completion % Yards Yards per Attempt TDs INTs Rating
Peyton Manning (2013) 450/659 68.3 5477 8.3 55 10 115.1
Peyton Manning (2004) 336/497 67.6 4557 9.2 46 10 121.1

Together, Manning has put together two of the best seasons of the last generation, but it’s hard not to notice the difference in efficiency — specifically that the 2004 version of Manning was much better on a per-play basis. In fact, had Manning maintained his per-attempt average from ’04 in ’13, he’d have topped 6,000 yards. The gross stats like yards and touchdowns are a direct result of Manning tossing it 162 more times this season than in 2004 — the equivalent to an extra five games based on his 2004 averages.

Therein lies the rub: Teams are passing more than ever in a league tailoring rules to benefit offensive players, particularly quarterbacks. To wit, Brady has had two rules created essentially for plays he’s been involved in.

Aggregate stats have always been misleading, but it seems we’re slowly figuring out how to parse them

It’s why Aaron Rodgers, in a season in which Drew Brees finished with better gross numbers, was the MVP: he had the most efficient season in modern NFL history.

Manning’s 2004 season was tops in this group in terms of touchdown percentage (the number of touchdowns based on total attempts) and his season is probably the only one capable of standing up to Rodgers in 2011 by efficiency standards.

Not surprisingly, the two worst figures in that regard are Brees in 2011 and Manning this season; both threw the ball significantly more than their peers.

The more you throw, the bigger the numbers grow, inflating the same way baseball statistics did in the steroids era. Only it would be like if baseball suddenly had six plate appearances per game instead of four.

It’s why baseball gurus developed statistics like Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and other combination stats like OPS+ and average on balls in play. Traditional metrics simply come up short when comparing players side-by-side.

Football Outsiders has developed several football metrics to help us reconcile this issue, particularly in the face of a sport where so-called advanced metrics are difficult to come by.

For quarterbacks, they have three statistics we can use, DYAR, DVOA and Effective Yards. DYAR is yards above replacement adjusting for opposing defenses, while DVOA is the same but on a per-play basis. Effective Yards translates DVOA into yards per attempt metric and accounts for total usage.

Player (Year) DYAR DVOA Effective Yards
Peyton Manning (2004) 2434 58.9% 6109
Tom Brady (2007) 2674 54.1% 6946
Drew Brees (2011) 2259 38.3% 6763
Aaron Rodgers (2011) 2121 48.4% 5671
Peyton Manning (2013) 2490 43.4% 7061

Manning’s 2013 season leads the group only in Effective Yards, which is mostly a result of his incredible usage rate. On a per play basis, he was significantly better on 2004, as his DVOA shows.

It’s easy to get caught up in the story building behind Manning’s season. One of the greatest players ever, coming off a gut-punch loss in the playoffs, starts the year by torching the defending Super Bowl champions and lights the league on fire the rest of the season.

And all of this from a guy who turns 38 this offseason.

It was another great regular season from the greatest regular-season quarterback in the history of the NFL. No, it wasn’t the greatest season by a quarterback ever, but it was one of the most fun to watch — unless you’re a fan of an AFC rival.

While “greatness” is a nebulous term, oft used to describe something the user struggles to define, the greatness of this storybook season will be written in the postseason. None of the quarterbacks on the above list won a Super Bowl in his record-setting seasons. In fact, only Tom Brady even made it past the divisional round of the playoffs.

But lucky for Manning, he can still go into the postseason, rewrite the narrative about his playoff failures, win it all and cement his place in history.

The greatest season ever by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback? Now, we’re talking.

22 comments
a40t40r
a40t40r

Tom Brady's 2007 season was better for a few reason's 1st this was his first year with Randy Moss and Wes Welker the two best receivers on that team, he didn't need a year to adjust like Manning did (now granted last year Manning was coming off a neck injury so it was adjustment for him and the receivers, also this was his first year with Welker and Julius Thomas...soo ill even say its a tie for that point). 2nd point Brady beat Manning oh and everyone else in 2007 to go 16-0 in the regular season, Manning and the Broncos lost 3 times this year. (Yes the patriots lost in the Super Bowl so that is a huge demerit, and the Broncos can still win it all but regardless Brady beat manning head to head both seasons.) Finally, Manning has had 2 receivers that were proven guys, Demaryius Thomas had over 1,000 yards with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton...enough said. Eric Decker also had a pretty good season in the tebow era. Bradys top receivers returning in 2007 were Deion Branch and Troy Brown, and Moss was spiraling downwards in his career and Wes Welker was essentially unknown when he came to the pats. 


I take nothing away from Manning it was an incredible season but I just see a lot of reasons to say Brady's 2007 season was a small step above. I also believe historically Brady is better as a winner and clutch quarterback, in my opinion the best ever tied with Montana until and if Brady ties his super bowl record. (Added that in as a patriots fan, yes there is that disclaimer so I am very biased)

RobAnderson
RobAnderson

One thing you are forgetting is that manning is now 37 and playing better then a 25 year old and love how you said he threw for a record 49 td's in 04 and your stats show 46 mayb you should make sure you show the right year

wetmouse
wetmouse

Most points ever. That's all you need to know.

cardogpush
cardogpush

The other thing that should be floated is when barry bonds was the same age as 18 is now and his stats ballooned  there was a reason why is the media not asking this ....... he looks fitter and more agile than he did 10 years ago . Look at the muscle definition of his forearms  maybe he is eating better and leaner or maybe just maybe ........... 

shuggah21
shuggah21

This article is right on. The rules are tailor-made for passing nowadays - receivers run unimpeded by contact then cannot be hit in the air while "defenseless", while defenders cannot hit the quarterback too high, too low, or too hard. Let PM play in the 1960-80s when he would have been hit hard every play and his WRs have to fight for every yard off the line of scrimmage. It's like comparing tackle football with today's flag football.

Not to mention, Peyton's all time playoff record outdoors is 1-5, so how great is he again? 

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

The problem with this article's argument is that it's trying so hard to value metric efficiency that it's forgetting one simple fact:   yardage and especially touchdowns are what WIN GAMES.

Yes, there are completion percentages and QB ratings of other great QB years that edge Manning's this year.  Emphasis on the term "edge".

But Manning's TD count BLOWS AWAYS those others.  It doesn't 'edge' them, it ANNIHILATES them!  He's got fully 5 to 10 more TDs than any of those other closest 'all-time-great' QB seasons!  That is an enormous difference!  And he still did this while maintaining an incredible TD:INT ratio!  

And scoring touchdowns and avoiding turnovers are what win football games first and foremost, folks!

Mr. Bukowski is just bending over backward in an attempt to write a provocative article, because that's what sports journalists do these days.  Even odds he doesn't even agree with his own rhetoric.

Big Dave1
Big Dave1

Hey Bukowski, "Fat, Drunk and STUPID is no way to go through life"

ChrisThurston
ChrisThurston

the media will look to find any way to knock peyton manning to uplift tom brady and aaron rodgers.  brady would have thrown more tds if he threw the ball as much as peyton? well manning would have thrown more if he tried to run the score up as much as the pats did. has anyone noticed since the patriots aren't allowed to videotape the other teams offensive walkthroughs they have yet to win a superbowl? they are just a bunch of cheaters and manning is the greatest ever

JuliaDixon
JuliaDixon

What was the purpose of this "article"?  The only thing I can ascertain was it was meant to throw cold water on the pFm narrative...that doing all he did wasn't great enough and even winning a Superbowl won't change his opinion.  His premise is that this 37yo wasn't as EFFICIENT as he was at 28 and 6 years with the same team; therefore, this wasn't that great of a year.  Giving the Broncos the GREATEST offensive year in the history of the NFL, doesn't count, only whether or not it was EFFICIENT...WHATeva

JeffMarlowe
JeffMarlowe

Just another east coast snob, pretending to be a journalist, offended that Manning did this in Orange and Blue. Football is being ruined as much by the lack of real objectivity in the press as much as it is by the Fuhrer in the Commish's office.

OttawaWendy
OttawaWendy

In the first table, Brees' YPA number is wrong.  As you point out, Brees and Manning have almost identical (scarily so) attempts and yards in the key years, and so their YPA numbers should also be identical.  Brees is about 8.3.  This really shows how special Rodgers best season was, as his YPA was so superior.

Thomas15
Thomas15

This article is all about knocking Manning. If brady had thrown 55 this article would be all about how awesome he and his season was. Meanwhile, brady is a fraud and the truth about "SPYGATE" is still to this day not fully known by the public. brady will never play as well anywhere other than new england with ERNIE ADAMS in his ear past the 15 second limit even past the snap. bellichek is no genius. And brady is no Manning. 

earlettehannibal
earlettehannibal

What in the world is this guy talking about, sure I can come on here and gush about why my QB (Manning is the greatest); I'm a fan but this guys is supposed to be a journalist, we need some objectivity here.

Wombat
Wombat

Really dude? Has Peter King paid you to do some Brady PR here?

scoutxx
scoutxx

You really have a lot of time on your hands, don't you Bukowski?

cardogpush
cardogpush

@leehwgoc he just piled stats  for the sake of stats if the compilation of stats was the be all and end all the broncos would have been 16-0

I would guess as many 15 or even 20 of his tds were just window dressing. The reason he has but one ring is he has made a career of padding his stats when his team would have been better served by running the ball and eating clock so they would be more able to do that in the post season. He chooses personal glory over team glory time and again . He is w/o peer in certain aspects of playing his position but he has left a fistful of championship rings on the table and you can argue all day about his stats but the real total is 1 

AS IN 1 LONELY RING HE POSSESSES . 

 or perhaps 3  

 as in 3 other qbs have multiple rings since he started playing  and only brady has come close to his statistical brilliance  - his stats won't keep him warm at night if he cannot add to the only important total and that is 1

Hokieduck
Hokieduck

@JuliaDixon Plus, look at the way he is derided as the "greatest regular season quarterback ever."  Sounds like Jim Irsay (may his Colts never win a Super Bowl again) dissing Peyton in the offseason to support his treacherous firing of one of the greatest, if not *the* greatest, quarterbacks of all time.

Rexal Parshapswich
Rexal Parshapswich

YPA Is the most overrated stat. It treats a 50 yard bomb and 2 yard screen that the receiver takes to the house as the same.

Rodgers season was great that year but lets not go overboard.

pamperofirpo
pamperofirpo

All you idiots trotting out Spygate are laughable. I am sure you believe 9/11 was an inside job as well. Both Manning and Brady are top five quarterbacks of all time. It is a privilege to watch each of them play. But, Brady tops Manning in the statistic that is most important: winning. Brady's head-to-head record against Peyton is 10-4. For their careers, Brady is 165-50 (the only QB in history to be 100 games over .500), while Peyton Manning is 176-84. As Ty Law said, "Brady is the best winner, and winning trumps all".

tomabrum
tomabrum

@Thomas15 Your first sentence suggests you didn't read the article or don't have the educational wherewithal to understand the words, and the rest suggests you know nothing of the world of real professional football where everyone already admitted they did the same thing. Really dude, get a life.

cardogpush
cardogpush

@Wombat  you mean the same peter king that constantly is doing commercials for manning

come on biased much ! 

 they both get the royalty treatment from the entire media