Manning's Greatest Playoff Game, Ever?

In the aftermath of the Colts 30-17 victory over the Jets in the AFC Championship game, I kept having the same thought popping into my head...Was this Peyton Manning's greatest playoff game in his career?  He completely shredded the #1 defense in the NFL, and made it look easy in the second half. But was it as good as those games back in '03 and '04?  Let's find out.

Here's a quick look back at the 4 games from Manning's career that could be considered the best:

Opponent Year Round Score Comp/Att Pass Yds TDs INTs
Broncos 2003 WC 41-10 22/26 377 5 0
Chiefs 2003 DIV 38-31 22/30 304 3 0
Broncos 2004 WC 49-24 27/33 458 4 1
Jets 2009 CC 30-17 26/39 377 3 0

Now, I purposely didn't include Manning's Greatest Game, because statistically speaking, it wasn't his best.  He obviously played magnificently, but the stats just don't hold up against these other games.  Also, this may be more of a Colts offense comparison, rather than just Manning, but we all know they are pretty close to each other.

In order to make this a fair comparison, I've gone back to each of these seasons, adjusted for opponents, and adjusted the stats based on that.  That way, we are comparing each performance against an "average" defense.  For example, because the Jets were so good in ANY/A, the Colts get a bonus for performing so well against them.

Let's get to the numbers...

Here are your Adjusted Winning Stats, with Rankings of the 196 total playoff games since 2001:

Statistic Broncos '03 Chiefs '03 Broncos '04 Jets '09
Offense Rank Offense Rank Offense Rank Offense Rank
DSR 94.2% 2 88.9% 7 101.7% 1 90.6% 5
ANPY/A 15.941 1 11.574 11 14.730 3 12.243 9
Turnovers 1.44 101 -0.56 7 1.49 103 0.89 70
Yds/Drive 57.14 3 50.52 8 59.70 2 48.67 11
ToP/Drive 3:10.3 45 4:03.8 7 3:18.7 34 3:00.3 61
Yds/Play 9.089 3 6.408 32 9.696 1 8.170 7
First Downs/Drive 2.86 9 3.21 3 3.20 4 2.81 10
3rd/4th Down 74.8% 2 65.8% 8 79.9% 1 45.8% 79
Avg Start Pos 38.9 29 27.5 156 33.4 75 28.4 143
3 and Outs -0.98 1 1.65 30 -0.24 6 1.02 16
RZ Eff 69.6% 115 102.2% 20 85.3% 54 89.4% 44
Plays/Drive 6.513 34 7.694 9 6.591 28 6.253 53
Penalty Yds / Play 0.430 55 0.257 29 0.145 15 0.140 14
RB Success 53.7% 50 46.7% 91 66.5% 9 49.5% 74
Yds/Carry 3.76 113 3.75 115 3.67 124 4.66 57
Net Punts Yds/Game 37.93 88 42.41 34 36.87 103 43.31 25
Ranking - 196 Games 5 2 3 12

Now, some astute readers may notice some impossible numbers, like a DSR over 100%, or Negative Turnovers.  Again, these are adjusted for the defense.  For example, in the Chiefs game, the Colts had -0.56 Turnovers.  That means that in 2003, the Chiefs forced 0.56 more Turnovers / Game than the Average team.  So if the Colts had 0 Turnovers against them, they would have had -0.56 Turnovers against an Average team.  Doing this allows us to compare the numbers fairly.

A couple things to point out:

  • The Colts are in the Top 11 of all playoff games since 2001 in all 4 games in DSR, ANPY/A, Yds/Drive, and First Downs / Drive.  Pretty friggin' amazing.
  • We are looking at 16 different stats, and 4 games, so 64 total stats.  In 12 of them, the Colts are ranked in the Top 3.  While this is a hand-picked selection of games, it's still pretty amazing to see in one place.

So which game is the best?  I think it is fair to say that last Sunday's game against the Jets is great, but not quite on the same level as the other 3 games.  Of the other 3, I'm going to go with the Winning Stats and say the Chiefs game in 2004 is the best of his career.  Here's why:

  • The game was not indoors.
  • There are a few stats that don't directly relate to Manning (YPC, RB Success, Start Pos, Punt Yds).  If you look at all the other stats, every one of them ranks in the top 32, or top 16% of all playoff games played.  He dominated in every single category, rather than faultering in a couple.
  • His defense didn't help him much that day.  Only 2 of Manning's playoff games (since 2001) were worse defensively:  41-0 and when Billy Volek led a game-winning drive.  It was ranked 189/196.  Manning absolutely needed to have a day like that for the Colts to win, and he did.
  • It was the worst rushing game of the 4.  Some, but not a whole lot of help from his backs.

I'm interested to hear your take on this.  Which game was his best, statistically? 

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