Peyton Manning. You will probably not find many people that will argue that he's not one of the best, if not the best, regular season quarterback of all time. His records and accomplishments are many and varied.
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Manning led a very talented Denver team to a division title, the best record in the AFC, and numerous team records. He's also potentially in line to join his oft mentioned nemesis Brady as the only other unanimous MVP in league history.
And none of it will matter if he loses this weekend.
I say that with a large amount of trepidation, as Manning and myself are both sons of the greatest city known to man, New Orleans. I've always been a Peyton apologist, and followed his career carefully. Until Drew came to New Orleans, Manning was my favorite QB in the league, and to this day, I still love seeing him succeed on the field.
The debates between my friends, both in real life and on the internet, have been wild and numerous. Peyton's numbers speak for themselves in the regular season, but so do his statistics in the postseason. I always find it disingenuous to put a QB's playoff record entirely on him alone, as playoff and Super Bowl wins and losses are team achievements or failures. However, when you look at the same metrics that make Peyton incredible in the regular season, they point to an incredibly different reality come playoff time. These numbers cannot simply be ignored or explained away since we have a large enough sampling to determine that Manning without question struggles in the postseason.
As crazy as it may sound, this year will not be enough to advance the narrative of Peyton Manning's greatness without significant advancement in the playoffs, and probably a Super Bowl win. Manning draws generational comparisons to Tom Brady, who is stellar in the postseason. He has played in five Super Bowls and won three, with both of those losses coming, ironically enough, to Peyton's younger brother Eli. Brady's playoff numbers are much better than Peyton's any way you slice it, and he has the hardware and records to boot.
Brady himself has had an incredible season, leading a team of virtual nobodies to the playoffs as the second seed behind Peyton's Broncos. Supporters of Brady have long pointed out, much to the chagrin of people like myself, that Manning's struggles in the postseason are a strike against him and a huge mark in favor of Brady in the overall career argument. During the 2007 season, Brady really turned it on as the Patriots morphed into a different monster, and we saw Brady start carving out his own niche as a stat machine, like Manning.
Now Peyton has to face a familiar and undoubtedly daunting foe; the Chargers. San Diego has played Manning better than nearly every other team in the league over the years. Only the Steelers, Jets and Bills (surprisingly) have held Peyton to a lower overall passer rating than the Chargers.
Philip Rivers and company have also ended Peyton's season in the playoffs twice before, and they have already beaten Manning and the Broncos in Denver this season. This is not to say that the Broncos can't win this one, but a victory is certainly not a given.
And not only does Denver have to win this game, Peyton has to play well in the victory. This simply cannot be yet another round of playoffs that see Manning struggle if his fans are going to continue to support him in the conversation of best quarterback of all time. Once again he has dazzled us during the regular season, but now he absolutely must put up numbers and wins in the playoffs.
If the Broncos were to lose this weekend or next, I really don't see how I can, beyond sentimentality, defend Peyton as the best quarterback ever any longer. Yes, I understand that there is more to the story of how great a quarterback is than his postseason record, but I just can't excuse Peyton's struggles any longer without more positive results.
Undoubtedly, Manning doesn't care what I, or anyone else for that matter, thinks. But this matters to the fans and to history. Peyton still has something to prove, and he can best do that by playing well this postseason and becoming the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.