Is Peyton Manning the NFL's Greg Maddux? Comparing two all-time great careers
It has become a mid-January tradition to point out that Peyton Manning is not so great in the playoffs. That's what happens when one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks of all time is sent home empty-handed in nine of his past 10 postseasons.
Quickly becoming another January tradition: Comparing Manning to one of MLB's all-time greats who also routinely exited early in the playoffs. Like, say, Greg Maddux.
In January 2013, Tom Krasovic, an NFL columnist and MLB Hall of Fame voter (according to his Twitter bio), wrote conclusively for U-T San Diego that "Peyton Manning is football's Greg Maddux." In January 2014, even before Manning lost in the Super Bowl that year, Joan Niesen explored various Manning analogues across sports for The Denver Post: various Manning's analogues across sports: "Until you realize there's one that's ripped right from the headlines: Greg Maddux." The headlines referred to, of course, were of Maddux's induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
It's easy to see where the comparison comes from. Born 10 years apart, Manning and Maddux have suffered similar fates. Both boast impressive regular season resumes -- a 69 percent winning percentage for Manning, a 61 percentage for Maddux -- and have been similarly lauded -- four Cy Young Awards for Maddux, five NFL MVPs for Manning.
But something happens in the playoffs. The two share nearly identical win-loss records: Maddux went 11-14 in the playoffs over the course of his 23-year career, Manning has put up an 11-13 record, including Sunday's loss to the Colts. Both have only one championship each, despite going to the postseason 13 (Maddux) and 14 (Manning) times.
If you look closer, though, neither's in-game performance drops off in the postseason, at least not dramatically.
Maddux's 3.27 ERA and 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings in the postseason aren't all that off from his 3.16 regular season ERA and 6.1 K/9. And to pick out an example of the futility of looking solely at wins: In his two losses during the 1997 NLCS, Maddux posted a 1.38 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 13 innings. Yet that performance accounts for one-seventh of his postseason losses.
Manning's numbers, too, aren't much different. His 64 percent completion rate in the playoffs is just a sliver under his 65.5 percent during the regular season. His touchdown percentage dips come January -- 4.1 versus 5.9 -- but his interception rate (2.6 percent) is exactly the same in the playoffs as during the regular season, and Manning actually throws for more yards per game in the postseason (283.3 versus 272.2).
So it's not as if Maddux and Manning implode once the postseason begins. They simply come up short, for any number of reasons (there are other men on the diamond/field, after all), when it's time for a championship. But their respective reputations as playoff louses persist because of the particular emphasis on championships above all. If the Braves hadn't won the World Series in 1995, the entire tenure of Maddux, along with John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, would be viewed differently: A trio that could dominate, but couldn't quite go all the way. As for Manning's fate, look no further than the ring-less Dan Marino.
Yes, Manning and Maddux are comparable, but not necessarily for being playoff slouches -- their individual performances, on the whole, don't vary that greatly from regular to postseason. If you get too focused on postseason wins and losses, you end up with a list of clutch postseason quarterbacks that features Eli Manning and Trent Dilfer at the top.
Should 2014 prove to be Manning's last season (his loss Sunday has already kicked off the retirement rumor mill), he's as sure of a bet for the NFL Hall of Fame in 2019 as Maddux (who received more than 97 percent of the vote on his first ballot) was for Cooperstown in 2014. Which means, naturally, that the comparisons will continue.