For regular consumers of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, it will come as no surprise to learn that Tom Brady played his best football late in the season, while MVP-favorite Peyton Manning trailed off considerably when the games counted most.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts show that Brady, once again, is rising over the NFL stretch run while Manning, the Picasso of choke artists, is setting behind the rocky outcrop of crunch-time mediocrity that defines his career.
Consider this: Manning and Brady have each posted a passer rating of more than 100 six times this season.
- Four of Manning's six 100-plus rating performances came in the first half of the season. Only one has come during the final six weeks of the season, a period during which the Colts had a shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They finished with the No. 3 seed.
- Manning's single, 100-plus-rating performance over the last six weeks came against Atlanta. Atlanta has one of the worst defenses in football and gave up the third most points in the league this year (422).
- Three of Brady's 100-plus performances came in the last three games of the regular season. These were wins over Jacksonville, NY Jets, and Buffalo that secured a No. 1 seed in the AFC – a seed that remained in doubt until the last week of the season. The Cold, Hard Football Facts tell us, by the way, that Buffalo had the league's stingiest pass defense this season (169.2 yards allowed per game). Brady played his single best game of the season against this defense, posting a passer rating of 122.9.
- Four of Brady's six 100-plus performances came in the second half of the season – the three aforementioned games and a quality road win at Denver. Brady engineered a last-minute, game-winning drive in the 30-26 victory.
Here's a Cold, Hard Football Facts breakdown of how the two quarterbacks and their teams have fared during this vital six-game stretch to end the regular season, with a look at the conditions in which each has played:
- Dec. 28: Beat Houston, 20-17; passer rating, 81.0 (dome)
- Dec. 21: Lost to Denver, 31-17; rating, 72.0 (dome)
- Dec. 14: Beat Atlanta, 38-7; rating, 146.5 (dome)
- Dec. 7: Beat Tennessee, 29-27; rating, 83.9
- Nov. 30: Lost to New England, 38-34; rating, 95.7 (dome)
- Nov. 23: Beat Buffalo, 17-14; rating, 76.4
- Dec. 27: Beat Buffalo, 31-0; passer rating, 122.9
- Dec. 20: Beat NY Jets, 21-16; rating, 101.8 (below freezing)
- Dec. 14: Beat Jacksonville, 27-13; rating, 103.6 (snow)
- Dec. 7: Beat Miami, 12-0; rating, 67.0 (blizzard)
- Nov. 30: Beat Indy, 38-34; rating, 87.3 (dome)
- Nov. 23: Beat Houston, 23-20; rating, 82.6 (dome)
Manning's final-six-game performance:
4-2 record, average of 25.8 points scored, average passer rating of 92.6, four dome games
Brady's final-six-game performance:
6-0 record, average of 25.3 points scored, average passer rating of 94.2, two dome games, two snow games
Yes, there is still a lot of football to be played, and Manning will probably win league MVP this year. But the cold, hard football facts
- say that you can attribute Manning MVP honors not to crunch-time heroics, but to the critical mass of publicity he generated with early-season fireworks
- leave no doubt about whom you should want leading your team when the snow starts to fall and the pressure starts to rise.