Water Cooler Quarterbacks: Is the Ring the Thing?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Peyton versus Eli in a look at the brother quarterbacks

Just the other day, one of the members of the Water Cooler Quarterbacks shared his surprise over something he had heard on the Jim Rome Show on Showtime. Apparently, the topic of discussion was how Peyton Manning's career would be viewed if Manning and the Broncos failed to win the Super Bowl this year -- the point being that Peyton's career would be "hammered," without a Super Bowl win. One of the participants in the discussion was Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin. In the course of the discussion, Irvin was heard to say that he would have to go on record as saying that he believed that Eli Manning is a better quarterback than his brother Peyton. The rationale -- Eli has two Super Bowl rings to Peyton's one. Our member's incredulous response was to assert that Eli is not even in the same discussion as Peyton -- that you cannot evaluate a player's career based on what amounts to a single game.

What our group found intriguing about Irvin's declaration is the implications of the logic that "The ring is the thing" to be used as the primary criteria for evaluating the success or failure of a quarterback's career. There are several implications which bear noting.

Implication the First: Eli has two rings, therefore he is to be considered equivalent to Hall of Fame quarterbacks Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese and John Elway -- each of whom has two Super Bowl rings. He is also to be considered on the same level as pre-Super Bowl Hall of Fame quarterbacks Sammy Baugh, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield (two NFL championships each) and George Blanda (two AFL championships).

Implication the Second: Eli has two rings, therefore he be considered better than Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Namath, Len Dawson and Steve Young -- each of whom has just one Super Bowl ring. He is also to be considered better than pre-Super Bowl Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dutch Clark and John Driscoll (one NFL championship apiece).

Implication the Third: Eli has two rings, therefore he is to be considered better than retired quarterback Brett Favre (one ring).

Implication the Fourth: Eli has two rings, therefore he is to be considered better than active quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers (one ring each).

Implication the Fifth: Eli has two rings, therefore he is to be considered far better than Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Warren Moon and Fran Tarkenton -- none of whom have a Super Bowl ring. He is also to be considered far better than pre-Super Bowl Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jimmy Conzelman, Benny Friedman, Ace Parker and Y. A. Tittle -- none of whom ever won a championship.

Implication the Sixth: Eli has two rings in the past nine Super Bowls. So does Ben Roethlisberger. The two of them, therefore, must be considered better than Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady who each only have one ring in the same period.

We think you get the point. This raises the challenge, "Is the ring the thing" when evaluating NFL quarterbacks? In other words, should the primary criteria be the number of Super Bowl rings earned? If the answer is yes, then Peyton Manning, as things stand now, is no better than Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien, Jeff Hostetler . . . well again, you get the point.

The major issue here, in the opinion of the Water Cooler Quarterbacks is the question how can you effectively compare quarterbacks? How can you accurately assess the performance of one player in a sport that requires a minimum of ten other players all doing their jobs effectively in order for the quarterback to do his own? That does not even consider the question of the contributions of the defense and special teams to the success of the player in question. If a quarterback is always playing from behind, for example, his statistics will most likely be skewed somewhat.

So, if Super Bowl rings, by themselves, are an inadequate indicator of the quality of a quarterback's career -- remember, this whole discussion was initiated by the statement that Eli is better than Peyton based on Super Bowl rings -- what criteria should be used?

There are currently seven statistics/criteria that are often used when discussing the relative quality of a quarterback: Wins, Completion Percentage, Yards, Passing Touchdowns, Interceptions, Quarterback Rating, and the relatively new ESPN Total Quarterback Rating. What we did was we looked at each of those categories during the nine full seasons that Eli has been a starting quarterback (he is currently in his tenth season), that is we limited our look at the seasons from 2004-2012. We applied a standard bell curve to the thirty-two starting quarterbacks from each season. In a bell curve, the top performers would be the top 2%. However, that would mean looking at a single player each time (2% of 32 is 0.64). So, we decided to add in the next segment of the bell curve which meant we would be looking at those players who managed to be in the top 16%. In other words, we wanted to know which quarterbacks were the Top 5 performers in each of the seven categories mentioned above. What we found was this:

In terms of Wins in a Season -- in the nine seasons (2004-2012), twenty-four different quarterbacks made it into the Top 5 of Wins in a Season. Out of that group, Peyton Manning made the list seven times. Tom Brady was there six times. Phillip Rivers made it four times. Aaron Rodgers made it three times. There were seven quarterbacks (one of which was Eli Manning) who were tied with two appearances in the Top 5 list. It should be pointed out that Peyton did not play the 2011 season and Tom Brady missed the 2008 season. In other words, Peyton was in the Top 5 in Wins seven times while brother Eli had that distinction just twice.

In terms of Completion Percentage in a Season: in the nine seasons, twenty-three quarterbacks appeared in the Top 5 rankings in one or more seasons. Out of that group, Peyton Manning appeared seven times. Drew Brees appeared five times. Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Matt Schaub and Chad Pennington each appeared three times. Eli Manning never appeared in the Top 5 in this category.

In terms of Passing Yards in a Season: in the nine seasons, nineteen quarterbacks appeared in the Top 5 in this category. Drew Brees led the group with six Top 5 appearances. Tom Brady appeared five times. Peyton Manning appeared four times. Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre and Carson Palmer all appeared three times. Peyton had an edge of one more appearance than Eli.

In terms of Passing Touchdowns in a Season: in the nine seasons, twenty quarterbacks appeared in the Top 5. Peyton Manning led the way with eight appearances. Drew Brees made seven appearances. Tom Brady made the list six times. Aaron Rodgers appeared four times. Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Brett Favre, Carson Palmer and Jake Delhomme each made the list twice. Peyton has made the Top 5 in this category four times as many times as his brother -- despite not having played an entire season during this time.

In terms of Fewest Interceptions in a Season: in the nine seasons, thirty-three quarterbacks have made it into the Top 5 (thanks to a large number of ties). Tom Brady and Philip Rivers have had the most appearances in the Top 5 with four appearances apiece. Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning have each appeared three times. Tony Romo, Matt Cassel, Matt Ryan, David Garrard, Jason Campbell, Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb, Mark Brunell and Byron Leftwich all made two appearances in the Top 5. Eli has never appeared in the Top 5 of this category.

In terms of the NFL's Quarterback Rating: in the nine seasons, twenty-two quarterbacks have appeared in the Top 5. Peyton Manning leads the way with six appearances. Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger have each appeared five times. Aaron Rodgers has appeared four times. Tom Brady, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers have each appeared three times. Eli Manning has never appeared in the Top 5 in this category.

In terms of ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating (which only has data from 2006 to the present -- so only seven seasons): in the seven seasons, seventeen different quarterbacks have appeared in the Top 5. Peyton Manning has appeared in the Top 5 six times. Tom Brady has appeared five times. Matt Ryan has appeared four times. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tony Romo have each appeared three times. Eli has appeared just once in the Top 5.

As we looked at this, the football coach in our group insisted -- and the rest of us agreed with him -- that consistency is the most vital part of the evaluation process. Whatever criteria you are going to use -- and he was adamant that Super Bowl rings are an inadequate measure -- the quarterback should consistently be among the best. In the context of our discussion, the quarterback should regularly appear in the Top of the various categories used to rank quarterback performance.

Let's use our comparison of Peyton and Eli to illustrate the point. We are looking to see how consistent each of them was in appearing among the Top 5 performers in various categories. Our time span was the length of Eli's career, excluding the current season (2004-2012). The question, then, is how many times did each of them appear in the Top 5 in each of the categories listed above? Keep in mind, that Peyton missed one full season (2011).

Times in the Top 5

(2004-2012)

P Manning E Manning
Wins 7 2
Completion Percentage 7 0
Yards 4 3
Passing Touchdowns 8 2
Fewest Interceptions 3 1
Quarterback Rating 6 0
Total Quarterback Rating 6 1

We can see that Peyton was far more consistently appearing among the Top 5 players in the categories we examined. Another way to look at it was how they ranked among the top five players (remember that each category had between seventeen and thirty-three different quarterbacks appear in the Top 5 in one or more seasons) in each of the Top 5 categories.

Relative Ranking P Manning E Manning
Wins 1st DNQ
Completion Percentage 1st DNQ
Yards 3rd 4th
Passing Touchdowns 1st 5th
Fewest Interceptions 2nd DNQ
Quarterback Rating 1st DNQ
Total Quarterback Rating 1st DNQ

DNQ = Did Not Qualify in Top 5

Now one question that was briefly raised above was the question of whether or not individual statistics have much significance in a sport that requires a minimum of twenty-four players to do their jobs exceedingly well -- eleven on the offensive unit, eleven on the defensive unit, a long snapper, a punter and a placekicker. So we decided to look at a few other things that are often associated with quarterback success: division titles, playoff appearances, conference championship game appearances, and Super Bowl appearances.

In terms of Division Titles: Peyton's teams have won their division titles seven of the nine seasons (2004-2012) -- keeping in mind, of course, that Peyton missed one season. Eli's team has won its division title three times in that same span.

In terms of Playoff Appearances: Peyton's teams have made it into the post season eight times during the nine year span (again, he did not play in 2011). Eli's team made it into the playoffs five times.

In terms of Conference Championship Game Appearances: Peyton and Eli have both made it their Conference Championship game twice during that period.

In terms of Super Bowl Appearances: Peyton and Eli have both made it into the Super Bowl twice.

Peyton has more consistently helped his team get into the playoffs in season after season -- he played in eight of the nine seasons under consideration and reached the post season each time. Eli, on the other hand, made it into the post season in just over half of the seasons of his career. One of our members pointed out that while Eli does, in fact, have the edge in the number of Super Bowl rings, he was also two circus catches (one by David Tyree who trapped the ball against his helmet in SB XLII and a tiptoe sideline catch by Mario Manningham in SB XLVI) and a dropped pass (Wes Welker in SB SLVI) from being 0-2 in the Super Bowl.

When all was said and done, the Water Cooler Quarterbacks agreed that, given his career thus far, Eli does not belong in the same discussion as the career of his brother Peyton.

We also agreed that Super Bowl rings, in and of themselves, do not adequately reflect the quality, the success (or failure) of a quarterback's career.

We were also not particularly enamored of the NFL's quarterback rating system nor ESPN's total quarterback rating system.

In fact, we were not particularly in agreement with the idea that -- in a sport as complex as football that has a minimum of twenty-two players on the field at any given time -- individual performance can be accurately evaluated in isolation from the performances of all of the other players involved.

Let us know what you think.

The Water Cooler Quarterbacks wish you a great week of football.

Go Broncos!!!!!!


For those interested in seeing the entire lists which we were using:


Wins:
2012 P Manning (13-3-0), M Ryan (13-3-0), T Brady (12-4-0), M Schaub (12-4-0), A Luck/R Wilson (11-5-0)
2011 A Rodgers (14-1-0), T Brady (13-3-0), D Brees (13-3-0), A. Smith (13-3-0), J Flacco (12-4-0)
2010 T Brady (14-2-0), M Ryan (13-3-0), J Flacco (12-4-0), D Brees/M Sanchez (11-5-0)
2009 P Manning (14-2-0), D Brees (13-2-0), P Rivers (13-3-0), B Favre (12-4-0), A Rodgers/T Romo (11-5-0)
2008 K Collins (12-3-0), B Roethlisberger/P Manning/E Manning/ J Delhomme (12-4-0)
2007 T Brady (16-0-0), P Manning/T Romo/A Rodgers (13-3-0), P Rivers (11-5-0)
2006 P Rivers (14-2-0), S McNair/R Grossman (13-3-0), T Brady/P Manning (12-4-0)
2005 P Manning (14-2-0), J Plummer/M Hasselbeck (13-3-0), C Palmer/E Manning/J Delhomme (11-5-0)
2004 T Brady (14-2-0), B Roethlisberger (13-0-0), D McNabb (13-2-0), P Manning (12-4-0), P Rivers/M Vick (11-4-0)

Completion Percentage
2012 M Ryan/P Manning (68.6), A Rodgers (67.2), R Griffin III/T Romo (65.6),
2011 D Brees (71.2), A Rodgers (68.3), T Romo (66.3), T Brady (65.6), M Stafford (63.5)
2010 D Brees (68.1), P Manning (66.3), P Rivers (66.0), T Brady (65.9), J Kitna (65.7)
2009 D Brees (70.6), P Manning (68.8), B Favre (68.4), M Schaub (67.9), B Roethlisberger (66.6)
2008 C Pennington (67.4), K Warner (67.1), P Manning (66.8), M Schaub (66.1), B Favre (65.7)
2007 T Brady (68.9), C Pennington (68.8), D Brees (67.5), B Favre (66.5), M Schaub (66.4)
2006 D Carr (68.3), T Romo (65.3), P Manning (65.0), C Pennington (64.5), D Brees (64.3)
2005 C Palmer (67.8), K Holcomb (67.4), P Manning (67.3), M Bulger (66.9), M Hasselbeck (65.5)
2004 B Griese (69.3), D Culpepper (69.2), P Manning (67.6), B Roethlisberger/T Green (66.4),

Yards
2012 D Brees (5177), M Stafford (4967), T Romo (4903), T Brady (4827), M Ryan (4719)
2011 D Brees (5476), T Brady (5235), M Stafford (5038), E Manning (4933), A Rodgers (4643)
2010 P Rivers (4710), P Manning (4700), D Brees (4620), M Schaub (4370), E Manning (4002)
2009 M Schaub (4770), P Manning (4500), T Romo (4483), A Rodgers (4434), T Brady (4398)
2008 D Brees (5069), K Warner (4583), J Cutler (4526), A Rodgers (4038), P Rivers (4009)
2007 T Brady (4806), D Brees (4423), T Romo (4211), B Favre (4155), C Palmer (4131)
2006 D Brees (4418), P Manning (4397), M Bulger (4301), J Kitna (4208), C Palmer (4035)
2005 T Brady (4110), T Green (4014), B Favre (3881), C Palmer (3836), E Manning (3762)
2004 D Culpepper (4717), T Green (4591), P Manning (4557), J Plummer (4089), B Favre (4088)

Touchdowns
2012 D Brees (43), A Rodgers (39), P Manning (37), T Brady (34), M Ryan (32)
2011 D Brees (46), A Rodgers (45), M Stafford (41), T Brady (39), T Romo (31)
2010 T Brady (36), P Manning/D Brees (33), E Manning (31), P Rivers (30)
2009 D Brees (34), B Favre/P Manning (33), A Rodgers (30), M Schaub (29)
2008 D Brees/P Rivers (34), K Warner (30), A Rodgers (28), P Manning (27)
2007 T Brady (50), T Romo (36), B Roethlisberger (32), P Manning (31), D Anderson (29)
2006 P Manning (31), C Palmer (28), D Brees (26), M Bulger/T Brady (24)
2005 C Palmer (32), P Manning (28), T Brady (26), M Hasselbeck/J Delhomme/D Brees/E Manning (24)
2004 P Manning (49), D Culpepper (39), D McNabb (31), B Favre (30), J Delhomme (29)

Interceptions (fewest)
2012 A Rodgers/C Kaepernick/R Griffin III (8), T Brady (9), R Wilson (10)
2011 A Smith (5), A Rodgers (8), M Schaub (9), S Bradford (10), J Flacco/T Romo/T Brady (12)
2010 T Brady (5), J Freeman (6), M Cassel (8), M Ryan/B Roethlisberger (9)
2009 B Favre (7), A Rodgers (8), T Romo (9), D Garrard/P Rivers (10)
2008 J Campbell (6), C Pennington (7), K Collins (9), E Manning (10), M Ryan/M Cassel/J Russell/P Rivers (11)
2007 D Garrard/J Garcia (8), T Brady (9), J Campbell (11), M Hasselbeck (13)
2006 M Bulger (8), P Manning/D McNabb/P Rivers (9), M Brunell (10)
2005 B Leftwich (6), J Plummer (7), T Green/M Hasselbeck (10), P Manning/M Brunell (11)
2004 P Rivers (8), P Manning (10), K Boller/B Leftwich/K Warner/D McNabb (11)

Quarterback Rating
2012 A Rodgers (108.0), P Manning (105.8), R Griffin III (102.4), R Wilson (100.0), M Ryan (99.1)
2011 A Rodgers (122.5), D Brees (110.6), T Brady (105.6), T Romo (102.5), M Stafford (97.2)
2010 T Brady (111.0), P Rivers (101.8), A Rodgers (101.2), M Vick (100.2), B Roethlisberger (97.0)
2009 D Brees (109.6), B Favre (107.2), P Rivers (104.4), A Rodgers (103.2), B Roethlisberger (100.5)
2008 P Rivers (105.5), C Pennington (97.4), K Warner (96.9), D Brees (96.2) P Manning (95.0)
2007 T Brady (117.2), B Roethlisberger (104.1), D Garrard (102.2), P Manning (98.0), T Romo (97.4)
2006 P Manning (101.0), D Huard (98.0), D Brees (96.2), D McNabb (95.5), T Romo (95.1)
2005 P Manning (104.1), C Palmer (101.1), B Roethlisberger (98.6), M Hasselbeck (98.2), M Bulger (94.4)
2004 P Manning (121.1), D Culpepper (110.9), D Brees (104.8), D McNabb (104.7), B Roethlisberger (98.1)

ESPN Total Quarterback Rating (only tracks from 2006 to present)
2012 P Manning (82.4), T Brady (77.7), M Ryan (74.8), A Rodgers (74.7), R Griffin III (73.2)
2011 A Rodgers (87.1), D Brees (83.0), T Brady (73.0), M Ryan (69.9), T Romo (69.5)
2010 T Brady (77.0), P Manning (71.7), A Rodgers (70.7), M Ryan (70.6), E Manning (69.0)
2009 P Manning (82.8), D Brees (80.4), P Rivers (78.2), M Schaub (72.6), B Favre (71.9)
2008 P Manning (79.3), M Ryan (73.6), C Pennington (72.6), J Cutler (72.1), K Warner (69.9)
2007 T Brady (87.1), P Manning (78.4), D Garrard (76.7), B Roethlisberger (72.2), T Romo (71.2)
2006 P Manning (87.2), T Romo (68.5), D Brees (67.0), T Brady (62.4), C Palmer (62.0)

Division Titles
Peyton 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004
Eli 2011, 2008, 2005

Playoff Appearances
Peyton 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004
Eli 2011, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Conference Championship Appearances
Peyton 2009, 2006
Eli 2011, 2007

Super Bowl Appearances
Peyton 2009, 2006
Eli 2011, 2007

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