Walkthrough: Colt Dilemma

Walkthrough: Colt Dilemma
Walkthrough: Colt Dilemma
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

Somewhere near Baltimore…

SALESPERSON: Good morning gentlemen, and welcome to Crate & Barrel! What can I do for you?

LITTLE RAY: We are looking for a belated wedding gift for one of our coworkers.

SALESPERSON: Oh yes, the Joe and Dana registry. That really did sneak up on us, didn’t it? I will assume you are friends of the groom. What is your price range?

BIG RAY: We had to tighten our belts a little because of the lockout. We should keep it under, say, $10,000.

SALESPERSON: T…t…ten thousand? For that price you can purchase that aisle over there!

LITTLE RAY: Anything on that aisle?

SALESPERSON: No, the whole aisle.

BIG RAY: I don’t know about this place, Little Ray. I don’t see a single crate or barrel for sale. Joe wouldn’t have signed up here unless he really wanted some sort of barrel. I think this place is a front or something.

SALESPERSON: No sir! The name of the store is just a clever way of saying that we sell a variety of home furnishings and supplies. Now you gentlemen probably want to purchase something that suggests strength and masculinity. May I recommend a set of high-quality, German-crafted knives?

BIG RAY: I guess that’s supposed to be some kind of joke. Why don’t I just…

LITTLE RAY: Woah, woah. Easy there, Big Ray. He wasn’t trying to be funny. He doesn’t know who we are. Knives might not be the right gift for us. What’s on the registry that is still available?

SALESPERSON: Dish towels, damp mops, plain flatware, brown napkin rings.

LITTLE RAY: Wow, all of those are perfect gifts for Joe.

SALESPERSON: Sorry, I made a mistake. All of those were recently purchased.

BIG RAY: Really? All of that bland, boring stuff? What kind of imagination-less milk toast of a human being would string all of those dull, ordinary things together into one package?

SALESPERSON: They were bought by a ... Mr. Cameron.

BIG RAY: I’m telling you, Little Ray, I don’t like this place. Let’s go next door to Barnes & Noble. I can get an iced coffee, and there’s a whole section of books by or about Michael Oher.

SALESPERSON: Ooh, this may be the perfect gift: a stepladder! Nothing says "marital bliss" like a good stepladder!

LITTLE RAY: Let me try that. Wow! I can almost reach the top shelf with this thing! You're going bald, Big Ray!

BIG RAY: Don’t make me pound you until you are two inches shorter, Little Ray.

SALESPERSON: So you guys are Big Ray and Little Ray? That’s cute. It reminds me of a Dr. Seuss alphabet book I read to my nephew sometimes. “Big Ray, Little Ray, what begins with Ray? Ravens lose a playoff game, Ray! Ray! Ray!”

BIG RAY: Oh man! Hold me back Little Ray!

LITTLE RAY: Easy, easy big fella! Look, Mr. Crate & Barrel guy, we aren’t the best wedding shoppers. Can you give us any advice?

SALESPERSON: Well, men of your means can afford just about anything they want. That makes the feeling behind the sentiment all the more important. The best things you can offer your coworker are sincere congratulations, continued support, and friendship.

BIG RAY: I like that. Best of all, it’s free, so DeMaurice won’t call us and yell at us for spending too much money.

LITTLE RAY: I agree. But now we have other wedding shopping to do. We still haven’t gotten anything for Big Ben, and he’s not registered here.

BIG RAY: Then let’s go to where he is registered.

LITTLE RAY: Right! Hooters it is!

Quarterback Top Fives

Let’s build the suspense by starting with the mighty Texans.

Houston Texans

1 Matt Schaub. Schaub turned 30 last week. He is a solid quarterback, but he is firmly in his prime and will probably start declining in the next few years. One thing these Top Fives have taught me is that most quarterbacks’ peaks are relatively short: four or five years, in most cases. Schaub is already two years in.

2. David Carr. On September 28, 2003, Carr scored a last-second game-winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak against the Jaguars. Dom Capers could have ordered a chipshot field goal to force a 20-20 tie but ordered the sneak instead. It was an incredibly exciting moment, and I thought at the time that it marked the start of a productive career for Carr. Instead, it became his greatest moment as a professional. At least it was unforgettable.

3. Sage Rosenfels. Rosenfels was always interesting. He had a four-touchdown and two three-touchdown games for the Texans, but he also had a four-interception and two three-interception games. He packed a lot of living into ten starts.

4. Tony Banks.

5. Dave Ragone. These happen to be the only five quarterbacks to throw more than 10 passes in Texans history. Rex Grossman was 3-of-9 in Houston as their only other quarterback. Grossman’s efficiency rating was 5.6, lower than those of Jabar Gaffney and Matt Turk. There is an NFL team seriously considering him as a starting quarterback this year. It’s not the Texans.

Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts

1. Peyton Manning.

2. Johnny Unitas.

Manning won four MVP awards and had five other extremely valuable seasons. He has been an MVP-caliber performer every year since 2003, as well as in 2000, when he led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns for a 10-6 team. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in every season except his rookie year and 2001, the only year of his career that can be considered “off” by any meaningful standard. Sustained excellence of that magnitude for five years is rare, let alone ten. It's an accomplishment no quarterback, and frankly few athletes in any team sport, can match.

Counting MVP-worthy seasons is a good way to differentiate among all-time greats, isn’t it? Counting Pro Bowl berths is great, but the sixth best quarterback in the league can get a Pro Bowl spot, and that's assuming nobody comes up with any phantom injuries they need to rest. Working with actual statistics is fraught with problems once you cross eras. Counting actual MVP awards leaves you with a bunch of players who won two or three, so you do not get the separation you need when comparing Hall of Famers among themselves. We all know the problem with counting Super Bowl rings. Without hunting down MVP votes, we can call an MVP-worthy season one in which the player accumulates outstanding statistics while making a major contribution for a playoff-caliber team. That’s what Manning did in 2000, and in every year from 2003 on.

We lose sight of just how amazing Manning’s accomplishments are because we are living through them, we enjoy laughing at his infrequent slipups, and his consistency makes us take what he does for granted. The last five seasons have been variations on a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown, 15-interception theme, with his team winning at least 10 games and reaching the playoffs every year. Even for the great quarterbacks in history, a five-year run of playoff appearances, statistical excellence, and perennial Pro Bowl berths would be the centerpiece of a career. While this five-year run does include Manning’s two Super Bowl appearances, it comes after two MVP awards, a record-breaking 49-touchdown season, two passing yardage crowns, a 14-2 season, a 13-3 season, and two 12-4 seasons. If Peyton Manning’s career had started in 2006 -– if everything before that happened in the USFL -– he would be a Hall of Famer and one of the 15 or so best quarterbacks in history (his record would be similar to Steve Young’s in many ways). But his career started in 1998, and that’s why he is arguably the greatest quarterback ever, and unquestionably one of the top five.

Johnny Unitas won MVP awards in 1959, 1964, and 1967. The 1964 award was a little odd –- Jim Brown and Bart Starr may have deserved it more –- but MVP ballots are delicate things. Heck, Manning may not have been the best choice in 2008. Anyway, Unitas had true MVP-type seasons in 1957, 1958, and 1960. Let’s give him 1965 as another one. That’s seven MVP-type seasons to Peyton’s nine. Both players were first-team All Pros five times, though Unitas did it in a much smaller league. Manning has one more Pro Bowl appearance. Manning has won 23 more regular season games with only three more losses.

Careers tend to be much longer now, which gives Peyton an edge, but it’s important to recognize that he has not really entered his decline yet. Unitas’ decline started with an injury in 1968, when he was about the same age as Peyton will be this year. His decline phase included two Super Bowl appearances, one win, and over 6,000 passing yards during a defense-dominated era. It also includes most of the memories many of us have of Unitas, either from life or from NFL Films. Peyton could have all manner of adventures ahead of him: more Super Bowl appearances (possible), another Pro Bowl berth or three (likely), even a Unitas-like stint as the old gunslinger on a defense-oriented team. The fact is that he doesn’t need them to create a very strong case that he is better than Unitas.

One thing that often happens in these arguments is that we adjust the contemporary player down because careers are longer and stats are more prolific, but we never adjust the old timer down for the fact that media coverage has changed. In Unitas’ heyday, sportswriters were almost uniformly fawning and invested in mythmaking. The football media was also rather primitive, compared to the modern football mass media and to baseball media of the time, so players weren’t scrutinized heavily or scouted minutely. We don’t have detailed scouting reports documenting every minor Unitas mistake, long columns explaining how Unitas lacks the courage or gumption to defeat Bart Starr, or bloggers making fun of Unitas’ post-interception facial expressions. We had a hero-champion-warrior king. You cannot compare that bronze bust to the guy who will take the field in September (I type this with ever-increasing confidence) and possibly lose or throw two interceptions. You have to make harsh judgments when comparing old legends to new. You have to notice the fact that from 1961-63 Unitas was the third-to-fifth best quarterback in a 14-team league. You have to remember that Colts did just fine without him the year they reached Super Bowl III, a sign that his “leadership” was not all that important to a team that did darn well with his backup at the helm.

There are other things to adjust for. Unitas won three titles. Winning an NFL championship in 1958 and 1959 meant winning one championship game, no playoffs. The other title came in 1971, when the NFL Colts got to share a division with four newly-arrived AFL teams, three of them terrible. The Jets, Bills, and Patriots combined to win seven games the year the Colts won Super Bowl V. This sounds like I am picking away at Unitas, and I don’t mean to do that to one of the best quarterbacks ever. I am just explaining that “adjustment” is a two-way street. Unitas’ 1950s Colts won 12-team leagues. It was an accomplishment, and a sign of excellence, but not a cudgel that can be used to beat another player over the head for winning a 32-team league “only” once.

There’s a reflexive need to argue against Manning’s greatness, and I noticed it when looking through the message boards in the last few weeks when some of you were anticipating this Colts list. For Manning, we have amazing stats, wins, and longevity. Leadership that in any other era would be universally lauded. Uniqueness and durability at a position where a missed game is potentially a disaster. We toss them all away and point to a handful of playoff losses. The problem isn’t bad here at Football Outsiders, where you guys really delve into the evidence and come away with measured conclusions. In other places, it is pathologically nutty, and some of them aren't even Patriots fansites.

There are many reasons to pick Unitas over Peyton, and I would not go to war with someone who wants to make that choice. But I think some people want to kick Peyton out of the Top 10 of all time, or even the Top 20. To them, I say this: anyone who does not consider Peyton Manning one of the ten best quarterbacks of all time either hasn’t studied the issue at all or is arguing from some kind of goofy agenda. I don’t see any reason to keep him out of the Top Five.

While doing this project, I have spent hours and hours staring at quarterback records: the stat lines, their playoff records, John Maxymuk’s Quarterback Abstract, old encyclopedias, game logs. I had to study Steve Young and Joe Montana, all the Cowboys greats, the 1950s legends and AFL guys. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in any of the records like Manning’s body of work over the last decade. There is no run of 12-4 seasons and statistical dominance that lasts anywhere near as long, period. Terry Bradshaw and Tom Brady cannot touch it. John Elway does not come close. Neither does Dan Marino, who had a lot of great statistical years for 8-8 teams. Joe Montana has something more checkered, although it is brilliant enough that it is arguably greater. Unitas has 1957-60 and several punctuation marks, so he has a case. Brett Favre has his four-year run and lots of (very good) stuffing. Otto Graham has something that looks better if you can stomach AAFC statistics. But really, Manning’s statistical record is completely on its own, and to write it all off is to write this whole decade off.

There’s the selection, feel free to criticize it.

3. Bert Jones. The Colts ran a proto-West Coast Offense under Ted Marchibroda in the mid-1970s, and Jones had three excellent seasons during the deadest of the Dead Ball Era. Jones then suffered several major injuries, and by the time he returned to health in 1980, owner Robert Irsay was engaging in drunken tantrums in the locker room, taking headsets off coordinators’ heads during games, and alienating just about every productive player the team had.

As we have written about elsewhere, Jones’ 1976 season (3104-24-9, 60.3 completion percentage, some rushing value) is one of the best quarterback seasons ever once you account for offensive levels and season length. That season may be highlighted on an upcoming edition of NFL’s Top 10, so keep your eyes open.

4. Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh had one of the longest careers as a custodial starter ever. His specialties were avoiding interceptions and making plays on the run, and he was the perfect quarterback for a team that wanted to hand off 30 times per game because he didn’t have any delusions that he was a star. Because he was smallish, spunky, hard working, of European descent, and had much of his success in his mid-30s, he became the kind of quarterback who gets undue credit for his team’s success. It's a phenomenon I am starting to call Sportswriter Wish Fulfillment Syndrome.

5. Earl Morrall. Morrall led the Colts to Super Bowl III, leading the NFL with 26 touchdowns. He won spot starts in 1969 and 1970, then posted a 7-2 record for a very good Colts team in 1971. There aren’t really any worthy honorable mentions, as Unitas, Manning, and Jones ate up much of Colts history. Jeff George did have some productive years. Guys like Mike Pagel and Jack Trudeau played hot potato with the starting job for many years but weren’t ever very good.

And Finally

I was supposed to do some statistical research but fell behind last week; sorry for that.

Obviously, many of us are holding our breath for good news on the NFL labor front. Every setback (like Thursday’s) comes with a heavy shudder, every nugget of good news has us bracing for some around-the-clock work to get things like the Football Outsiders Almanac done. A lot of us are moving family vacations up to, well, now, which is why I was at Dutch Wonderland instead of in the data mines in the first half of the week.

Some promotional materials for The Philly Fan’s Code arrived this week, and I just edited the galleys. Take a look at the ads on this page and you will see that the book is available for pre-order at Amazon. There will be public appearances and signings in the Delaware Valley. Details will land here first. I hope to have some news about other exciting new projects in a few weeks. I also hope to be preparing for training camp.

Happy Independence Day!


272 comments, Last at 22 Jul 2011, 7:30pm

#235 by Jon from NH (not verified) // Jul 12, 2011 - 4:57pm

Come on guys. Our national team just beat Mexico 17-7 and we are going to the final to be potentially "the best American football team in the world. Yet Football Outsiders continues to ignore this.



Points: 0

#215 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // Jul 11, 2011 - 9:36pm

Wow. There's a lot of discussion about this. Some really great stuff.

I've gotta agree with Mike. Johnny U was a not-doubt-about-it HOFer and the best of his era, but Peyton has had a longer run of qb dominance.

Points: 0

#211 by Trogdor // Jul 11, 2011 - 8:21pm

Sorry I lost the numbers here, but I did some research on Manning's numbers that put his greatness into a little perspective. Feel free to repeat it if you have the free time.

During the last game of the 2009 season, NBC (I think) put up a graphic of the statistical leaders for the decade. (Yes, we know, nobody cares.) Manning of course was way out in front in yards and TDs, something like 42K yards and 310-ish TDs. For those in the back, that's over 4200 yards and 31 TD per year for ten straight years. Sweet merciful crap.

Now, being a Browns fan, I of course wondered if they had ever, even once, had a quarterback hit either of those numbers. The answer - of course not, although Brian Sipe came close in 1980, but somehow forgot how to THROW THE BALL INTO THE FREAKING LAKE AND KICK THE FIELD GOAL!

Uh, sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yeah. Manning's averages over a 10-year span would have been a franchise record for the Browns in both yards and touchdowns. Wow. I mean, just, wow.

So that of course got me to wondering how many other franchise records his 10-year average would have. And the answer is.... lost somewhere in my notes. But I'm sure someone with spare time can figure it out for you! It's a lot, though.

Anyway, that's a little something to put Manning's greatness in perspective. What he accomplishes year after year after year, many franchises have never seen even once.

Points: 0

#202 by The Ghost of A… (not verified) // Jul 10, 2011 - 2:33pm

Johnny Unitas was responsible for: "The Greatest Game Ever Played" in the NFL.

Peyton Manning was responsible for: "The Greatest Game In The History Of The New Orleans Saints." Which is nice, too. Even his father couldn't claim that.

Points: 0

#195 by justanothersteve // Jul 10, 2011 - 12:25am

I think the one thing this column has proved is that the season can't start soon enough. We NEED NFL football.

Points: 0

#189 by TomKelso // Jul 09, 2011 - 2:29pm

From 1961 -1963, Unitas was the third to fifth-best QB in a 14-team league....

Not on any planet that supports human life -- who was better? Starr? Maybe -- but even with a better supporting cast, he never put up the results Unitas did. Tarkenton, Meredith? Way too young if ever. Wade, Ryan, LeBaron? Please. Tittle? Jurgensen in Philly? Ed Brown? Milt Plum? Who was under center in SF or LA back then? That's far too flat a statement to accept on face value, Mike. And to make it a determining factor in your argument -- well I'm sorry.

My thoughts about the Colts line up with Jon's -- but that has nothing to do with this. If you're going to make a statement like that -- I'd like to know the two to four in those given years you think were better - -and why.

Oh, and Peyton needs to cut down on his supplements -- or Raiderjoe's nickname for him will become real...

Points: 0

#181 by Jon from NH (not verified) // Jul 09, 2011 - 5:17am

Manning never played for the Colts, he plays for the "Colts". There is no connection other than a uniform between one of the great football franchises of all time, and the pretenders playing in that suburb of Chicago. Comparing Manning to Unitas is like comparing Tom Brady to Bart Starr, or Aaron Rodgers to John Elway. Interesting to compare I guess, but none of these people played for the same teams, and Manning doesn't belong on a list with Bert Jones, Unitas and Morral. He is simply the best Indianapolis QB ever.

Points: 0

#179 by Raiderjoe // Jul 08, 2011 - 9:11pm

To guy who said p. Manning like ripekn. Yes it true. Manning plays all the games. Is luke gerigh. The Iron Clot.
Defintely gets mentioned. Very impressive to play all the time. Does get noted bywriters and broafcasters.

To guywho say to imagine if p. Manning had Beiber hair. Yes would be annoying becsusse many clots fsns would copy hairdo and would be embarrasing. Thank goodness manning likes Kentucky farmboy look insteasd of Jasom Bieber dork/teenyboopper rat's nest- Captain Kanggaroo mix

Points: 0

#178 by Raiderjoe // Jul 08, 2011 - 8:48pm

Gettinh some Tommyknocker Butthead tonigt. Goimh.to drink.it read these new comments. Fun friday night of foogball and beer

Points: 0

#157 by Scott_Kacsmar (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 3:59pm

You know what the difference between Manning's 2010 season and his 2003-09 seasons is?

He didn't pull a couple of rabbits out of the hat last year like he did in the previous 7 seasons.

Against the Patriots, you would have expected him to throw the 24 yard GW TD pass rather than the game-ending INT. Make that stat adjustment and you're looking at a 420 yard day, 5 TDs, 2 INTs and a 17 point comeback in the 4th QT. Then against Dallas, you expect him to complete some passes (let's say 3/4 for 40 yards) to get them in FG position and win that game, rather than another INT.

Make that stat adjustment and you're looking at the following line:
454/682 (66.6%), 4764 yards, 6.99 YPA, 34 TDs, 15 INTs, 94.1 PR, 12-4 record

Maybe one long completion instead of an INT against the Eagles, and they win that game with a FG at the end too.

Now you wouldn't even blink at that line (except maybe the YPA) in conjunction with the seven seasons prior to it. Fits right in. But since those two drives didn't end well, he drops to 10-6 and a rating just under 92.

Points: 0

#155 by Anon (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 3:34pm

Heck, Manning may not have been the best choice in 2008

Or 2009 (Brees).

Points: 0

#145 by nat // Jul 08, 2011 - 10:22am

To wrap up Unitas v. Manning (sure, this'll work):
Era-adjusted TD rate: tie
Era-adjusted Comp%: Unitas
Era-adjusted Yards/Attempt: Unitas
Era-adjusted Interception rate: Unitas, by a mile.
Era-adjusted sack rate: ?
Era-adjusted fumble rate: ?
Era-adjusted playoff stats: ?

Easier conditions (relative to era): Manning (worth 6 inches per attempt, see PFR link elsewhere in discussion)
Easier division: Manning
Better supporting cast (relative to league): ?
Easier defenses faced: Unitas (worth 2 inches per attempt, according to PFR)

Every QB-specific rate stat we have points to Unitas as the better QB, and the one adjustment that works against that conclusion is too small to matter. There are ways to fudge the numbers (e.g. compare Manning to the 16th best QB and Unitas to the 8th best; use counting stats rather than rate stats) but without such fudging, Manning comes in second. Still a great QB, but not as great as Johnny U.

"Almost as good as Johnny Unitas" is pretty damned good, if you ask me.

Points: 0

#133 by dairvon // Jul 07, 2011 - 5:40pm

I was really amused by one claim the author made "we adjust the contemporary player down." I think just the opposite is the case. We all want to think we are watching the greatest players now so we tend to give current players the benefit of the doubt. Only a few people posting here ever watched Unitas and most of us who did saw the tale end of his career. People just don't want to believe that there were amazing athletes back then. Everyone looks so slow on the old black and white films. I think that makes people discount players from previous eras. Athletes are not inherently better now. Nutrition is better, training is better and equipment is better, so performance has improved, but we haven't evolved as a species since 1957. That is why you have to compare people to the peers of their era. How does a guy measure up against the people who played when he did?

Points: 0

#126 by trill // Jul 07, 2011 - 2:30pm

"Schaub turned 30 last week. He is a solid quarterback, but he is firmly in his prime and will probably start declining in the next few years. One thing these Top Fives have taught me is that most quarterbacks’ peaks are relatively short: four or five years, in most cases. Schaub is already two years in."

Nnamdi then clicked to the last slide in the PowerPoint: 5yrs, $75mil. Knowing he had been defeated, Bob McNair shed a single tear.

Points: 0

#119 by Scott Kacsmar (not verified) // Jul 07, 2011 - 12:33pm

My theory on Jim Harbaugh being dubbed "Captain Comeback", even though he only had a merely above-average 3 comebacks in 1995:

1. He had a very good season for a team that wasn't expected to do anything.
2. He led two comebacks in dramatic fashion early in the season against the Jets and Dolphins.
3. He had a few losses (the Colts lost 8 games that year including playoffs) where he made a decent attempt at coming back (tied the game several times), but ultimately didn't complete the job and Indy lost.
4. He's probably remembered best for the almost-comeback; the dropped hail mary in the AFC-C in Pittsburgh.

Even though he has just as many comeback wins as Roger Staubach (15) for his career, Harbaugh was not deserving of the title "Captain Comeback". Especially odd when you have two other QBs for the Colts, Unitas and Manning, that will be record setters for comebacks.

Points: 0

#116 by dryheat // Jul 07, 2011 - 12:06pm

It has to be Unitas, right? I mean, he has a haircut you can set your watch to. That's enough of a tiebreaker for me.

Points: 0

#136 by nat // Jul 07, 2011 - 7:36pm

Rather than compare Unitas and Manning, I'm going to take a minute to grade Tanier's analysis by FO standards, point by point.

Preferring "MVP-caliber" to "Pro-Bowl" as a "stat". -1 point.
The made-up stat "MVP-caliber season" seems to allow at least as much extra room for QBs as Pro-Bowl does. Manning won 3 solo MVPs, but seems to be credited with 12 MVP-like seasons. Sure sounds like MVP-caliber is similar to Pro-Bowl back-up quality to me.

Quoting cumulative stats and ignoring rate stats. -2 points.
This is a classic FO no-no. It's especially bad when comparing seasons of different lengths. Tanier quotes only seasonal cumulative stats. This is a red flag for bad analysis.

Altering stats to suit his thesis. -1 point.
Normally, this would disqualify the analysis as biased and bogus entirely. Tanier denigrates Unitas' accomplishments several times (e.g. "1964 was a little odd") but backs off a bit each time. It's as if he knows he's cheating, and wants to pass it off as a joke. Sorry. Still a point against.

Using made up stuff. -3 points
"Peyton could have all manner of adventures". Including a hypothetical future with specific accomplishments is just bogus. Simply comparing the first 13 seasons of each would have been valid.

Acknowledging the need to adjust for era. +1 point
Failing to actually adjust for era. -3 points
Even cumulative seasonal stats can be adjusted, but not here. Why not just say "Unitas was so lazy he didn't even play as many games each season!" and be done with it. Comparing across eras without era-adjustments is naive if you don't know better, and unforgivably sloppy if you do. Tanier knows better.

Adjusting accomplishments based on "media" and "mythology". -2 points
Instead of era-adjustments, Tanier gives us media/mythology adjustments, calling 1960's media "fawning" while implying that Manning has been unfairly characterized in the 2000's. Media coverage is not relevant. Or it wouldn't be, except that Tanier is trying to convince us that his gushing, fawning, subjective evaluation of Manning is somehow more balanced than the 1960's media. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Bad adjustments for league size. -1 point
League size can be used to adjust for some things, but not others. Being the best of the top 12 QBs in the world is pretty much the same as being the best of the top 32 QBs in the world.

Ad hominem attacks. -1 point
Calling anyone who disagrees "pathologically nutty" is insulting. Dismissing them as "Patriots fansites" is an admission that your arguments are so weak that you need to dismiss the messengers rather than address the facts.

Dependence on the "Wins" statistic. -1 point
Sometimes you have to include "wins" in a discussion. But in comparing two QBs, it's a weak stat to build an argument on. Coupled with made-up stats (MVP-caliber season, forsooth!) and misuse of cumulative seasonal stats, it's pretty much a classic botched analysis.

I'll give Tanier credit for being readable and passionate. But for someone who claims to have looked at a lot of stats to form his opinion, he sure did a rotten job of making his case.

Points: 0

#89 by Thomas_beardown // Jul 06, 2011 - 6:55pm

I'm tired of Manning vs Montana vs Brady. What we really need is an irrational plucky white former Bears QB debate. Flutie or Harbaugh, who ya got?

I think I'd go with Harbaugh, as I think he could have been a legitimately good QB if he had the right development environment. He could have been Jeff Garcia-esque. While I think Flutie did eventually reach his natural peak, and it wasn't that good.

Points: 0

#64 by Raiderjoe // Jul 06, 2011 - 1:24pm

Hutson grear in any era. Guy was machine. If play moe would have better training and body. Stats woulh be like 115 catches for 1568 yards.

Better thing to ghink abour is qhether guys of now couldve played then. Manning would probably have been de$ensive end in two way era. Rice would be def. halfback. Would they be stinky defenfers? Maybe maybe not very tough to say.

Points: 0

#54 by Dean // Jul 06, 2011 - 11:49am

I've been telling my friends for several years now that we should be grateful for the privlidge of watching Peyton Manning play. He's one of the select few - along with guys like Urlacher, Dawkins, Lewis, Moss, and Tomlinson - that we will be bragging to our grandchildren that we got to see him. I'll take him over pretty much any QB whose prime came in the past 20 years. He's ahead of Favre and Elway in my book.

But I'll still take Johnny U.

Points: 0

#52 by RichC (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 11:46am

"but the sixth best quarterback in the league can get a Pro Bowl spot"

Thats only if the talent in the leagues at that position is balanced. If its not, the 3rd selection in the weaker league could be much worse than 6th.

Points: 0

#40 by Felton (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 9:48am

Mike, I know QB rating is a flawed stat, but I like to use it to compare QBs to the league averages of the years they played:

Peyton Manning: 1998-2010, 13 years, QB rating of 95 average vs league average of 79. That's +16 - note that NFL QB Ratings usually have a standard deviation of about 10, so that is extraordinary performance over a long time.

Johnny Unitas: 1957-1970, except 1968, 13 years, QB rating of 81 average vs league average of 65. That's +16, so that is extraordinary performance over a long time.

Two great QBS with two great teams who symbolized the evolution of the offensive game in their respective eras. Their busts can fight out who was best after closing time at the Hall of Fame. Add Bert Jones in and that's three incredible QBs for one franchise.

Great idea, Mike - I'd like to see a Saints Top Five - Brees, Hebert, Manning, Brooks and Kilmer?

Points: 0

#37 by Podge (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 8:35am

My favourite fact about Texans QBs is that Jabar Gaffney is 5th in TD passes.

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#35 by t.d. // Jul 06, 2011 - 7:46am

The NFL Unitas starred in doesn't resemble the NFL today. Just like Don Hutson would be unlikely to make it out of training camp in today's game

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#32 by IPO savant (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 5:37am

I think a more interesting question is how Manning would have held up in an NFL where clobbering the qb was far mre prevalent. This could have been offset by smaller defenders and Manning towering over most competitors of the day.

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#28 by QQ (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 11:32pm

One thing that people rarely mention about Manning is the almost optimal conditions that he has operated under:

-Dome Stadium (check)
-Warm Weather Division (check)
-Ridiculous Offensive Talent (check-Faulk, Edge, Harrison, Clark, Wayne, etc)

Manning is obviously an All Time great, but he has definitely been placed in optimal conditions. For example, if you want to see how much playing Indoors helps, look at Rodgers' stats in a Dome vs Outside

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#19 by t.d. // Jul 05, 2011 - 7:30pm

after seeing the carr game referenced, i thought he was onhis way to great things, too. he was always very good against the jaguars

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#18 by Megamanic // Jul 05, 2011 - 7:12pm

How much does Dave Ragone suck if he can't beat the keyboard player from Genesis?

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#26 by Independent George // Jul 05, 2011 - 10:18pm

Ok, I'm 34 so I do actually remember Genesis, but I had to Google that one. Peter Gabriel? Phil Collins? Mike Rutherford? Wha...? Oh. Ok.

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#27 by Raiderjoe // Jul 05, 2011 - 10:29pm

wrting about music, photos of Umitas and Maning make think of Alanis Morissette becuause both guys have hand in pocket

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#30 by Shattenjager // Jul 06, 2011 - 1:02am

I'm 26, so I don't really remember Genesis, but I understood it, and wondered if I should feel bad about knowing Tony Banks.

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#91 by Theo // Jul 06, 2011 - 7:04pm

I don't recall that verse at all.
On what day was he created?

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#13 by Sha-blam-o (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:51pm

I totall knew the that the salesperson was not going to be a local but a migrant to the region... my clue? Just read the late Mr Peeps's A Fairly Complete Lexicon of Baltimorese and you'll know why if you've never made the 45 minute trek north of Washington DC.

Tanier jabbing at Baldimer with the Steelers and COLTS references. Thanks.

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#12 by Raiderjoe // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:26pm

As we have written about elsewhere, Jones’ 1976 season (3104-24-9, 60.3 completion percentage, some rushing value) is one of the best quarterback seasons ever once you account for offensive levels and season length. That season may be highlighted on an upcoming edition of NFL’s Top 10, so keep your eyes open.

Is iyt for top 10 QB seaosns ever?
If so, K. Stabler 1976 make list right?
194 for 291 passing, 9.4 ypa, 27 TDs, 17 ints, 103.4 rating

A.so go with M./ Plum 1960 and some others.

Or if list is top 10 overlokked seaosns or 10 top seasons forgetten about or soemthing like ythat then maybe it have stuff like Bucky Pope 1964 seaosn and Joe Senser 1981

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#9 by JasonK // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:21pm

No account of Sage Rosenfels' Houston career is complete without this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3_hi7gOjE0

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#76 by Ranccor (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 3:23pm

One of my all-time favorite plays.

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#272 by BigCheese // Jul 22, 2011 - 7:30pm

The absolute best thing about that is Schaub's face, fom which you can tell EXACTLY what he's thinking about Rosenfels at that moment....

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

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#11 by Vasilii // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:24pm

In Unitas’ heyday, sportswriters were almost uniformly fawning and invested in mythmaking

Unlike now? Read some of Farrar writing on Suh to realize how little has changed.

PS: also unsure why the article puts so much emphasis on Manning's record. Nudging close to QBWin stat.

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#8 by MJK // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:16pm

In disclosing any biases I might have, I'll start off by saying I'm a Patriots fan. Which means that (1) I'm supposed to hate Manning, and (2) I don't know as much about Unitas as a hardcore Colts fan. I'm also only 33, so Unitas had stopped playing before I was even born.

That said, I will vote for Manning. Simply put, what Manning has done has been utterly amazing. QB's simply don't play as well as he has for as long as he has. They don't come anywhere close. The only QB's recently that have played as long as Manning are Kerry Collins, Jeff Garcia, and Brett Favre, and ability-wise and consistency-wise, none of them are in the same galaxy as Manning. If Manning retired tomorrow, the next best QB recent times (Tom Brady...and yes, this is a Patriots fan saying Manning is better than Brady, at least right now), would have to put up at least four or five more All-Pro caliber seasons to even be in the same discussion as Manning, from a longevity and dominance standpoint. I might even put Manning above Joe Montana for what he has done...

I don't buy the argument that Unitas made the game what it is today...the same thing could be said of Joe Namath with his silly guarantee, and I don't think many people would argue that Namath is an all time great QB (in fact, he's probably not even the Jets best QB). "Making the game what it is today" is as much about theater, and being in the right place at the right time with the right media coverage, as it is about greatness.

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#3 by TheSim (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 4:55pm

I admire your guts for arguing so passionately that Manning should rank higher than Unitas, but I still don't agree with you. I am a fan of FBO and of all its contemporary sports stat-site equivalents, but when it comes to determining that mythology that is inherent in the concept of what is known as "All Time Greatness", this is one of those times when stats should be the buttressing and not the centerpiece. You absolutely cannot ignore the significance of the fact that without Unitas, the NFL would not be what it is today. The Greatest Game Ever Played was so because of a championship comeback and an overtime drive captained by Unitas. Super Bowl III would never have been as huge as it was, had it not been surrounded by the mythology of Unitas' working class leadership set up against Namath's brash, youthful arrogance. In other words, his importance to the game went beyond wins and losses and MVP votes. When you talk about being "great", stats and awards should be at the forefront. But when you talk about "All-Time Greatness", you absolutely cannot ignore the impact that the player had and continues to have. All stats and "competitive inflation" comparisons like you do here achieve is say what we would all readily admit: if Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning, in their primes, faced each other with identical teams, Peyton Manning would win that game 8 or 9 out of 10 times. But, really... so what? Do we knock George Harrison because he couldn't play a solo as fast as Steve Vai? No. Because true greatness lies in the immeasurables.

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#2 by John (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 4:47pm

For those of us who don't pay attention to media coverage of players' off-the-field follies, could someone give me a clue as to the first part of this article? Other than Big Ben/Hooters (and is he really getting married?) I'm absolutely baffled as to the context.

Looking forward to seeing the number of comments on this one. Should rank up there.

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#1 by Otis Taylor89 // Jul 05, 2011 - 4:43pm

Ready for irrational Unitas/Manning thread.

This will make it easy as the answer, of course, is Tom Brady.

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#236 by Jon from NH (not verified) // Jul 12, 2011 - 4:58pm

There is still a major international American football tournament going on, and the US is kicking butt!


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#237 by TonyT (not verified) // Jul 12, 2011 - 5:20pm

In other surprising news, a High School varsity team is totally dominating the 7 year old pop warner teams! America! F*** Yeah!

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#246 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Jul 13, 2011 - 5:59pm

The Iron Clot sounds like what a robot gets before it has a stroke.

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#250 by BaronFoobarstein // Jul 13, 2011 - 6:09pm

I propose the term "Febolism."

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#44 by SandyRiver // Jul 06, 2011 - 10:34am

IMO, this argument, though probably true technically, isn't very telling. Sure, if you magically transported 1941 Hutson 70 years forward into the NFL today, he'd not be nearly as dominant. However, if he'd been born in 1983 rather than 1913, with the same natural gifts but with the advantages of modern training and conditioning, I'd expect to see Jerry Rice type numbers.

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#266 by Ted (not verified) // Jul 15, 2011 - 11:29am

And that's why these atttempts to quantify everything can only go so far. Unitas played in an NFL in which passing was a high risk, high reward strategy to move the ball far down the field. In Unitas' day, a QB completing a six yard pass on third and eight would get yelled at when he came to the bench. As for comparing supporting casts, a great O line makes a QB look better. A great QB makes an O line better. How would Unitas have done throwing out of four WR sets and checking down for five yard gains? How would Manning have done in an NFL where DBs could get all over receivers and where on third and eight, he was expected to throw at least eight yards downfield? The answer is, who knows?

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#14 by Sha-blam-o (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:56pm

O and tanks for reminding me of the Dutch Wonderland. Hadn't thought of that field trip as a kid in years!

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#67 by Kevin from Philly // Jul 06, 2011 - 1:55pm

I can't believe that place is still around. I wonder if MT made a side trip to the Cowtown Rodeo while he was down that way.

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#78 by Mike_Tanier // Jul 06, 2011 - 5:04pm

DW is not only still there, but blows Hershey Park away for kids between 2 and 10, assuming the 10-year old is not a coaster daredevil (my 8 year old is close).

DW has a water park with both toddler and big kid sections that has enough slides and water jets to keep kids busy for a long time. Hershey's water park is a disorganized mess that forces kids to leave in 15 minute intervals to accomodate crowds. DW has cute, corny free shows all over the park so tiny ones can take a break. Hershey has grown so big and modern that it's hard to find shade. DW has enough real rides to keep the 7-10 crowd interested -- the wooden coaster, the swings, a high water slide, one virtual simulator, etc. Hershey has awesome coasters for older kids but they are filled with unsupervised teens, so I will send my kids there when they are old enough to not supervise.

DW also has Good N Plenty restaurant around the corner, where you sit at a long table with strangers and let fake Amish people serve you whatever they want, which is almost always chicken, ham, buttered noodles, fresh corn, and so on, followed by shoo-fly pie. So you get to make awkward small talk with people who would much rather not be sitting anywhere near you, which is one of my thrills in life. If my kids are extra bratty and I work up a good lather, I can enjoy my meal while ruining those of three to four other families!

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#121 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Jul 07, 2011 - 2:08pm

Dutch Wonderland also has sneakily good bumper cars filled with young, low-weight children who don't know how to drive (also known as "Blood in the Water").

Absolutely seriously, however, they are excellent bumper cars, even if Knoebels has a better set.

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#125 by Sha-blam-o (not verified) // Jul 07, 2011 - 2:28pm

Hilarious comparion Tanier! Thanks.

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#156 by Kevin from Philly // Jul 08, 2011 - 3:53pm

Strange that I never see comercials for the place - they used to advertize a lot years ago. Maybe when my two year old nephew grows out of diapers, I'll take him there - and we can ruin each others lunches.

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#20 by sundown (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 7:47pm

You're right about Manning being great, but, wow, are you out in leftfield with the rest of your post.

If you don't believe that theater is a major reason people watch sports, you're delusional. That "silly" guarantee is one of the most memorable moments of American sports lore, ranking right up there with Ruth calling his shot. It single-handedly took the Super Bowl from what had been viewed as a formality game where the NFL teams dominated the weak sister AFL teams and turned it into a legitimate contest everybody wanted to see. And if you've ever wondered why there even was two leagues to produce a Super Bowl champion, thank guys like Johnny Unitas: The Greatest Game Ever Played and exploits like that fueled the rise of football from being an afterthought to becoming the sport that surpassed baseball in popularity.

Oh, and if you want to argue that it should be purely about what the players do on the field, fine. But how does that square with your take that Montana has an edge over Manning? Montana was fantastic, no doubt. But other than the Super Bowls he doesn't have a leg to stand on versus Manning. Most of the numbers are so far in Manning's favor it's almost comical--126 more TDs and over 14,000 more yards than Montana despite playing less seasons.

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#22 by Otis Taylor89 // Jul 05, 2011 - 8:09pm

Child please.

You probably never saw Montana play. His mobility and big game ability blows Manning away.

No doubt Manning is an All Timer, however he has played his whole career in a dome and in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL.

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#23 by Dave Bernreuther // Jul 05, 2011 - 8:39pm

Since the split into 8 divisions, the AFC South has actually been one of the tougher divisions, top to bottom. Many of the years when people lauded the NFC East as the best, the AFC South actually had more wins, even when matched up against difficult divisions.

I'm not trying to hold that out as a strong argument in favor of the South; only to point out that it's better than most think. It's not hard to present a case for several of the divisions being "one of the weakest" or to make one to say that any non-west division is "one of the best." And heck, with only eight of them, they're all kind of in both categories anyway.

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#60 by justanothersteve // Jul 06, 2011 - 1:15pm

If we're comparing frequent opponents, Unitas probably had it tougher. The Colts played in the old NFL West (even then, the NFL was geographically challenged) against the Lombardi-coached Packers, Halas-coached Bears (won championship in 1963), the Lions when the Lions were good, and the Rams with their "Fierceome Foursome". The only weak teams were the 49ers and expansion Vikings. The difference in team strength between the NFL West and East in Unitas's time was similar to the difference between the NFC & AFC of the mid 80's to early 90's. You can say (and I'll disagree) that Manning has been a better QB. But Manning's definitely not hands down better as some think. (FWIW, I'm 55 and still remember Unitas being the only QB the Packers seemed to truly fear.)

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#85 by Otis Taylor89 // Jul 06, 2011 - 6:04pm

How many playoff games, outside of the Colts, has that division won since 2002? And, I forget, have the Texans had a season when they have won more than they lost?

None of those teams are playing NE, Pitt or SD every year and they still have mediocre records because they are two mediocre teams...and the Texans.

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#87 by Kibbles // Jul 06, 2011 - 6:38pm

Since 2002, the Jags are 71-73, the Texans are 55-89, and the Titans are 77-67, for a total of 203-229 (47.0%). It sure seems like the South's 2-4 teams have been reasonably bad, but let's see how that compares to every other divisions 2nd-4th best teams, shall we?

AFC East: Since 2002, the Bills are 59-85, the Dolphins are 64-80, and the Jets are 72-72. Total record = 195-237 (45.1%).

AFC North: Since 2002, the Bengals are 62-82, the Browns are 52-92 (yes, worse than the Texans), and the Ravens are 82-62. Total record = 196-236 (45.4%).

AFC West: Since 2002, the Chiefs are 67-77, the Broncos are 76-68, and the Raiders are 48-96. Total record = 191-241 (44.2%).

So despite the fact that the Colts have the best record in the NFL since 2002 (which means fewer potential wins for the rest of the division), the "dregs" of the AFC South have still been the best 2-4 teams in the AFC since expansion.

The only divisions that can honestly claim to be "tougher" than the AFC South since 2002 are the NFC South (three teams with a winning record, although no one dominant team) and the NFC East (pretty clearly the toughest division in football since 2002).

It's easy to look at Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Houston and think "wow, those are some terrible teams" because they haven't had a lot of postseason success recently, but the simple fact is that Tennessee is about as good as any 2nd best team has been over the last 9 years, while Jacksonville is one of the top "3rd best teams" in the entire league. Also, as bad as Houston's been, every single division except for the NFC South has produced one other team that has failed to win 60 games over the last 9 years (Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, Detroit, San Francisco, Washington).

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#96 by justanothersteve // Jul 06, 2011 - 7:46pm

The Colts record from 1958-67 was 89-42-3 or 0.675, a bit less. But their division opponents went 382-372-38 or 0.506. That's how tough the NFL West was back then. The Colts also likely would have won the 1965 championship if either Unitas or backup Gary Cuozzo could have played. (The Colts started RB Tom Matte after both were injured, and still only lost a playoff to the Packers on a controversial FG.) Smaller league also means less chances to make the playoffs. Maybe the Colts don't make the playoffs if only one team from whatever teams are East and West in the AFC make the playoffs. Even if South and West combined (where they don't have to deal with the Pats or Steelers), they play for the AFC championship only in 2005, 2007, and 2009. They would have to play a one game playoff in 2004 and 2010. They don't play in much less win the SB after 2006.

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#139 by Kibbles // Jul 08, 2011 - 4:53am

So Unitas's division opponents won 50.6% of their games and Manning's won 47.0%. That analysis would be a lot more meaningful if Unitas and Manning played absolutely nothing except for division games. When last I checked, they didn't. If you want to tell me that Unitas faced better teams, on average, than Peyton Manning, then by all means, be my guest- furnish me with some evidence to make that case. But comparing Unitas's division to Manning's division and saying Unitas's was slightly tougher doesn't do it for me, because Manning's divisional games only make up 37.5% of his total schedule. For what it's worth, while PFR hasn't weighed in on who faced the toughest schedule, they did weigh in on who faced the toughest schedule of opposing defenses, and the defenses Manning has faced during his career weren't just tougher than Unitas's, they were on average among the toughest defenses any QB has ever faced over his career.

Also, the whole "smaller league means fewer playoff spots, so therefore it's tougher to win the superbowl" argument is asinine and illogical. In a 12 team league where one team wins the superbowl, the average team has a 1/12 chance of winning the superbowl. In a 32 team league where one team wins the superbowl, the average team has a 1/32 chance of winning the superbowl. This is simple logic. The league can structure the playoffs however they want, it will not change that simple fact. It was three times as easy to win the superbowl in many of Unitas's seasons as it was in many of Manning's seasons.

In fact, quick math for you. For Unitas's first 4 seasons, he played in a 12 team league, giving him a 1/12 shot at a title. Then he played a season in a 13 team league. Then he played 5 years in a 14 team league. Then he played in a 15-team league that had a superbowl against the AFL after the season (assuming an NFL team had a 50% chance to beat an AFL team, that means a 1/30 shot at the title). Then he had 3 years at a 1/32 chance to win a title, and then the league merged and in his final 3 seasons he played in a 26 team league, giving him a 1/26 shot at the title. Add up all those chances, and you'd expect a QB whose career overlapped with Unitas's to average just a hair over 1 SB victory over that span (actually, 1.01). Which means Unitas clocked in at 0.99 SBs over the expected value. Meanwhile, Manning played 1 year in a 30 team league, 3 years in a 31 team league, and 9 years in a 32 team league. Add up all those chances and you'd expect the average QB whose career overlapped with Manning's to have 0.41 titles. Which means that Manning clocks in at 0.59 SBs over the expected value. Yes, Unitas has twice as many titles as Manning... but he played in an era where it was more than twice as easy to win a title.

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#163 by Jerry // Jul 08, 2011 - 6:10pm

In the 12 and 14 team leagues, teams played everyone in their division home and home, and two games against teams from the other division. (When expansion left an odd number of teams, I think the expansion team played everyone once.) So Unitas' division foes' record matters, however you want to compare it to Manning's.

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#268 by Kibbles // Jul 15, 2011 - 7:12pm

I never said it didn't matter. I'm objecting to substituting a comparison of division schedules for a substitution of schedules as a whole, because it basically amounts to saying "a group of games that represented a huge portion of Unitas's schedule was tougher than a group of games that represented a small portion of Manning's schedule; therefore, Unitas's schedule was tougher than Manning's". Manning's division schedule represents roughly a third of his total schedule, which means it's hardly representative of his schedule as a whole.

If someone wants to claim that Unitas played a tougher slate of teams, they should start by comparing the records of all the teams Unitas played to the records of all the teams Manning played. Would such a comparison favor Unitas? Perhaps, perhaps not- no way to know until someone actually does it. In the meantime, PFR compared the difficulty of the DEFENSES Manning faced and found that it was tougher than the difficulty of the DEFENSES Unitas faced, which is a very relevant point when you're comparing Manning's individual success to Unitas's (even if it's less relevant when comparing Manning's team success to Unitas's).

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#106 by dmstorm22 // Jul 06, 2011 - 11:16pm

None of those teams play the Chargers, Steelers or Pats every year but no team in any of those divisions play all of those teams every year. I have no idea what that statement was supposed to mean. They do have to play the Colts every year.

BTW, The Titans have won two playoff games since (2002, 2003) and had a first round bye one other time (2008). The Jaguars have also won a playoff game since (2007). Further the AFC North and AFC East, whom most people consider better divisions, have each only had two teams win playoff games (Steelers, Ravens & Pats, Jets). The AFC West ironically has had three (all but Chiefs).

Also, the Texans went 9-7 in 2009.

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#34 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 06, 2011 - 6:52am

I'll study this in depth next week on my site, but I'm pretty sure calling the AFC south 'weak' over the past decade is flat wrong. In fact, my guess is that it was probably the strongest or second strongest division in football over that time. Off the top of my head, the AFC South sent two teams to the playoffs in

2002, 2003 (2 12 win teams), 2005 (2 12 win teams), 3 teams in 2007 (two 11+ win teams), 2008 (2 12 win teams)

That doesn't seem like a 'weak division' to me. Indy won three division titles in years where another team won at least 11 games.

Again, it deserves more study, but even a cursory look says the comment has zero merit.

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#57 by sundown (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 12:17pm

I most certainly did see Montana play and acknowledge him as an all-time great. But he played on a team loaded with stars with a Hall of Fame coach which certainly helped him. He's 7th all-time in wins and will shortly be passed by Brady. (Unitas and Manning are both ahead of him in wins.) He's 10th all-time in yards and will be passed by Brees and Brady in not too long. If stats are to play play ANY part at all in determining the best ever, he's simply not there. While he was certainly better than Terry Bradshaw, like Bradshaw he gets tons of credit for all the Super Bowls that were the efforts of a fabulous team.

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#58 by dmstorm22 // Jul 06, 2011 - 12:47pm

Wrong. Joe Montana statistically was a great QB. He didn't compile the numbers because he got hurt a lot. He rarely played all 16 games, and late in his SF career he was pulled for Young late in games quite a bit.

For his career, Montana completed 63.2% of his passes, had almost a 2-1 td/int ratio and a 92.3 career passer rating. He has a higher career Y/A than Tom Brady. Joe Montana was a great QB statistically as well.

Also, he had a HOF coach, but he did win two Super Bowls before Jerry Rice even got on the 49ers. Before Rice showed up he had a 279-432-3630-28-10 season, which rate wise is 64.6% completion with 8.4 y/a and 13.0 y/c which totaled a 102.9 rating. Again, that was before Rice was there, and he was throwing to Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon.

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#65 by sundown (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 1:41pm

Wrong on what count? He didn't play for a fabulous team? And I never said he didn't have great statistics...just that his stats are surpassed by a fair number of other legendary all-time QBs. That's undebatable.

If you want to say he'd have put up bigger numbers without injuries, fine. But that's no more relevant than saying Manning would have more than one SB if he'd had talent like Montana had around him. (And if injuries earn Montana a pass of sorts, don't we also need to give a nod to guys like Elway, Favre and Manning who somehow avoided injuries?)

If it makes you happy, we can call Montana the greatest Super Bowl QB ever but the second you start talking stats for his career, he starts suffering in comparison to these other legendary QBs. Wins, yards, TDs... he's way behind in all these. His winning percentage was awesome...but Brady's is better and Brady is poised to pass him in wins and a number of other categories. And just like Manning, Brady is passing him up despite playing far less time.

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#68 by dmstorm22 // Jul 06, 2011 - 2:00pm

You said "If stats are to play ANY part at all in determining the best ever, then he's simply not there."

Joe Montana is definitely there statistically. He's way behind in wins and yards and tds and all that because he got hurt a lot. Joe Montana threw touchdowns on a higher percentage of his throws than Brett Favre or Dan Marino. Yes Favre threw for more yards per game, but Montana was way more efficient. When adjusting for era Montana was easily one of the top 5 statistical QBs of all time.

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#73 by sundown (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 2:31pm

You can still be a legend without being #1. And the injury argument needs to be addressed in a way that doesn't penalize guys for staying healthy. Elway had one extra season than Montana yet started 67 more games. Relevant? I'd say so. Manning's played less years and already has 44 more starts than Montana had for his career. Even missing that entire season, Brady is still averaging more starts a year than Montana. And he's poised to move by him in several categories (including wins) in less time than it took Montana. Manning and Brady are both set to play more years, at a higher level than Montana did.

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#86 by An Onimous (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 6:06pm

You need to make a distinction between counting stats and rate stats. Montana's counting stats don't warrant a place in "all-time greatest" discussions. On a per-play or per-game basis, however, Joe Montana has one of the top 5 regular season statistical profiles of all time.

The thing that's always bugged me a tiny bit about just handing Montana the "GOAT" title is not that he played with a great supporting cast, but that he had Bill Walsh as his coach. I often say that Otto Graham's stats look amazing when adjusted for era, but that's because he was playing an offensive game that was 10-20 years ahead of its time. Paul Brown basically invented modern pass blocking schemes, for instance. Well, the same caveat has to apply to Joe Montana. He was playing in an offense so effective that it has dominated the league for 20 years. Nobody else in the NFL understood the offense or really knew how to defend it. To borrow from Charlie Weis, Joe Montana had a "decided schematic advantage" every time he stepped out onto the field. I think that had an unbelievable impact on his production.

Think of it this way: if looking at era-adjusted statistical profiles, Montana, Young, and Anderson are easily three of the top 10 QBs of all time. What are the odds that one coach (Bill Walsh) would essentially get his hands on 3 of the most talented QBs of all time? They seem infinitesimally small to me. It seems more likely that Bill Walsh was such an offensive genius that he could make top 20 QBs look like top 10 QBs, top 10 QBs look like top 5 QBs, and top 5 QBs look like the Greatest QB Of All Time.

To put it another way... Olandis Gary rushes for 1,000 yards and it raises questions that Terrell Davis is a "system back", but Steve Young, Ken Anderson, and possibly early-GB Brett Favre can all be MVP-caliber players and nobody dares to consider that Joe Montana might have been even the teensiest, tiniest bit a "system QB"?

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#95 by Charles T. (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 7:37pm

I look at it in terms of what would the greats do if they'd been on each other's teams. Elway, Marino, Manning, Brady, any of the greats all win the Super Bowls that Montana won if they're playing on that 49ers team.

But put Joe Montana on the early Denver teams that Elway took to the Super Bowl and I'm just not sure he gets there those three times. Somebody above was using the example that Montana had to throw to Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon, like that was some huge disadvantage. Please. The Three Amigos make Clark and Solomon look like Swann and Stallworth. And Elway had guys like Gerald Wilhite and Sammy Winder playing running back. Marino's teams always had holes. Brady and Manning have rarely had the sort of talent around them that Montana had.

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#175 by Noahrk // Jul 08, 2011 - 8:03pm

True. Montana was great, no question, but the fact that he was so efficient had to do with the fact that his team was so great. Indeed, it has to do with the other discussed fact that he didn't put up great raw numbers. With the kind of defense and running game Montana had around him, it meant fewer throws in far better places. In other words, playing in those great teams at the same time hurt his raw production and gave a boost to his per-pass efficiency.

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#101 by Kyle D. (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 10:25pm

One thing that could be seen arguing for the system is the fact that the Niners went from Montana to Young without missing a beat. In some ways, Young was even better. (Highest QB rating in history.) I wonder how that works its way into the debate. If Montana is your best of all time are you then obligated to put Young in the top 5, too?

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#147 by Mr Shush // Jul 08, 2011 - 12:14pm

"If it makes you happy, we can call Montana the greatest Super Bowl QB ever"

Really? Ahead of the guy who is 1st all time in career Superbowl passing yards (in one game fewer than Montana had), and 1st, 2nd and 3rd in single game Superbowl passing yards, with all of those games decided inside the two minute warning and one of them coming against an all-time great defense? I don't know that it's a shoe-in for Montana, put it that way.

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#62 by Dan // Jul 06, 2011 - 1:19pm

You're looking at the wrong stats. PFR did a purely statistical analysis of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and Montana came in 1st (although they did this 2 seasons ago; he'd probably be 2nd behind Manning if they redid the numbers today).

Career totals are a bad stat to use because they're so heavily dependent on total games/attempts. Favre is 1st all-time in pretty much any cumulative career QB stat, but that's not because he's the greatest ever, it's because he started 50+ more games than anyone else and threw a couple thousand more passes. Montana has 1 fewer career win than Unitas but he started 22 fewer games - do you really count that comparison as going against Montana?

The other problem with your stats is that you're completely excluding the playoffs. QBs should not be judged solely by what they did in the postseason, but you shouldn't just leave those games out entirely. Montana started 23 playoff games and did quite well in them - most quarterbacks' numbers go down some in the playoffs (including Manning and Unitas), but Montana was slightly better statistically in the postseason than he was in the regular season. That season and a half worth of games should get some weight in your ranking.

Career QB rating regular season vs. playoffs
Unitas: 78.2 vs. 68.9
Manning: 94.9 vs. 88.4
Marino: 86.4 vs. 77.1
Young: 96.8 vs. 85.8
Montana: 92.3 vs. 95.6

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#71 by sundown (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 2:11pm

"Montana has 1 fewer career win than Unitas but he started 22 fewer games - do you really count that comparison as going against Montana?"

Fair enough. Now using that same argument please explain how Montana outpaces Tom Brady. Brady is poised to pass Montana in several categories in less time, with a greater winning %. (And you can take away Manning's extra starts and he's still ahead of Montana in most every category.)

And while I agree with you to a degree regarding Favre and how career stats can be deceptive, the ability to stay healthy needs to be a factor in determining the best ever. Montana started 164 regular season games over 15 seasons. John Elway only played one extra season but started 231 games. Manning's played two less years than Montana did and he's at 208. That's incredible.

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#80 by Otis Taylor89 // Jul 06, 2011 - 5:35pm

"Manning's played two less years than Montana did and he's at 208. That's incredible."

Montana loss two seasons (except for one game) due to one injury and loss several more games due to two strikes (all during his prime), otherwise he was fairly healthy (for an NFL QB) over the years until the very end.

There is no question that Manning is a machine, but Montana passed the eyeball test to me. There were some great defenses during his playing days they just couldn't stop him. People forget what a great athlete he was, especially at the beginning. He was the QB on some mediocre 49er offensive teams before Rice got there and won two SB's with them.

And Candlestick wasn't the easiest place to throw the football.

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#97 by Charles T. (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 7:47pm

Except he specifically asked you about Brady. And you ignored the question and went back to Manning. Conceding the point?

And those "mediocre" 49er teams were a heck of a lot better than the teams Elway was carrying to the Super Bowl all those years. All these guys pass the eyeball test. Problem is several of them passed for a heck of a lot more yards and TDs in shorter amounts of time and were able to stay healthy while doing it. That's why the injuries are such a poor excuse because the other guys avoided that fate.

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#104 by dmstorm22 // Jul 06, 2011 - 11:06pm

The conference Elway was playing in was the definition of mediocre. The NFC was loaded throughout the 80's. There's a reason why Elway's team got throttled in each Super Bowl. It was much harder to make it out of the NFC in those days, and yes, if you look at the rosters of the 1981 and 1984 49ers they were nothing near what they were near the end of the decade.

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#112 by t.d. // Jul 07, 2011 - 7:35am

the '84 Niners were a great team. You're right about '81, though

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#140 by Kibbles // Jul 08, 2011 - 5:17am

Denver made the SB in 1986, 1987, and 1989. In 1986, the AFC had a .500 record against the NFC. In 1987, the AFC was 1 game over .500 against the NFC. In 1989, the AFC was 3 games under .500 against the NFC. If the AFC was the definition of mediocre, then so was the NFC, because they had a record that was the definition of mediocre against a league that was the definition of mediocre.

Now, the power was certainly concentrated a lot differently in the AFC than in the NFC. The NFC had a few truly elite teams and a large number of punching bags, while the AFC had a large number of good-to-great teams (but no elite teams) and a handful of punching bags. Still, it's hard to say whether that makes it harder to make it to the SB, or easier. In the NFC, if you wanted to make the SB, there were 1-2 elite teams standing in your way. In the AFC, if you wanted to make the SB, there were 4-5 good-to-great teams standing in your way. For instance, while Denver's 1989 trip to the SB was a cakewalk (two opponents went a combined 18-13-1, with a +19 point differential), their 1986 and 1987 trips were as hard or harder compared to their NFC opponent's. In 1987, both Denver and Washington faced teams with a combined 19-11 record, but Denver's opponents had a +147 point differential, while Washington's had a +75 differential. Washington lucked out because the two best teams in their conference both got upset, leaving them facing the 8-7 Vikings (+1 point differential) in the NFCCG. In 1986, the Broncos drew the 11-5 Pats and the 12-4 Browns (combined point differential = +186), which was hardly a cakewalk- it was essentially as tough as the Giants' games against the 10-5-1 Niners and the 12-4 Redskins (combined differential = +199).

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#141 by Scott Kacsmar (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 6:39am

What goes unnoticed about Montana and the 80's is that pretty much all the great QBs in the league except for Montana played in the AFC (Marino, Elway, Kelly, Fouts, Moon, Esiason, etc.). The best overall teams were in the NFC. The AFC teams were very flawed, and they relied a lot on their HOF QB. So in the regular season, Montana had a great defense to go along with his abilities, and only had to go through a conference that did not have QBs capable of outscoring him on a consistent basis. The 49ers were the best team in the league for 3/4 of their SB wins in the 80's, meaning they had the #1 seed. Then in the playoffs, Montana would play many of these defensive teams that were lacking an elite QB to try and match Montana score for score. The 49ers played incredible defense for their championship runs in 84, 88 and 89. Then on two occasions Montana was matched up in the SB with an elite AFC MVP QB/# 1 offense (84 Dolphins, 88 Bengals). What happened? The 49ers defense dominated. They shut out Miami in the 2nd half, and basically gave up 13 points in the first half (Miami scored a FG after a special teams fumble before halftime). They held the Bengals to 16 points, and that includes a kick return TD that was not the defense's fault. They destroyed what were statistically the best offenses in the league in 1984 and 1988.

So when people criticize Steve Young for only getting to one SB, they need to realize that by the time he took over in SF, he had to deal with two balanced NFC teams that had elite QBs and elite defenses (Green Bay and Dallas). Montana never had to deal with that. He could get to the SB by beating teams led by guys like Danny White, Phil Simms, an assortment of Chicago QBs, Wade Wilson, Jim Everett, etc. Then when faced against a top offense, his defense absolutely shut them down. And what's the other advantage there? The 84 Dolphins and 88 Bengals are two of the weakest defensive teams to ever reach the SB. You can even go back to 1981 and say the same. The 81 Bengals were statistically a better offense than SF, had the league MVP (Ken Anderson), and they found themselves down 20-0 at halftime before trying to make a comeback in the 2nd half.

Montana's two AFC seasons ended with playoff losses to Kelly's Bills and Marino's Dolphins.

The hardest playoff game to win is one against an elite defense AND an elite QB. This is why the Patriots and Steelers have been to 7 of the last 10 SBs, and won 5 of them. The 2010 Packers had that as well. When you look at Montana's 16 playoff wins, surprise surprise, only 2 of them really fit that bill. The 89 Broncos had Elway (even though he still wasn't statistically good at this point) and a very good statistical defense that was blown apart 55-10 in the SB. Then the 93 Oilers had a highly ranked defense and Warren Moon (even though it wasn't one of his finest seasons). That's it.

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#167 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 6:34pm

Phil Simms was a pretty good QB between 84 and 90, who had a stellar defense behind him. Montana went through him a couple of times.

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#172 by Scott_Kacsmar (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 7:02pm

I can buy Simms as a top 10 QB at the time, but not any higher. For a guy with such a dominant SB performance, his overall playoff record is spotty. 10 games, and 6 times he didn't throw a TD pass. Rarely threw for 200 yards. In 4 of his playoff wins they only scored 16-17 points, which is rare to get a win in that situation, let alone 4.

The 49ers went through them a few times, but the Giants also ended their season in 85, 86 and 90.

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#72 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 06, 2011 - 2:16pm

Frankly, de-emphasizing the playoffs makes more sense than over-emphasizing them. The playoffs are too random and it makes no sense to weigh 20 or so games over 200 games.

They may 'count more' in terms of winning a championship, but I think they aren't particularly valuable in determining all time rankings. I don't believe in 'clutch play' or that players can 'raise' or 'lower' their play, therefore playoff games shouldn't get any more weight than a regular season game does.

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#74 by Dean // Jul 06, 2011 - 2:35pm

I don't think he was saying to over-emphasize them, rathar don't just ignore them either. They're no more or less random than any other game. That would be every bit as "bad math" as taking the 20 worst games and writing them off because "he was just having a bad day that day."

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#77 by Shattenjager // Jul 06, 2011 - 4:07pm

However, the linked p-f-r study does, unfortunately: "I used the exact same methodology to grade the QBs in the post-season as I did in the regular season, although I weighted championship games by three times as much as a regular playoff game, and conference championship games were assigned double the value of other playoff games."
Montana did still rank fourth (Behind Manning, Marino, and Young, which made me wonder what's special about the letter M.) in just the regular season: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=3378

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#135 by silentrat // Jul 07, 2011 - 7:19pm

I definitely respect your opinion, and your site, I must say that clutch play exists. It may be very hard or nigh on impossible to calculate but that certainly wouldn't mean it doesn't exist. I'm not saying clutch play is anything far and above the normal ability of the player in question, just that you can definitely get into "the zone" while playing, and find yourself focusing more than you usually seem capable of.

Now how much that would matter at the NFL level, who knows? What I do know is I've seen countless players reference it in interviews (L.T. comes to mind) as being "in the zone", or "I was really focusing out there today". It's just like any job, sometimes you feel like your ass is on the line, or that you are close to what you've been working to achieve, and sometimes people rise to the occasion to take care of business.

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#137 by Independent George // Jul 07, 2011 - 8:53pm

I can't remember who wrote it, but a commenter here once made the point that while he definitely believed in 'choking' (performing below normal due to anxiety under pressure), he didn't believe in 'clutch' as performing above normal when under pressure. Instead, 'clutch' just means your performance doesn't drop (or drops less than average) when under pressure, which strikes me as much more likely.

As far as being in 'The Zone' is concerned, Mean Joe Greene famously remarked that he was only ever in 'the zone' once in his entire career (I think in the '75 super bowl). His description of that feeling - that everything seemed to slow down, while he was able to move and act normally, completely relaxed - matches that of some combat veterans and police officers who found themselves in a similar state in the midst of chaotic shootouts. If it is indeed the same phenomenon, it's a very rare neurological effect - something that rarely happens twice to the same person, and cannot be willed into occurance.

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#138 by Raiderjoe // Jul 07, 2011 - 10:31pm

Thunk Greene said was in zone durign 1974 afc chamnpiosbnhip Game

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#254 by alaano (not verified) // Jul 14, 2011 - 10:51am

WTF are you on about? Beware the mighty Saints, Falcons, and Rams of the 80s NFC West. Talk about cream puff.

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#265 by dryheat // Jul 15, 2011 - 8:57am

WTF are you talking about? The Rams made the playoffs nearly every year of the 80s, despite being in the same division as the 49ers.

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#79 by horn // Jul 06, 2011 - 5:14pm

"other than the Super Bowls...." right. And the playoff record. And the....you know...winning of Super Bowls. And the 14-2 and 15-1 seasons. And the playing when Buddy's Boys could not only hit the QB, they'd hit him 'late' compared to today, low, high and drive him into the turf....Montana still got up and a lead a 4-TD fourth Qtr comeback against one of the top defensive units in history.

Even the great Ray D says it was 'Montana's Finest Hour':

Buddy's D had obliterated Joe Cool for most of the game and then he just decided 'he wanted it more.' [/kidding. Not kidding]

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#98 by Charles T. (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 7:54pm

Brady has a 17-1 season to his credit with nowhere near the supporting cast as Montana had. Elway has The Drive and countless other comeback wins. All these guys have shining moments. Most just achieved them without quite as many great teammates and coaches as Montana enjoyed. And they managed to stay healthier than he did.

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#105 by dmstorm22 // Jul 06, 2011 - 11:10pm

Brady had Moss, Welker, Stallworth, Gaffney (all former #1 or #2s), plus a 1st round TE and a 1st round RB and three o-lineman that made a pro bowl. Like hell he didn't have the supporting cast Montana had in 1984. The 1984 49ers had a better defense than the 2007 Pats, but Brady had the better supporting cast in the conventional sense by far.

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#115 by SandyRiver // Jul 07, 2011 - 11:18am

If Stallworth and Gaffney had been #2s, they must've been at the low end of that group, and that 1st round RB never got past mediocre. No denying, however, that Moss/Welker/spread-offense gave Brady lots of opportunities, which he cashed in fully, until his OL (and he) got buried by the Giants.

The two 14-2 seasons with SB wins were different teams, with better defenses (and a great RB performance in the 2nd of those seasons) but there was a reason the WR crew was called the "Smurfs." There's also a reason why those Smurfs who moved to other teams all but disappeared (and that was confirmed somewhat when Branch returned.) Brady's stats were more good than great in '03/'04, but he had far fewer tools at his disposal. Most of the high-pick OL (except for Light) weren't on the team yet, either.

However, this (obvious) Pats fan would put Manning at the top and see no way he'd be out of the top 3. Brady's top 10 all time and climbing, IMO, but still in the lower half of that bunch.

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#248 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Jul 13, 2011 - 6:06pm

A game so great that by the time the NFL really got into the swing of things most people had forgotten it.

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#247 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Jul 13, 2011 - 6:03pm

Baltimore lost their rights to bitching about the Colts when that carpetbagger Modell fled to Baltimore from Cleveland.

Or are you mad that would mean that now Otto Graham is Baltimore's best QB instead of Unitas?

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#251 by Jerry // Jul 13, 2011 - 6:25pm

It is odd that this discussion involves two QBs who share a franchise, but not a fan base.

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#180 by IRAN (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 11:28pm


Just curious but who exactly was more deserving in 2008? Consider that Manning's 08 team was nearly as flawed and injured as his 2010 team was and had to carry an awful run game and suspect defense to a 12-4 record despite starting the year injured. He was the best player in 08 and had the best season too.

In 09, the only argument you could make to merit brees would be his superior stats but even this is flawed since manning sat out the half the jets game and nearly all of the bills game. Brees sat out one game in tampa, but prorating their stats, manning would've finished ahead of brees in nearly every meaningful stat. He deserved it in 09 as well, especially considering the saints near dominant run game and manning's paltry one.

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#214 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // Jul 11, 2011 - 9:23pm

In 2008, I really felt that Chad Pennington was more deserving. He had a higher qb rating than Manning while leading the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and the AFC East crown one season after the Fish finished 1-15.

In 2009, Brees' qb rating was 111 or so. I don't think Manning's was that high.

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#218 by Raiderjoe // Jul 11, 2011 - 10:16pm

D. Brees 109.6
p. manninh 99.9

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#219 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 11, 2011 - 10:37pm

Pennington was so important to his team that they took him off the field for long stretches to run the wildcat.

His play was vastly overrated that year in terms of quality and impact.

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#220 by Raiderjoe // Jul 11, 2011 - 10:46pm

yes butu pennignton had heart and desirie and cheerleading stuff

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#6 by thejoshbaker // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:04pm

"All stats and "competitive inflation" comparisons like you do here achieve is say what we would all readily admit: if Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning, in their primes, faced each other with identical teams, Peyton Manning would win that game 8 or 9 out of 10 times. But, really... so what?"

Well, the point of football is to win. So that's probably what.

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#7 by dbostedo // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:06pm

I think the issue is that there are varying definitions of all time great. You said :

"All stats and "competitive inflation" comparisons like you do here achieve is say what we would all readily admit: if Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning, in their primes, faced each other with identical teams, Peyton Manning would win that game 8 or 9 out of 10 times."

To me, if we all readily admit that (and assuming we adjust properly for era - i.e. their primes are defined by how much they dominated their era), it means Manning is the better QB. The greater of the all-time greats.

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#10 by sanderrp@gmail.com // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:24pm

Unitas barely features in current recollections of Super Bowl III and rightly so, he was not an important player for that team. You have a point with the rest of your post, but I think Unitas's presence for Super Bowl III is a non-factor.

Also, you're talking about fame and the myth of the man and saying that that is how a person's greatness should be measured, rather than by what he actually did on the field. But that was Mike's entire point: greatness is not the myth the media creates, which is what you seem to hold as the most relevant.

And with that, I'd like to say that there's a fair argument to make that Peyton's influence on the game today is as far-reaching as Unitas's influence has been.

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#17 by sundown (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 7:04pm

"I admire your guts for arguing so passionately that Manning should rank higher than Unitas"

How is that a gutsy move? Your pick of Unitas isn't gutsy, either. Now, if you wanted to argue Bert Jones was the best of all of them, then THAT would be gutsy!

I like your argument about Unitas making the NFL what it is today. Definitely something in his favor that Manning doesn't have. But your Super Bowl III take is revisionist history. Nobody was talking about Unitas' leadership going into that SB because he hadn't played all season and the Colts were huge favorites in part because Earl Morrall had led the league in passing that year. It was never about Broadway Joe facing down Unitas, it was him predicting victory versus a juggernaut.

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#42 by Keith(1) (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 9:53am

I will not say that Manning has changed the league, but he is the true definition of a franchise player. I cannot think of one other team in league history that has spent 13 seasons putting all of their eggs into one basket, and actually doing well. That organization, from top to bottom, is all about Peyton Manning. Their offense is built around him. Their defense is built around him. Their special teams is built around him. Their front office is essentially built around him.

But, an argument can be made that he, along with other prolific quarterbacks, has changed the way offense is played, spreading out your players, running as a secondary option, and just domination through the air.

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#81 by An Onimous (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 5:43pm

The problem with conflating "greatness" with "mythology" is that mythology grows with time, while "greatness" is really a static measurement (or, if anything, it decreases over time as more and more future players achieve a higher "greatness" plateau- witness Art Monk for a great example). "Mythology" has a strong bias towards players whose accomplishments are dimly remembered, whereas "Greatness" is ideally free from bias. It seems to me that the goal of this exercise is to identify the best QB in a franchise's history, and in the case of the Colts, that QB is Payton Manning. The myth of Unitas is greater than the myth of Manning, but even you admit that the reality of Manning is greater than the reality of Unitas.

As much as it pains this Broncos fan to do so, I have to recognize at this point that Peyton Manning is probably the greatest QB in NFL history- a mind-boggling statement given how many years he has left to continue to pad his legacy. His peak was as high as anyone's in history, but he maintained it for 2 or 3 times longer than anyone else has managed to. His durability is legendary, and those 7 straight 12+ win seasons are one of the most impressive accomplishments in football history. Most importantly, he's done it with everyone. He's done it with Edgerrin James, with Dominic Rhodes, and with Joseph Addai. He's done it with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, he's done it with Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Anthony Gonzalez, and then last year, most impressively of all, he did it with Wayne, Garcon, Collie, Tamme, and White.

Most importantly, the entire narrative that Manning is a choker is absolutely absurd at this point. Peyton Manning's QB rating falls in the postseason, sure... but Tom Brady's falls more. Peyton Manning's YPA falls... but Tom Brady's falls more. Peyton Manning's INT% actually improves in the postseason, while Brady's gets worse. This isn't meant to be a referendum on Manning vs. Brady, it's meant to illustrate how stupid it is that one guy gets a "clutch" label because he won some games early in his career with a great defense, while another gets a "choker" label because he lost some games early in his career with a shaky defense (and, admittedly, a few terrible performances against the Pats), and then those labels get set in stone and never again re-evaluated. PFR once ranked the greatest playoff performances of all time once you adjust for quality of defense, and two of the top 5 playoff games of all time belong to Peyton Manning. You want a guy who steps up in big games, check out what Peyton Manning did to the otherworldly Jets pass defense in the AFCCG.

Did Manning's playoff performance improve like Montana's, Bradshaw's, or Ken Stabler's? No- very few QBs have better playoff resumes than regular season resumes, and I'm sure that much of that variation is simply due to random chance. Still, Manning's postseason performance compares favorably with pretty much anyone else's, and his drop in play between regular season and postseason is in line with (or even slightly better than) the other all-time greats such as Brady, Elway, Marino, Young, Favre, and even Unitas himself.

In short, the only arguments against Peyton Manning being one of the top 2 QBs in the history of the game (if you want to ignore Joe Montana's "Bill Walsh Advantage" and lend extra weight to his postseason performances) are manufactured nonsense and outdated narratives that have stuck in the collective unconscious because humans have a terrible bias against revising their beliefs when presented with new evidence.

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#111 by Yesimadolphinsfan (not verified) // Jul 07, 2011 - 7:32am

Seconded. I love Dan Marino. I've always considered him the greatest passer in the history of the NFL, albeit with a lot of bias. But Peyton Manning is better. He's the greatest QB of all time. I think people don't admit it (Pats Fans), or maybe even realize it, because he's still playing. He's still got a few great seasons left in him barring injury. I'll be interested to see if, as I believe, 5 - 10 years after he retires people view him in a significantly different light. As the mythology surrounding him grows and we get epic NFL Films biopics of his career, etc., I think people will associate him with the legends of past eras, and when compared in that light, begin to view him as the greatest ever.

I think about the time he enters the Hall of Fame, and no one in their right mind could possibly believe he's not a first balloter, people will realize just how amazing it was to be witnessing what we've had the privilege to witness. I can see having kids down the road and my son asking me what it was like to see him play. And I'll say - Glorious.

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#83 by Ranccor (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 5:50pm

Wow...I was not expecting this to turn into an irrational Manning vs Montana thread. All I have say on that subject is...Montana was awesome in his day. Manning is awesome now. Both are all-time greats.

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#84 by Ranccor (not verified) // Jul 06, 2011 - 5:55pm

Hmmm...That was supposed to be a response to the arguments later in the tread.

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#212 by Scott Kacsmar // Jul 11, 2011 - 8:37pm

Even if you just dropped those numbers down to more common milestones like 4000 yards and 30 TDs, that is the kind of season that rarely happens.

http://pfref.com/tiny/q31cI - 38 times by 20 QBs, and Manning has 6 of them. Granted, you're not going to put those numbers up without 16 games, so it's more of a "since 1978" thing, but still. 6 times for something that only 7 other QBs can say they've done more than once. And that could easily be 7 times without all the rest in 2005.

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#213 by Trogdor // Jul 11, 2011 - 8:44pm

Yeah, that was something else I didn't get around to - factoring in 12/14 game seasons, figuring out what to do with AFL numbers, etc.

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#221 by BaronFoobarstein // Jul 11, 2011 - 11:29pm

Manning is one of the all time greats, but it does get a bit silly when you compare across eras using unadjusted stats, and bulk numbers are even worse. As a device for pointing out just how big Manning's stats have been, that's okay, but it goes awry when used as a proxy for a good season. Specifically you point to Cleveland as never having any QB even have 1 season as impressive as the average of Manning's last 10, but Cleveland has arguably (and in my opinion) the GOAT in Otto Graham, who had a pretty long career himself.

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#222 by Scott Kacsmar // Jul 12, 2011 - 12:55am

Graham's NFL career was just 6 seasons long, which is pretty short. I don't think the AAFC should count.

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#75 by Harris // Jul 06, 2011 - 3:06pm

I always wonder about that argument. Sure, Hutson would have been better with modern training, but he played his entire career in a segregated league. The AFL proved there were a lot of good black players who weren't getting a shot in the NFL. Maybe he would be a star in any era, but he also would have faced better DBs. (Not to suggest black players are inherently better, but that you're likely to get better players when drawing from a bigger talent pool.)

Hail Hydra!

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#90 by Thomas_beardown // Jul 06, 2011 - 6:56pm

The league has almost tripled in size since then, I'm not sure the talent pool has tripled in size.

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#107 by tally // Jul 07, 2011 - 12:33am

While the talent pool may not have tripled purely as an function of increased population, the ability to more efficiently direct the talent out of a population can certainly account for a disproportionate increase.

It's difficult to make cross-era comparisons except by the amount by which you exceed your contemporaries (e.g., z-scores), and even then, you'd ignore whether exaggerated z-scores are more a measure of the competitiveness or lack thereof in that era.

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#25 by Aaron Schatz // Jul 05, 2011 - 9:59pm

It was the list of the Top QB Seasons from 1960 to 2004 which ran in Pro Football Prospectus 2005. Yes, the Ken Stabler 1976 season also made the top ten.

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#4 by TheSim (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 4:56pm

It's a scene involving Big Ray (Ray Lewis) and Little Ray (Ray Rice) going shopping for wedding gifts for Joe Flacco, who got married last week.

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#55 by Dean // Jul 06, 2011 - 11:50am

I forgot about Rice and thought Little Ray was Ed Reed.

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#5 by dbostedo // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:03pm

And yes, Roethlisberger is getting married in July.

Here's an article with details and quotes from Big Ben, if you're interested : http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11097/1137642-66.stm

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#15 by Sha-blam-o (not verified) // Jul 05, 2011 - 5:57pm

I suppose they will all show up in an article with T Romo this season?

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#146 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 08, 2011 - 11:49am

Those weren't the only criteria.

Durability: Manning
Consistency: Manning
Volume (Which does matter): Manning
Longevity: Manning

All of these criteria Manning destroys Unitas in.

I don't grant you 'easier division' is even a category, because PFR showed Manning played tougher defenses overall, so I'm not sure how 'easier division' correlates to anything other than consistency of playoff berths, and even so the division gap is not so great as to account for all of Indy's success over the decade.

Rate stats are vitally important, but they don't tell the whole story and to pretend that small advantages in rate stats over come massive advantages in volume stats is disingenuous at best.

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#149 by nat // Jul 08, 2011 - 1:37pm

Durability: needs to be era-adjusted. Plus, why care? They both have had long enough careers. Unitas overcame adversity that Manning never had to face.

Consistency: Are you proposing a "low variance bonus"? Why? Of the four QB-rating stats, only completion % has a standard deviation difference worth talking about. Unitas has five seasons where his era-adjusted completion percentage is better than Manning's best year, and one year that was lower than Manning's worst. That's why his std deviation is so high. He was better than Manning's best five times.

Volume: needs to be era-adjusted. Also, what would a high era-adjusted volume mean? That your team threw the ball a lot? So what?

Longevity: needs to be era-adjusted. It's much easier to have be a healthy QB in 2010 than in 1968. Also, aren't you giving Manning credit for the imagined future? Shouldn't you also give him credit for the expected late-career stats decline? Hmmmm? Or better yet, stick with reality.

Easier division: this came up in the context of QB wins, where you must consider the whole team, not just the defense. Defense was also covered in another point. Credit Manning with an additional 2 inches per attempt, if it makes you happy. Don't forget to ding him 6 inches for playing in a dome, too, to use the full results of that PFR analysis.

"Volume" is just a word for relying on Manning's pass-heavy era, pass-wacky coaching, and counting stats to make your case.

Nope: All you got is counting stats and ignoring different eras. That ain't gonna do it.

Points: 0

#151 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 08, 2011 - 2:24pm

Durability needs to be era adjusted? Sorry, I get the argument, but I don't buy it at all. Manning missed one play his whole career. You can't adjust that for era. He was available to play more often than Unitas was. Might that be a product of modern training?

Sure, but it doesn't change the reality that Manning did things Unitas was physically not capable of.

Consistency: Awful argument. Unitas had awful seasons on his record. 1961, 1962 1966, 1969. You can't pretend those whole seasons didn't exist. Manning's run of unbroken greatness is unparallelled. He simply hasn't had a truly 'bad' season since his rookie year. Certainly nothing approaching the badness of several of Unitas's years.

Volume: certainly needs to be era adjusted, but my point is that slight dips in efficiency (only era adjusted BTW, not real)are way over come by massive jumps in volume by Manning. Completing 65% of 350 passes (era adjusted) is great, but completing 64.5% of 600 passes is even better. That's the point with volume. Manning was nearly as efficient (era adjusted) over a FAR greater volume.

Longevity: Nope. Not buying era adjustment here. Manning will have a longer career. That matters. More great seasons is more great seasons regardless of the era comparison. Era adjustment doesn't make it that whole seasons never happened. If the two QBs are truly neck and neck, I'd rather have the one who played 5-7 more prime seasons than the other. Hands down. In fact, I'd say the gap between the two players would have to be quite wide before I'd take the player with fewer prime seasons. He doesn't get credit for seasons he didn't play.

Frankly, you are using era adjustment as a massive crutch to make up for the fact that Unitas had many whole seasons where he not only wasn't one of the three best QBs in the league, but wasn't even very good by any measure.

I'm not buying it. Your arguments strike me as poor rationalizations. No one is ignoring era, but relying on rate adjustments gives players too much credit for what they didn't actually accomplish.

Points: 0

#153 by Thomas_beardown // Jul 08, 2011 - 3:12pm

Durability needs to be era adjusted? Sorry, I get the argument, but I don't buy it at all. Manning missed one play his whole career. You can't adjust that for era. He was available to play more often than Unitas was. Might that be a product of modern training?

Not just modern training, but modern medicine as well. Manning has had several surgeries and has recovered from them in time to not miss any time. Do you think that would have been possible in the 1960s?

Points: 0

#162 by CuseFanInSoCal // Jul 08, 2011 - 5:36pm

This becomes a less effective argument when you note that the only modern QB whose durability is similar to Manning was Brett Favre.

Points: 0

#166 by nat // Jul 08, 2011 - 6:26pm

No one said that Unitas was more durable than Manning. The contention was that avoiding injury may be easier or harder to do in different eras. Was missing a game very unusual in Unitas' era? A season?

Without an era baseline, we can't say how unusual Manning's health run is. The equipment was different then. The training and medical practices are much improved now. On the other hand, QBs are now sitting out games for concussions, where they used to go back in. Perhaps the next ten years will make sitting a few games out the rule rather than the exception.

Points: 0

#168 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 08, 2011 - 6:38pm

Without a baseline we can't know how unusual Manning's run of health is?

Please. He's missed one play his whole career.

That's pretty freaking unusual. If you need a statistical baseline to tell you that, then you aren't very observant.

Points: 0

#174 by Thomas_beardown // Jul 08, 2011 - 7:48pm

I'm not saying Manning doesn't have freakish durability, I just think it's likely that if he had been born in 1945 he probably would have missed a couple games by this point in his career.

Actually though, one of the knee surgeries he had could have ended his career in about 3 years. Just look what happened to Gale Sayers.

Points: 0

#176 by Scott_Kacsmar (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 8:04pm

Eli is a start away from the 5th longest streak (including playoffs). Good genes.

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#177 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 08, 2011 - 8:20pm

He had a bursa sac burst. It's seriously unlikely he would have had his career ended by it.

Obviously, modern medicine helps. It also keeps elite defenders elite too. My point is that by any standard, what Manning has done in terms of durability and ability to stay on the field is virtually peerless. Even Favre missed plays and partial games over the years.

Saying that we need some kind of statistical measure to verify Manning's durability is just being argumentative.

Points: 0

#245 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Jul 13, 2011 - 5:45pm

Peyton Manning wasn't mobile in his best of times. I don't think making him slower would make much difference.

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#249 by Thomas_beardown // Jul 13, 2011 - 6:07pm

I think having functioning knees is important to every position on the field.

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#252 by Jerry // Jul 13, 2011 - 6:34pm

It's about the inability in Unitas' time to have a knee cleaned up arthroscopically and getting back to a full workload within a month. (If I need to say this, it's not a shot at anyone, just an acknowledgement that Manning is, like everyone now, able to take advantage of advances in medicine.)

Points: 0

#152 by Scott Kacsmar (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 3:10pm

Unitas has five seasons where his era-adjusted completion percentage is better than Manning's best year, and one year that was lower than Manning's worst. That's why his std deviation is so high. He was better than Manning's best five times.

Talk about using some downright nutty math. How is it even possible to arrive at that conclusion?

Unitas led the league in comp. % one time. He completed 58.5% in 1967, which is also his career high for any season. The league-average was 51.0% (+7.5%).

Manning has led the league in comp. % one time. He completed 67% in 2003. The league-average was 58.8% (+8.2%).

You mind explaining how Unitas can have five seasons better than Manning's best?

Points: 0

#159 by nat // Jul 08, 2011 - 4:38pm

I used the era averages. And I used (an approximation of) the median of the top 16 teams, rather than the whole league average.

Why? Because it's not relevant whether Manning is farther above the 16th best QB than Unitas is above the 8th or 6th best. When a league expands, it doesn't add 16 new QBs who are as good as the first 16. It adds 16 worse ones. Doh! If we expanded the league to 200 teams, would you still want to use league average to determine the era-adjustment? Of course not.

Manning's era average for completion % was about 60%. I approximated the bump up to get to that top 16 team median at 2%. I choose that 2% bump from looking at 2010 data. It's approximate. Feel free to build an exact era-average for the top 16 QBs. But I used 62%. I was and am open about that, and why. Short answer: I'm comparing apples to apples.

Manning's best was 68.8%, which is 6.8 above the "top 16 median". As I noted before, using a median HELPS Manning's case. It would be fairer to use the average, which would make Unitas look even better.

Unitas's Manning-era-equivalent (adjusting for his era's 51.3% median for the top 16 teams) is an average of 66.5%, less than 1% above Manning's average. But his peak was 70.7%. That was the year he was 7.2 unadjusted points above league average - and this was in a league that did not have 16 also-rans to bring down that average.

How did he do it? He did it by being really good. How could he beat Manning's best five times? Because Manning didn't have the COMP% peaks (or valleys) that Unitas had. Doh.

Unitas was farther above the best 12-16 starting QBs in his world than Manning is today. Not by much (except in INT%). But in every category except a tie in TD%.

Oh, and "nutty" is not the right word for doing era-adjustments. It's simply what you have to do to compare across eras.

Points: 0

#171 by Scott_Kacsmar (not verified) // Jul 08, 2011 - 6:54pm

No offense but your methods are pretty much bunk. You also fall into the common trap of pretending the league just expanded to twice its size in a short period of time. That's so far from the truth. When the merger happened in 1970, the league didn't just inherit 10 new teams. They absorbed 10 teams that had been developing in the AFL, most of them for as long as a decade (1960). Those guys knew how to play football and there were many talented players from the AFL. Then they added the Seahawks and Bucs in 1976. There wouldn't be any more teams added until 1995, when Carolina and Jacksonville made it 30. Adding two more teams since then hasn't diluted anything. There are more people playing football than ever before, and the competition is stronger than ever. Along with free agency, that's why we're seeing more upsets, more Wild Card teams winning road playoff games, and more quick turnaround stories. The gap between best and worst is smaller than it was in Unitas' days. Just because there were fewer teams doesn't mean those teams were loaded. They followed the same normal distribution you get today: some teams were elite, a lot were average, and some were terrible.

Call me crazy, but consistently being near the top of a league of 32 teams is more impressive than a league with 12-16 teams. You seem to think Manning ranking 6th or higher with 32 teams is somehow not as good when Unitas had 6 seasons ranking 7th or higher in a league with half the teams. It doesn't make any sense unless you fudge the math to make for Unitas like you've done.

Points: 0

#182 by nat // Jul 09, 2011 - 7:22am

Okay, I'll call you crazy. You're missing the point entirely.

The average of the best 16 of anything is always higher than the average of the best 32 of the same thing.

Being one standard deviation above the average of the top 16 QBs is more impressive than being 1 standard deviation above the average of the top 32 QBs. The average is higher (obviously!) and the standard deviation is larger (assuming the pool of people willing to play professional QB is much larger than the league).

But that's exactly what PFR's + stats are measuring.

It's like comparing Celsius and Fahrenheit. The zeroes are different and the degrees are different. You have to convert to the same scale and zero-point before you decide who's hotter.

Points: 0

#183 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 09, 2011 - 7:34am

"The average of the best 16 of anything is always higher than the average of the best 32 of the same thing."

You have to realize that's ridiculous right?

You are assuming 1950s/60s QBs are the same as 2000s QBs and that the 'best' are equally distributed in both eras.

There's simply no basis for that conclusion.

1950s/60s era QB was of a vastly inferior quality overall to modern QB play. It's not just about a 'dead ball era'. It's about actual quality of play. We aren't tweaking for defensive adjustments or quality of equipment. We are comparing 32 professional coached up quarterbacks all making millions of dollars to a group that largely consisted of part time players who not only had offseason jobs, but many of whom PLAYED OTHER POSITIONS during the actual games.

Points: 0

#185 by nat // Jul 09, 2011 - 8:04am

I call bullshit.

I am not assuming the QBs are the same. I'm adjusting for era to deal with the differences, such as training, nutrition, medical care, injury-preventing equipment, rules, schemes, officiating, coaching, pay, even use of performance enhancing drugs.

If you don't believe in adjusting for eras, just say so. You'd be alone, but you'd be honest.

But if you believe in adjusting for eras, then you have no statistical basis for saying the 1960's QBs - adjusted for era - were inferior. What does that even mean? The best in each era is still the best. The tenth best is still the tenth best. The average of the best 16 is still the average of the best 16. And the average of the best 16 is still not the average of the best 32.

Points: 0

#186 by Nate Dunlevy // Jul 09, 2011 - 9:33am

You are adjusting for era in a completely non-standard way that assumes that the top 16 QBs in 1958 are inherently equal to the top 16 in 2008.

By your method, the WORST QB in the 1958 NFL is equivalent to the 16th best QB in 2008, just because both were 16th in the league.

I believe in adjusting for eras. It provides a sense of context. I don't believe in adjusting for eras in the manner in which you are doing it. You aren't attempting to figure out what the average QB looked like in 1958 and compare Unitas to that. You are assuming the 16th best QB in 1958 is analogous to the 16th best in 2008 and comparing Manning to the top half of QBs in his day to the entire pool of QBs in Unitas's day.

That simply makes no sense, and relies on very dubious assumptions about the quality of play in 1958.

Points: 0

#192 by Thomas_beardown // Jul 09, 2011 - 7:05pm

The average of the best 16 of anything is always higher than the average of the best 32 of the same thing.

However, QBs in the NFL in 1960 and QBs in the NFL in 2010 are not the same thing.

Just look at the population growth of the country since then, not to mention further integration (think McNabb would be a starting QB in 1960?). Plus other things like better scouting, better preparation in college, better coaching, better deliniated responsibilities of the job.

Points: 0

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