Is 2012 Peyton Manning's Best Season Since 2004?

The Broncos are still holding onto the top spot in the Advanced NFL Stats efficiency rankings this week, and they can thank Peyton Manning. Manning the Elder put together his most efficient game of the season Sunday night against the Saints, throwing for 305 yards and three touchdowns on 30 passes without an interception or a sack. His 10.2 adjusted yards per passing attempt was the best mark since Alex Smith carved up the Bills for 12.6 per attempt back in Week 5 (303 yards on 24 attempts).

Due to the bye, Manning is a bit behind some of his competitors in counting stats, but he has been elite this season by rate statistics. His 0.27 EPA per play is behind just Matt Ryan (0.29) and tied with Ben Roethlisberger for second in the league. His 7.0 AYPA gives him a runaway lead -- the difference between him and second place Tom Brady (6.5) is bigger than the difference between Brady and 9th place Carson Palmer.

But Manning has had utterly transcendent seasons before. How is his performance standing up to his Colts career? Let's look on a game-by-game level. Each orange bar represents a game with Denver, each blue bar a game with Indianapolis:

Despite one clunker -- the Week 2 loss to Atlanta featuring three early interceptions -- Manning has been near or above his pre-2012 career averages all year long. He has been excellent with both efficiency and volume, with at least four above average games in all six statistics shown in the above visualization.

At this point, Manning is on pace for 3.29 WPA, 176.3 EPA, 4,848 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and nine intreceptions. The stellar play of Denver's defense will keep Manning's WPA below what it was in Indianapolis, when Manning's play was required to win the inevitable shootouts created by a defense often resembling cheeses from central Europe. But his projected EPA would rank only behind his 2004, 2006 (Super Bowl championship season) and 2009 seasons; his AYPA only behind 2004. With a very soft defensive schedule remaining -- the Broncos don't play a single top-10 defensive efficiency team; they play only one top-half team and only two top-20 teams the rest of the season -- Manning's numbers are primed to improve as the season goes on.

I doubt the Colts are second-guessing their decision to move on from Peyton Manning at all -- Andrew Luck continues to be fantastic, ranking sixth in WPA per game and 13th in EPA per play and concretely establishing his status as Indianapolis's quarterback of the future. But just looking at 2012, the most influential  move of the offseason has to go to John Elway's Denver Broncos. He hasn't just brought in vintage Peyton Manning -- if the first seven games are any indication, this is as good as Manning has ever been, and over the last nine games he'll have a chance to put up numbers we haven't seen from him since his record-breaking 2004 season.

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1 Responses to “Is 2012 Peyton Manning's Best Season Since 2004?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    nice article, very interesting to look at now that the season is (long) over. Quickly perusing Mr. Manning's stats here at ANFLS it seems he had his third best season ever. His .23WPA/G is especially remarkable given Denver's #3 rated defense. Also of note is how accurate your 16-game projections were. Excellent reading, thanks.


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