Since the season's end, and even before, there have consistently been claims that Peyton Manning's 2013 regular season was the greatest that any quarterback has ever had. I was thinking about the topic, and I don't think its so clear. In fact, I believe there have been four better seasons, three of them in the past 10 years.
Let me make it clear that this is not a thread to bash Manning. He should become the second player to ever win a unanimous MVP this year and he absolutely deserves it. But it was not the greatest season ever for a QB.
The four seasons that I argue are better include:
Aaron Rodgers 2011
Tom Brady 2007
Peyton Manning 2004
Dan Marino 1984
Peyton Manning 2013:
450/659 passes completed (68.3%)
5,477 yards (8.3 YPA)
55 TDs (8.3 TD%)
10 INTs (1.5 INT%)
His 55 TDs and 5477 yards are NFL records. He led the Denver Broncos offense to a record 606 points, 37.9 per game.
Tom Brady 2007:
398/578 passes completed (68.9%)
4,806 yards (8.3 YPA)
50 TDs (8.7 TD%)
8 INTs (1.4 INT%)
Tom Brady set the record for TDs in a season, and led the Pats offense to 589 points, both records until 2013. The Pats averaged 36.8 points per game en route to a 16-0 regular season.
The two seasons above are the most interesting to compare in my opinion. I acknowledge that assumptions cannot be made about what would have or could have happened, but when the sample size is large enough, I tend to put more stock into ratio and percentage stats than counting stats.
Brady was slightly more accurate in terms of completion percentage, and they had identical YPA numbers. Surprisingly, Brady's TD% was higher, and his INT% very slightly lower. If Brady threw the same amount of passes in 2007 as Manning did in 2013, his numbers were projected to be:
5,477 yards (tie)
57 TDs (advantage Brady)
9 INTs (advantage Brady)
The next point of comparison I will use is level of competition. Specifically, the defenses that they each faced. Obviously, neither QB had control over their schedule, and should be given credit for dominating the teams they faced.
The average defensive rank of the teams Brady faced in 07 was 14th (209 passing yards allowed on average), slightly better than average. He faced 6 top 10 defenses, and 4 bottom 10 defenses. Manning faced an average ranked defense of 22nd, (246.1 YPG average), only 2 top 10 defenses, and 9 bottom 10 defenses.
Another point of comparison is offensive supporting cast. This one is hard to call. The 2007 Patriots had Randy Moss at his best, and he was at times completely unstoppable, capable of beating double and even triple coverage routinely. Both QBs had the benefit of Welker, granted he was younger and healthier (albeit unproven), going into 2007. In addition to Welker, the Broncos had Demaryius Thomas, who is a fantastic receiver, but he is not on the level of Randy Moss. Denver had a huge advantage at TE as a weapon, with Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme over Ben Watson and Kyle Brady. The Pats other outside receiver was Donte Stallworth, who was effective, but not as talented as Eric Decker. Additionally, Denver had a better running game, led by Moreno and later Ball, which helped to keep defenses honest. Moreno was also a very effective weapon in the passing game. In conclusion, the Broncos had more great weapons, but the Patriots had possibly the most dangerous receiver in NFL history.
Overall, both were clearly phenomenal seasons, and this really is splitting hairs. But I believe the numbers show that Brady was more efficient and effective in 2007 than Manning was in 2013.
Aaron Rodgers 2011:
This was when everybody realized that Rodgers has a chance to be an all time great. In 15 starts, he led GB to a 14-1 record and GB averaged 35 points per game.
343/502 passes completed (68.3%)
4643 yards (9.0 YPA)
45 TDs (9.0 TD%)
6 INTs (1.2 INT%)
In 659 passes, Rodgers was projected to throw over 59 TDs, 8 INTs, and 5931 yards. Rodgers had a great supporting cast in terms of his receivers with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson, but has a very weak running game. Like Brady's 07 Pats, this team did not have the offensive balance of the 2013 Broncos. Teams knew the pass was coming, and couldnt stop it.
2004 Peyton Manning
Manning's true best season. The Colts scored 32.6 PPG in a very well balanced offense. In 2004, the league was shifting toward being a total passing league, but this season by Manning and his receivers really sped up that motion.
336/497 passes completed (67.6%)
4557 (9.2 YPA)
49 TDs (9.9 TD%)
10 Ints (2.0 TD%)
121.1 Passer rating
(QBR not yet recorded)
Its remarkable to me when I hear people say that 2013 was the greatest season ever. Do people truly forget so quickly, that Manning himself has outdone 2013? He had a supporting cast equally as strong as his current Denver one, if not stronger, with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Edgerrin James making plays while Tarik Glen protected his blindside. But he was brutally efficient in 2004. If he had thrown 659 passes, his stats would have been projected to be:
That is a truly dominant season.
1984 Dan Marino
The 84 Dolphins averaged over 32 points per game, by far the best in the league.
5084 yards (9.0 YPA)
48 TDs (8.5 TD%)
17 INTs (3.0 INT %)
108.9 Passer Rating.
Spread over 659 Passes, his statistics would have been projected to be:
What makes this season particularly impressive was the fact that it happened in 1984. When Marino set the TD record at 48, the previous record was 36. It took 20 years for that record to fall, and even longer for his yards record to fall, and it was still a defensive league in 1984. The comparisons to his peers in 1984, and that entire time period, is what makes it even more impressive.
I believe that the five seasons just listed are the five greatest ever by a QB. Drew Brees' 2011 season deserves an honorable mention, and likely ranks at number 6 in my opinion.
Upon closer review, I see no good argument for Mannings 2013 being the greatest season ever by a QB. The only area that it is the greatest in is its statistical volume. But stats that count shouldnt tell the whole story. For those who believe that Mannings 2013 was the greatest season ever by a QB, I assume you also believe that Brett Favre is the greatest QB of all time? Any other logic would be inconsistent.
5. Peyton Manning 2013
4. Dan Marino 1984
3. Tom Brady 2007
2. Peyton Manning 2004
1. Aaron Rodgers 2011.
I believe that the top four are all more or less interchangeable.