Manning versus Brady: Who’s graded better over the years?

Gordon McGuinness takes a look at how both storied QBs have fared in the PFF era.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Manning versus Brady: Who’s graded better over the years?

At Pro Football Focus we strive to bring in-depth information about players at every position in the NFL — to prove that it’s not always about the quarterbacks around the league. It’s why we have The Dwight Stephenson Award, recently won by Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. There are times though, when the quarterback narrative is fitting and it’s difficult to not think about the storyline of Brady versus Manning one more time as we head into the AFC Championship game this Sunday.


Since we began grading in 2007 there have been seven games where Manning and Brady have been opposing signal callers, and the grades for both are startlingly similar.

 Season  Date Brady Manning Winning Team
2007 November 4th +1.7 +3.4 New England
2009 November 15th +4.6 +5.3 Indianapolis
2010 November 21st +3.1 +3.0 New England
2012 October 7th +1.6 +4.3 New England
2013 November 24th +4.6 -0.9 New England
2013 January 19th +1.2 +4.8 Denver
2014 November 2nd +4.5 -0.4 New England
Total +21.3 +19.5

Over those seven games the difference in total grades has been just +1.8, with Brady edging it. Brady has yet to post a negatively graded game in one of these encounters, and while Manning has had the bigger games in terms of PFF grade, he’s graded negatively in two of the last three. That’s telling given where they both are in their careers right now, with Brady still grading among the best in the league, and Manning struggling in 2015. Both will be facing good defenses on Sunday, but what we’ve seen in 2015 suggests that Brady is the more likely of the two to have a good game.

Two incredible careers

When looking at the cumulative PFF grades for quarterbacks since 2007, only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have graded higher, with Brady and Manning once again grading very similarly.

  Brady Manning
2007 +50.5 +58.6
2008 -0.9* +35.3
2009 +9.7 +36.7
2010 +20.2 +35.4
2011 +48.3 N/A**
2012 +52.6 +58.9
2013 +22.6 +55.2
2014 +29.8 +5.8
2015 +52.4 -7.2
Total +285 +278.7

*Tom Brady missed 15 games in 2008 through injury
*Peyton Manning missed all of 2011 through injury

It’s interesting that Manning outgraded Brady in every season where they both played from 2007 to 2014, with Manning grading at +280.1 and Brady at +203.0, while Brady has continued to excel in each of the past two season, with Manning’s grade dropping severely at -1.4, and the New England signal caller at +82.2.

What is incredible though, is to look at those grades and see just how dominant they have been at quarterback, consistently – at least until recently with Manning – grading amongst the best in the league. It’s telling just how big the gap has become in the past two seasons though, and I don’t think anyone would disagree that at this stage in their respective careers, Brady is by far the better player.

2015 season

This season there really is no comparing the two, Brady is our second-highest graded quarterback at +50.3, trailing only Carson Palmer (+59.1), while Manning is all the way down in 29th (where he is tied with his brother Eli at -6.3) and isn’t even the highest-graded quarterback on the Denver roster thanks to Brock Osweiler (+0.6).

The low point of Manning’s season came against the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was bullied into a -10.7 grade in half a game of football. One of the worst quarterbacking performances we’ve ever graded, he completed just one pass over 10 yards in the air that night.

Throwing downfield is an area where Brady has a huge advantage this year, going 25-for-68 for 875 yards with three touchdowns and one interception on passes travelling 20 yards or more downfield. Manning has gone just 10-for-45 for 438 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions, with Brady owning a 44.8 accuracy percentage compared with Manning’s 28.6 percent on these throws.

Under pressure Brady has the edge too, with a PFF grade of +11.7 and a touchdown to interception ratio of 15:3 on plays where pressure gets there, compared to Manning’s -2.7 grade, and 3:8 ratio. The Broncos will always certainly be able to get pressure on Brady on Sunday, but with the way he’s performed this season, that might not actually be able to slow him down.

Looking back over the course of their careers Manning and Brady have both been outstanding, and while the debate over who had the better career may go on for years to come, it’s Brady who stands tall this season –anand that gives the New England Patriots a huge boost when it comes to Sunday’s AFC Championship game.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • cka2nd

    “It’s interesting that Manning outgraded Brady in every season where they
    both played from 2007 to 2014, with Manning grading at +280.1 and Brady
    at +203.0…” should be from “2007 to 2013.”

    Great piece, otherwise. Any chance that we will see a comparison since 2007 that includes all of the QB’s active between 2007 and 2015, e.g., including Cutler, Rivers and Romo but not Bortles, Bridegwater and Carr?

    • anon76returns

      And Rodgers & especially Brees. My recollection from when we used to be able to pay for grades is that Brees graded higher than Manning or Brady in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2014.

  • DarkS17

    I find it tough that in 2007, where Brady had 50 TD to only 8 int, Manning still out graded him. Also, in 2010, Brady had 36 TD and 4 int, won MVP, and was still out graded by Manning. How come?

    • Grisha

      PFF’s QB grades are no doubt their least convincing.

      • Robert Anasi

        Have to agree with you there. Not enough nuance to some of their analytics. For example, Brady is heavily penalized for how many short passes he throws, which doesn’t take into account how he catches players in stride, etc. Also, I don’t think they include any measurement of how QB’s manipulate defenses through audibles, pre-snap reads.

        • Jack Casey

          Yeah I completely agree. Like the Aaron Rodgers Chiefs game. He basically graded as average. And their rationale is because a lot of the throws are expected to be made by NFL Quarterbacks. And that’s why Brady might grade under Manning in previous years. But one of the most important aspects of being a QB is taking what there.. You know how many times guys like RG3 or Kaepernick had pass concepts called where they got exactly what they were looking for but just didn’t pull the trigger? Brady basically gets penalized (or at least not rewarded) for taking what’s there and moving the chains.

          • Robert Anasi

            Every analytic system has its weaknesses. I read PFF regularly and I’ve learned a lot from them. Football Outsider is my other go-to site and they always talk about how they tweak their formulas in the off-season. I wonder if PFF will do the same with QB’ing.

    • James Winslow

      To be fair in 2010 peytons offensive personnel was very lackluster.

      • GuyFrom ThatThing

        To be fair Brady has achieved performance levels the stats suggest–with AND without elite talent to throw to. Short passes / skewed stats aside, Brady’s stats led to higher more productive outcome while Manning’s just led to higher stats. The intangible thing that is difficult to perceive comparing the two is how Tom Brady (as well as his coaching staff) makes players around him better; this is the fault in Manning’s stars–statistically, arguably one of the best QBs ever. Manning’s stats “infer” he’s a great QB. But it’s just empty numbers, performance only becomes significant when productivity is realized when it produces–winning games, progress that produces points; the fact Manning threw for the most completions / highest % in games means squat. His ceilings high, he just hit it a very long time ago. Tom Brady was not blessed with Manning’s God-given talent. But his development as a player has seen him rise to also be one of the greatest QBs ever, but without Manning’s talent–it indeed shows he’s more dynamic. That’s why he can achieve more without the stats themselves. Manning’s talent developed in the womb. Brady’s developed well into the present day. That’s why when Manning’s arm dies so will he, and why Tom will in all likelihood be playing at a high level (and higher than league average) for the next five years. True genius is longevity. Manning’s use by date has elapsed. I’d love to buy Manning tears on ebay when he goes.

    • anon76returns

      In 2007 Brady had almost 600 passing attempts, while Manning had over 500. In 2010 Brady had almost 500 attempts, while Manning had nearly 700. PFF grades are based on every single play, with a maximum per play grade of +2 and a minimum of -2. You can see that 58 attempts (in 2007) and 40 attempts (in 2010) where Brady either threw a TD or INT would be quickly overwhelmed by the grade received from the 450-550 other passing attempts. In addition, many INT’s aren’t graded that negatively (when the receiver should catch it but instead bats it into the air where it is picked off), while many non-INTs are graded quite negatively. For instance, I imagine Brady’s last throw on Saturday where bing at midfield with a 7 point lead and 1 minute left Brady threw the ball right to Hali, but the LB couldn’t make the pick and the ball instead ricocheted to Edelman for a first down.

  • AJ

    Interesting that if not for this current season and the second half of last season (in which Manning is clearly not the same player he once was), Manning would be grading significantly higher.

    Also, comparing the grades in the head-to-head games is not as meaningful as some might think. They don’t face each other directly. Each faces the opposing defense.

    Oftentimes, when the quarterbacks are so evenly matched, the game is decided by how the whole rest of the team plays, which means the winner is not necessarily a result of superior quarterback play

  • Peyton Fan

    I understand that PFF only started grading in 2007, but both
    players have played an incredible 15-18 years. They also faced each other many
    times before 2007. Brady had a late career surge, with most of his stat coming
    in after he has great slot/TE receivers, whereas Peyton’s stats have always
    been relatively good over time.

    It is weird Brady got all the credits for leading his teams
    to SBs and wonder how the narrative would have been if Adam Vinatieri didn’t make
    a few clutch kicks, Donovan didn’t throw up in the huddle, and God wanted Russell
    Wilson to throw a TD to Kearse instead of a pick to Malcolm Butler. I wonder if
    the narrative would be different if the Saints didn’t have a successful onside
    kick or if the Broncos O-line actually blocked against the Seattle D-line.

    Also, Brady benefited from a strong defense early in his
    career and in 2014. If people actually looked at Brady’s early games, he was
    asked to be a game manager and a clutch player, exactly what Peyton is asked to
    do during this playoffs. Why is Manning getting so much flak now? Manning
    finally has the benefit of a great defense, as Brady had. Why are the media as
    eager to take credit away from Peyton Manning as to give credit to Tom Brady.
    Did Brady kick beautiful field goals, did Brady kick the ball out of bounce in the
    Panthers Patriots SB, and did Brady order the Eagle offense to take as much
    time as possible when the Eagles were down by 10 points in the 4th

    It is never about Brady vs. Manning, or Brady winning the
    SBs. It is Bill Belichick’s teams quarterbacked by Brady vs. Tim Mora’s, Tony
    Dungy’s, Jim Caldwell’s, John Fox’s and Gary Kubiak’s teams quarterbacked by
    Peyton Manning.

    Do not overlook which team has the home field as well. I
    believe the Pats had home field 11 times out of 7.

    Going back to individual stat, I get it, it is a “what have
    you done for me lately” league. Peyton had a very bad 2015 season, marred by
    injuries and a new offense that doesn’t want QBs to throw a lot. The media (PFF
    included) love to pile on. However, when something is so obvious (that Peyton
    struggled a lot in 2015), it is trite to keep talking about the same points
    over and over.

    Being a Peyton fan all these years, I am just amazed how
    someone with a slightly above average arm strength can come back after 4 surgeries
    and had 2 ½ years of incredible football. At the same time, I wonder how many
    SBs Peyton can win with Belichick. I wonder how many more Manning’s teams can
    win if more games are played in Indy and Denver. I can keep wondering, or I can
    just enjoy his final games and say, “I don’t regret a single minute of being
    his fan.”

    • James Winslow

      Brady’s receivers were a lot worse though.

    • childress

      Good post.

      ‘Being a Peyton fan all these years, I am just amazed how someone with a slightly above average arm strength…’

      Arm strength is a highly over-rated asset for a QB. Neither Brady or Manning ever had a cannon. Nor did Montana. It’s said that JaMarcus Russell could throw a pass from end zone to end zone. How did that career play out?

      Another over-rated stat is ‘drops’ by a receiver. Separation and YAC are equally, if not more, critical. Think Julian Edelman.

      • Jack Casey

        Brady always has had, and still continues to have, very good functional arm strength. Does he have a Stafford/Newton like arm? No, but he has never lacked strength at all.

        • childress

          Or Flacco. Agree, nothing’s wrong with Brady’s arm. That was my point. However that was one aspect that contributed to his less than stellar ratings at the Combine along with the observation that he likely never darkened a weight room. In retrospect, they screwed the pooch.

          Brady’s best downfield throwing year was 2007. But he had peak Randy Moss.

          • Jack Casey

            Yeah I actually think Brady is an example of a guy who’s arm got stronger once he reached the NFL. And I think a lot of the time in 2007 Brady would just throw it up and Moss was so unbelievable he would just go up and get it even in a crowd of 2-3 dbs.

      • Jeff

        Peyton coming into the league had a phenomenal arm. He could make every throw in the book. Granted it’s no Favre/Stafford/Flacco cannon, but it was just below that. It’s just that people now forgot ever since the surgery 2011 (5yrs ago!) how strong his arm really was.

        Brady coming into the league, had an arm that you would call “adequate” and was a very slim guy. However, his intangibles were off the charts. It goes to show you, how grading a prospect just solely on physical traits, is not everything. Brady got stronger during the years, and his arm improved vastly. Although, Brady was never a good deep-ball thrower. He steadily improved on that over the years, becoming efficient at it.

        It’s really been great to see these two HoF’s work and improve over the years. Overcoming obstacles and deficiencies in their game. They will definitely be missed once they hang it up.

  • cstrable

    Collinsworth doesn’t realize Manning has 2 SB losses?

  • Pete

    Stick your grades up you azz….Brady is simply the best ever…get over it…

  • Brian

    This isn’t even an argument anymore. Brady passed manning long ago on the greatest ever list. For greatest ever it’s either brady or montana & brady is still going strong adding to his resume. With peyton’s declining play, even if he were to win this year’s super bowl, he is still a long way from the brady montana conversation. He just doesn’t have that clutch it factor those 2 do. Those 2 were the best ever in the playoffs and manning has routinely been embarrassed or thrown untimely picks to hurt his team. If u can make yourself look at the entire career of brady and montana completely unbiased there’s just no way u can come away thinking manning is better than brady.