The Myth of Playoff Peyton

Let's play a quick word association game.  I say "Peyton Manning in the playoffs," and you tell me what images your mind conjures up.

For someone who may be the greatest quarterback in NFL history, the picture isn't quite befitting. You probably imagined something like Peyton hanging his head in the snowy Foxboro winter, or slumped over following his pick-six against the Saints in the Super Bowl.  Or perhaps just a general expression of chagrin, like the hilariously petulant "Manning Face."

Yes, Manning does have a losing record in the playoffs for his career (though only eight have had more wins, but who has time to split hairs?).  The next time Manning loses a playoff game will give him the record for most career playoff losses, and fairly or not, that will always be a part of his legacy.

Most rational fans realize that Peyton has only thrown up a handful of postseason clunkers, and that such a small sample size should not significantly affect his standing as an all-time great.  They might defend by saying, "Yeah, Peyton's been a bit worse in the playoffs, but his regular-season numbers are so great that it doesn't matter."

Actually, even that statement would be false.  What people fail to realize is that Peyton has not been any worse in the postseason.  In fact, one could make a fairly convincing argument that he's been one of the two or three best playoff quarterbacks of this generation.

To illustrate this point, let's take off our "Embrace Debate" hats and let the numbers tell the story.

Postseason Peyton vs. Regular Season Peyton

First, let's consider Manning's EPA and WPA on a per game basis in both the regular season and postseason.  Excluding this season, Peyton has played 207 regular season games, compared to 20 playoff games.  When you consider he had some early-career clunkers in January, you would probably expect his EPA/G to be lower because of the small sample size.

In fact, that does turn out to be the case, with Manning's minus-8.0 disaster against the Jets in 2002 weighing down the overall total.  However, the difference isn't as big as it looks; for context, the rough equivalent this year would be the difference in EPA between seventh-ranked Andrew Luck and 10th-ranked Joe Flacco. 

Moreover, the 41-0 loss to the Jets is such a massive outlier that it almost warrants exclusion.  That's not to say the game didn't happen and that Manning did not play extremely poorly, but it's the only game that sits more than two standard deviations away from his average.  It represented the absolute furthest outlier, even more so than his best games.  Without it, his EPA/G rises to about 7.7, still below his regular-season standard, but not too far off.  That's about the difference this year between third-ranked Phillip Rivers and fifth-ranked Matthew Stafford.

But even including the Jets loss, Manning's postseason WPA is almost identical to his regular-season WPA.  This would seemingly debunk the notion that he is somehow not clutch in the playoffs.  If Manning truly did choke all the time, then we would not expect his WPA to remain constant despite less raw statistical production, as reflected by his lower EPA.

If you're still not convinced, let's dig deeper into Manning's postseason crunch-time stats.  Since 1999, eight quarterbacks have thrown more than 100 passes in the second-half of one-possession playoff games.  Per Pro-Football-Reference, here they are:

Brees stands out as the clear star in this, but Peyton's numbers are better are in line with everyone else on that list.  The sample size of throws is quite small given the parameters, but it repudiates the notion that Peyton chokes under postseason pressure.  The skeptics might point out Manning's isolated stinkers as a counter, but even in postseason losses, his numbers are again better than just about every quarterback with a reasonable sample size besides Brees.  In particular, Manning has been a tick better than his greatest nemesis.

Peyton vs. Peers

At this point, it is axiomatic to say that Manning has the stats, and Brady has the rings.  Yes, Brady does trump Manning in the latter department, but it's not as if Peyton has has performed significantly worse than Tom Terrific in the playoffs.  Just take a simple side-by-side glance at their regular season and postseason WPA and EPA:

Manning has actually been a little better in the playoffs, even in the WPA department.  Brady may have two more Super Bowl-winning drives, but in the larger scope, he hasn't performed better.  This confirms Bill Barnwell's salient "Bizzaro John Elway" theory: If you look at Brady's postseason results in reverse, they essentially mirror Elway's early struggles and final breakthrough.  But simply because of the timing of Brady's successes, he's developed a reputation as the most "clutch" quarterback of his generation.

This is not intended to tear down Brady, but rather to correct Manning's standing.  It's not just against Brady that he compares favorably.  If we look at the quarterbacks of this era with the highest WPA, there are six names that jump out: Peyton, Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Rodgers and Eli.  Matt Ryan and Tony Romo are also in the neighborhood, but neither have played enough playoff games to meaningfully evaluate the difference.

Let's take a look at their respective performances in the postseason.  All the aforementioned QBs have played in at least eight postseason games since 1999, giving us enough data points to at least reasonably compare their playoff and regular-season performances.  Moreover, all have won at least one Super Bowl, so we would expect them to put up excellent numbers.

And for the sake of clarity, here are the numbers in chart format:

Again, the narrative from the previous section holds up, as Peyton has performed better than all his peers besides Brees.  Rodgers does have a significantly higher EPA, albeit in fewer games and in an era when passing numbers are significantly more inflated.  When Manning made his first playoff start in 1999, the famed "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams were the only team with a passing EPA over 100.  Compare that to Rodgers' playoff season debut in 2009, when nine teams exceeded the century mark.

Much like LeBron James and Michael Jordan in the NBA, Manning was subject to the linear progression of postseason success, experiencing failures against superior teams before finally breaking through.  When an athlete with special gifts fails to translate their talent into an immediate tangible payoff, fans and media have a tendency to make foolish assumptions about abstractions like "makeup" and "clutch factor" as an explanation for their failures.

In reality, it's just really freaking hard to win a championship.  As a Pats fan, I've seen the 2013 Denver Broncos movie before, and it hasn't ended well.  The Broncos are certainly capable of winning the Super Bowl with a historically great passing game and little else, but they'll need plenty of breaks in the randomness that defines single-elimination postseason play.  Whether or not they catch those breaks will shape the mainstream judgment of Peyton Manning, but it really shouldn't.

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38 Responses to “The Myth of Playoff Peyton”

  1. Nate Dunlevy says:

    Bless you sir.

  2. Mike Weisel says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  3. Mike Weisel says:

    How many rings would manning have if drafted by the Patriots, and had those early defenses. I have come to respect Brady, but a lot of those early wins had a lot to do with a superb defense, law milloy harrison etc. Also I agree this looks like other Manning teams he carries them throwing oodles of TD's and yds, but come to the playoffs, the D still sucks and they may lose. Just like last week manning did enough to win, but Denvers pass D did nothing to stop Luck.

  4. Brian Burke says:

    Sterling did a really thorough job here. Much more than I would have done for something like this. It's good because we can understand a lot about what's going on. Had Manning had better defenses, he may have won more rings, but oddly his WPA/G would be less. There's a maximum of 0.50 net WPA available for any winning team. If a very good defense claims a big share of that, there's that much less room for everyone else, including the QB. (And vice versa). That's why it's interesting to me that EPA is telling the same story as WPA.

  5. Anonymous says:

    what exactly does WPA/G and EPA/G mean?

  6. Dave says:

    WPA= win probility added per game
    EPA= expected points added per game

    One of the best articles about why peyton has "failed" in the playoffs was the one by Jason Lisk.

    We see that everything out of peytons control (rush offense, rush defense, pass defense, special has been worth -6.1 EPA per game in PEyton's playoff career basically wiping out his contributions on offense.

    Meanwhile the contributions Brady has gotten from those facets have been a minor +0.2 EPA per game.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Let Peydestrian Manning pad his regular season numbers all he wants.
    Elite Manning is too elite to even care about the meaningless first 16 games.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Cherry picking... If you talk of the 0-41 loss, you should also talk of the great games he had in the wild card games vs. DEN. After all, those games even out. Fact is; his PS stats don´t match his great RS stats. Fact is; his balls wobble when the going gets tough, he´s overly nervous; he lost his biggest games in sometimes awful styles (at best on average so so nights). And he only won one SB on yet another average night. In this only SB-Season, he struggeld against all teams (KC, BAL, NE & CHI). Without the all of a sudden arriving D in those PO´s, Manning would have zilch SB wins. There was one great half. One! 2nd Half against NE. That´s it.
    Sample size to and fro, Manning is "nervous playoff Peyton". He missed open REC vs. BAL in 2006 regularly. His only long ball connection in the SB was to a WIDE open Wayne. All but dink and dunk passes were completed vs. BAL last season, and so on. Only stat geeks* can´t see that PManning is a playoff choker. He´s just off when it comes to the biggest games. Guarantee: No SB this season.

    (* I call myself a stat geek too. But when my open eyes see something for 10+ straight years that is not right, it´s not right. If it looks like a duck and walks/quack/flies like a duck, it is a duck.)

    Karl, from Germany. Here since the beginning. Great site. :-)

  9. Mitch says:

    Good Stuff !!

    Alot of statistical breakdowns depends on how one looks at it.

    Your looking at averages, let's look at it differently.

    Let's look at it on a year-to-year basis.

    How often did PM improve in the playoffs and how often did he decline AND BY HOW MUCH.

    PM has huge declines in the playoffs from the regular season he went from .28 to .13 a decline of .15
    From .44 to .15 = .29
    .36 to .17 = .19
    .31 to .2 = .11
    .07 to (-.04) = .11
    That's 5 of the 12 season you listed above or 42% he had a huge decline in the playoffs, not a choker ?

    Look at his improvements, ONLY .04, .04, .05, .05, he never came close to a improvement as good as his declines were bad.

    And he had 5 huge declines to 4 small improvements.

    But without seeing what the other QB's did it's not a completely fair way to look at it.

    And before people say, well the teams are better in the playoffs, I'm quite sure other QB's have had huge improvements in the playoffs against those much better teams than PM has had.

    And when you look at EPA it paints the same sad story, with huge declines of -13.3, -11.7, -9.7,-4.3 with only very modest improvements of +3.2, +1 and +.8.

    When you look at it from this angle it certainly does not paint a very good picture of PM.

    PM has the lowest QB Passer rating throughout the playoffs of any Super Bowl winning QB since the league changed the rules to open up the passing game and improve scoring in 1978 and he produced that lowest QBPR in an era which is soooo very easy to pass. the ball.

    And on top of this PM was handed 2 return scores last season, basically given 14 pts and still lost the game.

    Many want to say how lucky the Ravens were because the defensive back made a mistake, BUT HOW LUCKY WAS DENVER GETTING 2 RETURN TDS FROM THE SAME PLAYER WHICH BY THE WAY WAS THE 1ST TIME IN HISTORY THAT OCCURED IN THE PLAYOFFS.

    Ravens got lucky on 1 play, Denver on two.

    Manning was also handed a big lead against the Saints in SB and flounder scoring like 1 TD the last 3 quarters or whatever it was.

  10. Steve says:

    Peyton has had horrendous luck in the playoffs.

    Tom Brady fumbled the ball vs. the Raiders in this first playoff game but they gave him the ball back inexplicably. Peyton had the same thing happen vs Baltimore in Jan. but they didn't even review it.

    In his second SB the Saints started a half with an onside kick and recovered. Biazzre, improbable, and robbed him of a possession. His kicker missed an easy FG and he got robbed of another possession when his D started him on the 1 yard line and his coach decided to run 3 times.

    The most accurate field goal kicker in history, up to 2005, missed a short field goal to send the Colts packing that year. In 2003 the refs swallowed the whistles so bad in the AFC Championship game they made a new rule that says you have to enforce the old rules (WTF?!?!?) but somehow they forget that in the playoffs half the time (see vs. Bal. 2012, NYJ in 2010).

    Of course, Brady has had some bad luck too. He played that same thug NYJ defense in 2010 and Baltimore in 2012. Then again, he lost those games.

  11. Sterling Xie says:

    Hey Karl, appreciate the constructive criticism. My counter is this, however: If you're going to point out that I've done some cherry-picking in pointing out the 41-0 loss to the Jets, then why are you cherry-picking some select bad throws and making abstractions like "nervous Peyton?" That sounds very Baylessian to me. Yes, his postseason stats are worse, but that's true for nearly any QB, and it's doesn't take rocket science to figure that out. Playoff teams are generally better, so it's tougher to put up great numbers against them. I'm not saying he hasn't struggled at times, esp early in his career. However, in the big picture, things have evened out and he's been better than just about every top-tier QB in the playoffs besides Brees. I think singling out a couple bad memorable plays is the same method of thinking that makes people think Tony Romo is a choker, even though the data clearly shows otherwise. We can do this exercise and call just about anyone a choker (Rodgers OT fumble vs. ARZ in 09, Brees flop vs. CHI in 06 NFC Championship, Brady in the second half of last year's AFC Championship, etc.).

  12. Anonymous says:

    @ Sterlin Xie...

    1st of all, I appreciate your answer.
    To the points: I don not cherry pick, b/c a.) i´ve seen every PM PO-Game live (except the Jets-loss, how ironic). When he is having a bad game it shows from the start. Unlucky for him, that his usual his last (outside the 2006 season). I didn´t mean some wobbling throws. I mean trou-out the game + being off target! Anyway, i don´t want to argue that much about it.
    Where I would like to argue is this: "... stats are worse (in the playoffs), but that's true for nearly any QB, and it's doesn't take rocket science to figure that out".
    Not true. Some years ago i did a "study" on the community site about (if) defense wins championships. What I found is surprising, but true: PPG, Yards, passing efficiency (passer rating, Y/PP) etc. rise trou-out the playoffs. The numbers do NOT decline. So after all, PM should not have declined in the playoffs, but at least improved a little. For the "greatest" QB, even that would not be enough. He should have improved more than the NFL average during playoffs.
    So after all, I am very comfortable to say what i say since the mid 2000s: PM is "nervous Playoff-Peyton". He is a playoff choker when the going gets tough. He won´t win this seasons SB. And finally, i´ll bet against him like I do every year.

    Cheers, Karl from Germany

  13. Anonymous says:

    @ Sterling Xie

    Had just a look at my study in the community site. I talked about the SB winning teams. I tought it was also about average playoff teams...

    Anyway, i hope you trust me here. I have the numbers, but to publish them it will take time. All i can say now is: Y/PP NFL-Average etc. is higher during playoffs than the NFL-Averages during regular seasons.

    Cheers, Karl, Germany

  14. Mitch says:

    I KNEW IT, I knew some-one would respond with, QB's decline in the playoffs because they play better teams, that's why I tried to warn people about that.

    Thanks to Karl for posting that.

    QB's often raise their game big time in the playoffs, just ask Joe Flacco last year.

    When the Ravens won the SB, it was Flacco, the highest rated passer in the playoffs and his passing offense that rose to the occasion.

    When the Colts won the SB, it was PM THE LOWEST RATED POSTSEASON QB SINCE 1978 TO WIN A SB.

    PM was one of the rarest QB to throw 3 int's and win the game, the Colts won the SB not because of PM but despite PM.

    Just the facts fella's.

  15. Anonymous says:

    >>QB's often raise their game big time in the playoffs, just ask Joe Flacco last year.

    Flacco did raise his game, but so did Anquan Boldion, and the defenses he faced, particularly the secondary (Champ Bailey) who knew about the deep ball and the game situation, really played poorly

    I would say Flacco played ok, his receivers played a lot better, and the defenders played poorly. With a big lead, constantly letting receivers get behind you reflects poorly on the coaches and players.

  16. Mitch says:

    Still stuck on 1 play against 1 team in the playoffs.

    Flacco put together one-of-the greatest playoff runs in NFL Playoff history, 11 TD's to 0 INT's.

    But here's a person who only wants to talk about "ONE" play as though Flacco got lucky because of "ONE" play.

    Of coarse recievers contribute, but make no mistake about it, Flacco rose to the occasions as the Ravens rolled the the SB win.

  17. Mitch says:

    Speaking of Flacco, he's been to as many AFC Championship games as PM in "HALF THE NUMBER OF YEARS".

    Want to know why ?

    Look at Flacco's regular season and playoff numbers and then tell me QB's don't raise their games in the playoffs.

    Flacco's improvements in the playoff will crush PM's improvements.

    And before you get all excited, yes I see the it coming already, who will be the first to say how Manning has had much better regular season stats then Flacco so of coarse it's harded for him to improve.


    While many like to look only at averages, such as was done here in this article.

    Averages give us a small picture, game-to-game adds to the picture. Much like I showed in PM regular and playoff season.

    Look at PM regular season stats on a game-to-game basis, you'll find PM inflates his averages by dominating the weaker teams in the league.

    Therefore, when he gets to the playoffs he finds it very difficult to improve on such INFLATED stats.

    Many people get very impressed when PM throws for 500 yds and 6 TD's against a very weak team in the regular season and think wow, that's just PM being great as PM is.

    Then these same people are lost and confused when he can't duplicate that in the playoffs.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Flacco did raise his games in teh play offs, but over a small number of games and passes. If he performed like that in 3 different play off years then I'd be more impressed.
    The is a fair amount of luck in Football, and Flacco had some good luck.
    His deep balls weren't all that great, the receivers had to adjust for them and the defensive backs didn't play them well. It wsn't just one play, it was a bunch of plays by Denver and other teams.

    I think you are too tied to Flacco and not willing to look at his performanec objectively.

    Anquan Boldin was instrumental in turning his inaccurate deep balls into completions. Just like Calvin Johnson has a huge impact on Matt Staffords performance.

  19. Anonymous says:

    >Speaking of Flacco, he's been to as many AFC Championship games as PM in "HALF THE NUMBER OF YEARS".

    >Want to know why ?

    Because the team around Flacco has been better than the team around Peyton.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Using P-F-R, here is how Peyton's supporting cast performed in the playoffs in 20 games.

    +96.2 points
    +132.34 pass
    -36.56 rush
    -113.9 points in turnovers

    -37.99 points
    -53.48 pass
    +3.24 rush
    +134.28 in TO

    Special teams:
    -54.67 points

    If you add up the rush, defense, and special teams points its -129.22 expected points lost by them or -6.46 points per game

  21. Anonymous says:

    Here are those same numbers for Brady in 24 playoff games (Manning in parenthesis). These are per game averages:

    Offense +3.87 points (+4.81)
    Pass +4.65 points (+6.62)
    Rush -0.66 points (-1.83)

    Defense +0.32 points (-1.90)

    Special teams +0.39 (-2.73)

    Defense + Special teams: +0.72 (-4.63)

    Defense + Special teams + Rush offense: +0.07 (-6.46)

    So Brady's supporting cast gave him 6.53 expected points added per game.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Totally agree with Anon above and the general idea that Peyton has been very good in the playoffs, good enough to have won at least one or two more SBs. But the notion that he's not worse in the playoffs is, as has been pointed out, simply mistaken. And I think there's a fairly obvious explanation for that, and it's not that he's a choker.

    Peyton changed the way the game is played with his pre-snap reads and play changes. Defenses have had to adjust - they attempt to disguise their coverages pre-snap, and you'll sometimes see the opposing MLB making pre-snap calls of his own. But the issue with picking apart defenses the way Peyton does is that if the opposing coaching staff knows it's coming and has enough time to prepare, they can fake him out pretty easily. A talented O Coordinator such as, say, Josh McDaniels, could watch film of his team's D and tell his D Coordinator how Peyton will read their various pre-snap alignments. The D Coordinator can then throw in a few mixups - drop a LB or DL, move safeties around, etc.

    I obviously can't prove that this has gone on, but it passes the eye test and lines up with the numbers. The only respect in which Peyton's traditional stats differ between the regular and post season is INTs: he's thrown significantly more in the playoffs. He seems, at times, to not see defenders and throw the ball right to them.

    If that's right, Peyton's playoff 'struggles' are less about choking and more about using a strategy that works better in the regular season than in the playoffs.

  23. Michael Beuoy says:

    Nice write up, Sterling.

    Karl - You are correct that YPP increases in the playoffs, but not for the reason you think. Run your numbers again for just the teams that made the playoffs. For just those teams, YPP decreases in the playoffs, consistent with Peyton's performance. The reason the YPP average is higher in the playoffs overall is because:

    1. The better teams tend to make the playoffs
    2. Offenses tend to have a wider spread of talent than Defenses.

  24. Anonymous says:

    It seems that this was a very long article illustrating that EPA and WPA don't really have anything to do with who wins playoff games.

  25. Thomas McDermott says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  26. Thomas McDermott says:

    (Made an error on previous post)

    Great read, great comments. A word of caution to those of you slinging around EPA and WPA numbers (like I do), especially when evaluating individual players: make sure you know what your numbers mean. Case in point:

    For the last Super Bowl, Joe Flacco has a WPA of 0.40 per the ANS website (I used Brian's WP calculator and calc'd 0.43). So what's included in this number? Obviously, Flacco's completions, incompletions, sacks and interceptions (if he had any, which he didn't). But it also includes fumbles by his receivers (the Ray Rice fumble) and penalties - pass interference calls, defensive offsides, unnecessary roughness, etc. The reason is that the data is drawn from the play-by-play and if his name is in the play-by-play, he is credited (or penalized) for what happened.

    Check it out: Flacco threw three incomplete passes on third-and-long that were nullified by penalties - two defensive offsides and one pass interference - that amounted to +0.18 WPA. This is nothing to sneeze at; you can watch the plays yourself and decide if these passes were bad, or whatever, but the fact remains that he is gaining a huge amount of WP for throwing incomplete passes. Without it, his WPA is 0.22 (0.25 by my spreadsheet). Thankfully, Brian has given us all these tools to use, so you can check me on this using his WP calculator, and see what you come up with.

    My point isn't that you can't trust these numbers, you can. WP is about the best way to measure "clutch" that we have. My point is that if we're going to get into the nitty-gritty of "this guy is clutch" and "this guy isn't", we should at least know the details of our measuring sticks.

    I'm enjoying the debate regardless, cheers.

  27. James says:

    I think we need to take a step back here and look at this issue again.

    1. Karl ran a study that found that SB winning teams' stats go up in the playoffs. But that has MAJOR cause and effect bias - by definition SB winning teams are playing well because they beat at least three playoff teams!!

    2. Peyton Manning throws more interceptions in the playoffs. Yet this site showed long ago that (i) interception rates are largely random, (ii) all QBs throw more INTs in desperate situations, and (iii) Peyton's been in more desparate situations in the playoffs because his run game/defense has cost him 6 points a game.

    3. Splits Happen. Given enough QBs, one or more is going to consistently do worse than their norm in the playoffs out of random chance, especially at these small sample sizes. You have to prove that Peyton's "choking" isn't simply Type I error.

    3. Peyton won a SB with terrible stats. Shouldn't that exemplify how many factors outside a QB's control contribute to winning a SB? The Colts defense forced 13 turnovers in 4 playoff games during that SB run, 3.3 a game, while Peyton's defenses have 26 turnovers in his 16 other playoff games, 1.6 a game! Of course, this is redudant information with EPA listed in the above comments.

    4. Speaking of turnovers, the Ravens defense has forced 40 turnovers in Flacco's 14 playoff games, a rate of 2.9 a game, including 10 in 4 games last year. Maybe that has something to do with Flacco getting to so many more AFC Champ games than Peyton...

    5. Speaking of Flacco in the playoffs, did Mitch actually compare them like he said he did? Regular season: 60%, 7.1 YPA, 85.6 Rating. Post season: 56%, 7.2 YPA, 86 Rating. His TD:INT ratio is better in the playoffs at 19:8, but all of this includes his incredible run last postseason. Before that he was considerably worse in the playoffs across the board, including an 8:8 TD:INT ratio. So can Flacco elevate his game in the playoffs, or are we merely cherry-picking the end-point for the clutch QB du jour?

  28. Anonymous says:

    @ Michael Beuoy

    "Karl - You are correct that YPP increases in the playoffs, but not for the reason you think. Run your numbers again for just the teams that made the playoffs. For just those teams, YPP decreases in the playoffs, consistent with Peyton's performance."

    You have a great point here. Your are absolutely correct. Thanks for this. I havn´t thought about that.
    So, after all, PM might not be worse in the playoffs than in the RS. Still, to be remembered as the greatest ever his ugly post season ending games just don´t fit for that reputation. Too much variance in his post season performances (perfect and accurate in one game, lousy, nervous and thus off target in the next). It´s not only about stats. I know a choker when I see one. From own experience. If the pressure was big enough on me, i got struck out (for example when having a 0-2 count), or started to walk batters "endlessly" once i threw 2 or 3 balls in an at bat. The opposition knew it. They just didn´t swung anymore once they saw my nervousness. Or on tight and high priced billard games, more often than not i miss the black ball from the spot (a ball i hit at 90% rates in normal non pressure situations). And i wouldn´t blame my bad performances on sample size, splits or "(non) hot hands". If I felt my heart pumping, i knew "game over" for me. :-)

    Karl, Germany

  29. Anonymous says:

    @ James

    "Karl ran a study that found that SB winning teams' stats go up in the playoffs. But that has MAJOR cause and effect bias - by definition SB winning teams are playing well because they beat at least three playoff teams!!"

    There is no major flaw in there. The only point i wanted to prove is that (efficient) pass offense matters more than (efficient) pass defense, and that running the ball has no impact on SB winning teams.
    It was about (if) defenses win championships or not. And (as a side product) if running the ball is important as the 70s pundits say year after year.
    Now i thought i also mentioned that Y/PP, PPG, yds gained are up in general (thus for all playoff teams) in the playoffs. Well, I didn´t and thus I correct my answer post to "Sterling"here.
    Of course it´s obvious that winning teams have better numbers. I just wanted to know WHICH numbers are better.

    "Peyton Manning throws more interceptions in the playoffs. Yet this site showed long ago that (i) interception rates are largely random"

    Agree. That´s why I never use Int-Rates to prove or disprove something. Y/PP is well enough. And, BTW, I am still not convinced that WPA or EPA is better than this good ´ol "Killer-Stat" No. 1.

    "Splits Happen."
    Agree 100%. And yet, I still trust my own eyes and expierence more (see my last post).

    "Peyton won a SB with terrible stats. Shouldn't that exemplify how many factors outside a QB's control contribute to winning a SB?"
    Agree again 100%. Never said something different over all those years here. I, for example, never use QB-Starting records (unless i do a mega study on differences between starting QB´s and their replacements since 1980. Just as a control number to other stats like Y/PP. I can use QB records than, because the sample size is big enough).

    "The Colts defense forced 13 turnovers in 4 playoff games during that SB run, 3.3 a game, while Peyton's defenses have 26 turnovers in his 16 other playoff games, 1.6 a game!"
    As said, i don´t use turnovers in a study since they are either random or largely influenced by game situations (like those late game interceptions that pile on on desperate teams).

    "Speaking of turnovers, the Ravens defense has forced 40 turnovers in Flacco's 14 playoff games, a rate of 2.9 a game, including 10 in 4 games last year. Maybe that has something to do with Flacco getting to so many more AFC Champ games".

    Agree again. Flacco never was something special either in the RS or the playoffs. He got tremendous lucky that he had his best games in last years playooffs. Since the BAL organisation judged him on this 4 games only, he was able to hit the mega 100 Mio $ jackpot... and now he is back to his normal (just NFL average) performance level.

    Karl, Germany

    5. Speaking of Flacco in the playoffs, did Mitch actually compare them like he said he did? Regular season: 60%, 7.1 YPA, 85.6 Rating. Post season: 56%, 7.2 YPA, 86 Rating. His TD:INT ratio is better in the playoffs at 19:8, but all of this includes his incredible run last postseason. Before that he was considerably worse in the playoffs across the board, including an 8:8 TD:INT ratio. So can Flacco elevate his game in the playoffs, or are we merely cherry-picking the end-point for the clutch QB du jour?

  30. Anonymous says:

    @ Michael Beuoy

    ... I did some "quick & dirty" stats.
    8 of 12 times PMs teams lost their first playoff game. 4 of those were at home after a bye week. But more intriguing is that the Colts were favourites in 7 of that games by an average of almost 6 points!
    That means he faced the weaker teams that qualified for the playoffs. So i assume he actually should have better or at least the same quality stats as in the RS.
    Sure he faced better defenses than in the RS. But this is true for all playoff teams and still Y/PP, PPG, etc. rises in the playoffs (for the reasons you mentioned in your post).

    After all is said and done now, I think it´s safe to say that PM at least underperforms in the playoffs.

    Karl, Germany

  31. Trevor Rainbolt says:

    Brain, you just tweeted at me that Matt Stafford is NOT "better" than Russell Wilson according to your statistics, yet you're grading Manning on his WPA and basing your argument off of the WPA statistic in this case. Being that Stafford has the second highest WPA in 2013, how are you going to decide that it isn't as relevant due to his ONE talented receiver? Many of the games within this study involved Peyton throwing to TWO Hall Of Fame receivers, at the same time. So please explain how I was not correct in saying Stafford has been better than Wilson in terms of your stats. Mathematically, please.

  32. Monkeesfan says:

    The piece's premise falls completely apart when one reviews Manning's playoff losses and the fact Manning has only had four of his twelve playoff runs where he won even one game.

    Virtually nowhere in Peyton's playoff losses does one find much evidence of quality play by Manning. Among his characteristics in the playoffs has been fourth down failures - he failed to convert a needed fourth down against Pittsburgh near his own goalline; he failed on fourth down TWICE against San Diego in 2007; he failed on fourth down against New Orleans in the Superbowl. For good measure Manning failed to convert a first down very late in the San Diego playoff game in 2008. Contrast this with Brady, who played well enough to win in the 2006 AFC Championship Game and in the two Superbowl losses to the NY Giants - especially with the late touchdown to Moss in 2007. Steve McNair also played well enough to win in the Superbowl loss (he erased a two-touchdown gap then whipped the Titans to the Rams 1; the deciding play was an obscure D-lineman making one tackle) and also in the 2003 loss to the Patriots.

    The reality is Peyton Manning has done nothing but show he is in over his head in the playoffs.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Stats are fun to look at and analyze, but in the end, the only meaningful stat is wins and losses. Speaking of wins and losses, Peyton Manning has only 1 win in the Playoffs, playing outside when the game time temperature is below 50 degrees...11 years ago on 1/11/03 at KC (40F). The NFL and their Zebras are going to have to pull off a miracle in order to get him his 2nd ring when he would need 3 such wins in the next month, far surpassing the gift-wrapped 2nd ring for Ray Lewis last year!

  34. Geoff Kulesa says:

    You failed to look at this in the way that many do when pointing out the problems with Peyton: Relative difference between regular season and playoffs. You have some numbers in here regarding that but you fail to draw an obvious conclusion from them.

    Relative to his regular seasons, Manning's playoffs performance drops 12% in WPA/G and 25% in EPA/G. That's pretty big.

    When comparing to Brady, Manning's dropoff in WPA/G is something like 5x as big as Brady's. And Peyton's EPA/G dropoff is something like 60% more than Brady's. (I am estimating based on the graph with red and blue bars).

    So what does this mean? It means that the playoffs does affect Manning in a negative way. It affects him in a MUCH more negative way than it does Brady. Brady holds pretty steady from regualr season to postseason. Manning's performance falls off a lot more.

    I'd love to see more from you on the regular season vs. postseason for all the QBs you mention here, not just Brady and Mannning.

  35. Anonymous says:

    what about defining clutch in a different way? on third or fourth down in the second half of close games. or perhaps even incorporating yardage; 2nd and long (say 10 or more), 3rd and 6 or more, and any fourth down. I would guess Manning does not fare as well in the playoffs. I am not trying to cherry pick here. I just think there is much less pressure, so to speak on first down (because you know you have two downs further to attempt to get a first down, and also, on second and 3, there is less pressure, etc). the whole idea of the article is to analyze how well Manning has done under pressure (pressure of course, defined by situation, and not pass rush).

  36. Anonymous says:

    In the last 3 years Flacco has thrown for 18TDs vs 1INT in the playoffs. His first 2 years his playoff #s were more poor but as a rookie he had to go up against the #1 D in Pittsburgh. He's gotten better and lets not forget if Lee Evans holds on to a perfectly thrown pass he's in back to back SBs.

  37. Ben Leeth says:

    I agree! Stats are fun but they can be arranged to sell whatever you want to sell. Seeing is believing, my friend. And I have seen a Season Manning and a Postseason Manning for over 10 years now.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I am a Colts fan, and thanks you. Since day 1 I have always said the COLTS D is going to crumble in the playoffs....and they always do. Andrew Luck is awesome, but he is going to suffer the same thing Manning did.

    Also we should keep on mind, that in most PO games, Manning (aside from the JETS) and the Colts lost in the final seconds. Let's not forget that before entering the playoffs (year?-i believe the year Dungy's son died) that D gave up nearly 400 yards of rushing to Fred Taylor. The Colt's D always looks better than it actually is. It will always be a handicap. I actually believe Denver has a better D, but it is still not very good.

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