If there’s one thing analysts and fans can agree on, it’s that Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is playing the best football of his career— which also happens to be some of the best football of all time. The Broncos, on the other hand, have essentially carried Peyton Manning to his fourth Super Bowl appearance; it’s no secret that the elder Manning hasn’t been playing at a top level this year.
But what’s crazy isn’t that Manning is playing poorly by his standards. He’s playing poorly by NFL Standards. In fact, depending on how you work the statistics, he’s the worst quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Ever.
Neil Payne for FiveThirtyEight breaks it down nicely. Although Manning was out for six weeks, his backup, Brock Osweiler, didn’t terribly effect the offensive rankings for the Denver football club. When it was all said and done, the Broncos had the eighth-worst passing offense in the league.
In this system, Manning’s statistical efficiency is being calculated using the Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (ANY/A). While the links in the piece explain it in good detail, all you need to know right know is that we aren’t just judging Peyton in the traditional vein of TD:INT ratio. This is factoring for other things too, like how many passes are on target (not very many, by the way).
When it comes down to raw numbers, Peyton Manning doesn’t have the lowest scores among quarterbacks starting in the Super Bowl. That honor goes to Vince Ferragamo of the LA Rams, who fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. So what makes Peyton worse?
The Sheriff is playing in a pass-happy league. Way back when, NFL teams employed more of a ground and pound offense. West-coast offense traditionally refers to a system that relies heavily on the passing game. Today, quarterback expectations are so high, and a vertical attack is so common, that “west-coast offense” has lost pretty much all of its meaning.
But do the Broncos have a chance? They sure do, or else they wouldn’t be here. They didn’t win because of terrible offense— they won because their defense has just been so prolific. In plain words, it was the best in football. It may have carried Manning this far, but can it take him past the number one offense in the league?
This Super Bowl Sunday is more about Manning going out with a bang or Cam cementing his spot as an elite QB. This Sunday, we finally get to learn if defenses truly win championships.