It’s Super Bowl week, and the desperate hunt for narratives continues. Some of these are interesting ones (“here’s how the Patriots defense has been secretly improving all year”), some are a bit unknowable (“the Giant’s defense – is it in Brady’s head?”), and some try to answer The Big Questions (“what would a win for the Giants really mean?”). I have tolerance for most of those – it’s two weeks in between games, after all, and there’s only so long we talk about Rob Gronkowski’s ankle – but I get annoyed when the media latches onto a Narrative, and refuses to let go no matter what the actual facts are concerned.
The Narrative in question? “If Eli Manning wins a second Super Bowl, does he surpass his older brother Peyton as the best Manning?” Or more worryingly, “How elite is Eli Manning? Is he the best quarterback alive?” Is he "A guaranteed Hall of Famer"? Apparently, if he wins tomorrow, it's a lock.
Slow your roll, talking heads. I recognize that Eli is “tough.” That he’s “just a winner.” That he won that NFC Championship Game “like a man.” That he has “the look.” That he’s playing “hotter than any other quarterback in the league right now.” That you’d “prefer him to Brady, yes, I said it!”
Let’s take a look at these questions with statistics. And yes, I know that Peyton Manning only has one Super Bowl win. And I also know that every quarterback with two Super Bowl wins other than Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jim Plunkett is in the Hall of Fame. But just for fun, let’s use other statistics for a change. Not even advanced statistics, that measure his eyeline or quarterback rating in muggy weather. Just regular statistics.
Elisha Manning (I just found out today that’s his real name. Fun, right? How have we not been making fun of him for this?) entered the league in 2004 with the New York Giants. The Narrative goes that after a weak start, Eli turned it on and became a top-flight NFL quarterback. But that’s just not true.
Eli has led the NFL in interceptions twice, including 2007 (the year he last went to the Super Bowl), and last year. He’s never led the NFL in any other category. Since becoming a starter, he’s thrown 129 interceptions in 119 games, while throwing for only 27,579 yards and 185 touchdowns.
Alright, but what does that mean? Let’s put those numbers in perspective.
If you average together Eli’s numbers and create a standard Eli Manning season, it would look like this:
Average Eli Manning Season:
522 Att, 58% Cmp, 3,677 Yds, 25 TDs, 17 INTs, 228 Yds/game
Good numbers. A very solid quarterback line. So, how does that stack up against some of the other quarterbacks in the league? Let’s start with his matchup on Sunday, Tom Brady.
Average Tom Brady Season:
532 Att, 64% Cmp, 3,997 Yds, 30 TDs, 11 INTs, 248 Yds/game
Wow. That is dramatically better. Brady has him licked. Let’s compare Eli to his older brother, who he supposedly supplanting.
Average Peyton Manning Season:
555 Att, 65% Cmp, 4,217 Yds, 31 TDs, 15 INTs, 264 Yds/game
Well, that’s not close. Let’s compare him to Aaron Rodgers.
Average Aaron Rodgers Season:
514 Att, 65% Cmp, 4,259 Yds, 33 TDs, 9 INTs, 280 Yds/game
Ouch. Okay, Drew Brees, who was once released by the Chargers, after all.
Average Drew Brees Season:
548 Att, 66% Cmp, 4,072 Yds, 28 TDs, 15 INTs, 265 Yds/game
Well, okay, so he’s not as good as some of these other quarterbacks, it seems. But how does he stack up against some of the more average quarterbacks?
Average Ben Roethlisberger Season:
473 Att, 63% Cmp, 3,797 Yds, 24 TDs, 14 INTs, 233 Yds/game
A little less aggressive, but with better effectiveness. Now, Tony Romo.
Average Tony Romo Season:
540 Att, 65% Cmp, 4,285 Yds, 31 TDs, 15 INTs, 267 Yds/game
Romo is apparently much better. Okay, Matt Schaub.
Average Matt Schaub Season:
512 Att, 64% Cmp, 4,098 Yds, 22 TDs, 13 TDs, 256 Yds/game
Okay, when even Matt Schaub has a more effective average season than you do, I think that a second Super Bowl means almost nothing historically. Eli Manning is not The Greatest Quarterback Alive. He is not The Greatest Manning Alive. He is not even a top-ten quarterback in the NFL.
Give up The Narrative, guys. Can’t you guys just spend some more time talking about Ron Gronkowski’s ankle?