Brees vs. Manning

A couple days ago, WSJ Numbers Guy Carl Bialik asked me to compare Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. I had recently looked at a comparison of Kurt Warner to other great QBs of his era, and for some reason Drew Brees hadn't crossed my mind. When I did run the career numbers for Brees, the results were surprisingly strong. If Brees plays well and the Saints win, perhaps his name needs to be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame.

Here is how the two Super Bowl QBs' careers compare in terms of Win Probability Added (WPA) since 2000. This includes playoffs and Super Bowls.


And here is each QB's Expected Points Added (EPA) by year:


On a per-game basis, Manning's WPA is +0.22 Wins/G, and Brees' is +0.16 Wins/G. Manning's EPA per game is +7.1 Points/G, and Brees' is +4.4 Points/G.

Manning unquestionably leads in stats like these, but Brees' numbers are actually second in the decade, ahead of Tom Brady's. Sunday's Super Bowl will arguably feature the two best QBs of the last ten years. Perhaps it's more accurate to say they're the most heroic QBs, and not necessarily the 'best.' Either way, if both players perform up to their billing, it should be a great game.

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15 Responses to “Brees vs. Manning”

  1. James says:

    Any ideas on how Brees had a negative EPA in '03? That seems really odd to me for a QB.

  2. James says:

    Ok, looked it up myself. 15 picks and 3 lost fumbles in 11 games hurts. Also his lowest completion percentage.

  3. James says:

    Last one, I promise. You spelled "Peyton" wrong. His name is with an "e", while the Saints coach's last name is spelled with an "a"

  4. Brian Burke says:

    Thanks! Usually don't botch that one.

  5. Tarr says:

    Hilarious picture there. I assume that's from the only previous time the two played against each other in those uniforms (the 2007 season opener)?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Excluding preseason, this is only the eleventh matchup between these two franchises (source: :)

  7. Anonymous says:

    I'm surprised to see Brees's 5,000-yard season barely ahead of Peyton's season last year, and also surprised to see Brees ahead of Peyton in EPA this year despite a 3.3-win advantage for Peyton in WPA.

  8. Eiad says:

    Their EPA numbers have been about the same the past two years. Can you say anything about the variance of their game to game performances? It seems that Manning is more consistent, but I could be wrong.

  9. .e. says:

    As I mentioned in the Kurt Warner HOF thread... I think the next crop of QBs to be enshrined are:

    Brett Favre
    Kurt Warner
    Peyton Manning
    Donovan McNabb
    Tom Brady
    Drew Brees
    Ben Roethlisberger

    While I think Favre, Warner, Manning, and Brady are currently worthy. The remaining three have some work to do.

    If Brees wins, then that will be HUGE for him although he would only have played in 6 playoff games. Most all HOF QBs in the last 40 years have played in at least 10 playoff games. Regardless, a super bowl and the stats he's likely to put up and future appearances makes him a better than 75% shot for the hall. He'll be in the top 15 in most major metrics in the next season and a half. Anyway, Brees is so young... he'll probably be up in the top 5 in yardage and TDs by the time he's done.

    McNabb has the playoff games, he needs another solid 2 or 3 seasons to make it. 40,000+ yards and 250-275+ TDs and how could he not make it?

    Ben's got the rings, playoff appearances, and is on pace to have enough decent stats to make it.

  10. Brian Burke says:

    I should point out there is a slight problem with the EPA numbers I've posted for QBs over the past few days.

    I didn't think to exclude kneel-downs and spiked balls. It doesn't make much of a difference, but in the future the numbers will be slightly different. Manning gains 34 EPA for kneel-downs and 11 EPA for spikes since 2000. Brees gains 46 EPA for kneel-downs and 8 EPA for spikes for his career.

    Also, the last play of each half was showing as a very negative play. If the EP value at the last snap was, say +2.0 points for a 2nd and 5 at midfield, the EPA would come up as zero. There was no following snap to compare to, and the data field was empty. This results in generally lower EPA totals for most QBs and RBs. I've now corrected the database. WPA is not affected.

    It's a work in progress.

  11. Brian Burke says:

    Looks like spikes weren't officially noted in the play-by-play until 2003, and kneel-downs weren't consistently noted until 2004.

  12. Subutai says:

    Thanks, interesting post. According to your WPA calculations, not only are they arguably the best quarterbacks of the last decade, they are also individually coming off their best season. Peyton's 7.6 and Drew's 4.3 each represent career highs.

  13. Jim Glass says:

    These comparisons are interesting, and I appreciate seeing them, but I think that in all this we should keep in mind how much the quality of the team has on the stat lines of the QB.

    Manning is making a run at greatest QB of all time. On the merits. It's taking nothing from him to note that he has also been an extraordinarily lucky QB.

    He's the only QB in all my decades of watching pro football who has had his *entire team* built around what he can do personally. And by a first-class GM too.

    Even the Colts *defense* is built around Peyton. Polian has said they play the Tampa 2 because it has the lowest cap cost. The backfield players
    can be plugged in right out of the draft, and when they reach their FA year it is "good bye, good luck", draft someone else and plug him in at minimum cost.

    The only player they really have to pay serious money to in that system is the pass rusher, Freeney. So it's that much more money for Peyton and the handful of O players they pay very well to compliment him.

    Having the entire team built around you personally for your entire career does not hurt your stat line!

    (On the Colts payroll the seven highest-paid have a combined $81 million cap cost -- which leaves the bottom 46 players plus the reserve players, etc., sharing $41 million.

    That's an average for Peyton and his six best supporters of $11,600,000, versus an average for all the rest of around $600,000.)

    Imagine if Peyton had landed on, say, the Bengals.

    The formula for "great player" is "very good and lucky too". Peyton's had a whole team built around him personally ... by one of the league's top GMs who did it right, bringing in very good coaching ... and he's never been injured. (Say: "Greg Cook", or even "Chad Pennington".) He's been right at the top of both the "very very good" and "very fortunate" categories.

    Brees, similar story: Every team he's been on has been an excellent offensive team. Brady: He's been on the team that's dominated for a decade.

    If you check the Hall of Fame, it easy to find HoF running backs who played on one terrible team after another. OJ Simpson's teams averaged 4-10 over his entire career. Walter Payton played on bad teams for a decade until the very end when the 46 defense showed up. From Gale Sayers to Barry Sanders, you can make quite a list.

    But you can't find HoF QBs who played on one bad losing team after another for a career. Which means either no bad team ever drafted a top talented QB, or the quality of all the other players on the team has a *major* impact on the QB's stat line -- and the public's resulting opinion of him.

    So really, the growing tendency to compare QB stats head-to-head, "This QB's W-L record" etc., as if they are baseball pitchers, is something that should be taken with a cupful of salt. Not pushed too far.

    These passing stats are team passing stats. The QB is only one of 11 player in the team passing game. He's by far the most important single one of the eleven, but even if you value him at five times that of any other of the 11, he's still only a minority of it and the rest are going to have a *big* impact on his stats.

    So while I value and appreciate these "QB numbers", I'm just saying, for perspective, they aren't really QB numbers, they are team numbers while that QB is playing.

  14. Brian Burke says:

    Well put.

  15. .e. says:

    I guess we can officially throw in Brees in the HOF discussion. What a difference a game makes.

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