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How has Peyton Manning performed against the NFL's best defenses?

We explore Peyton Manning's history against the NFL's best defense in any given season.

Jim McIsaac

Updated 3:16 p.m. MT with a note about one 2009 Jets game.

Peyton Manning has played a lot of football. He's played a lot of good football against a lot of good teams. It only follows, I thought, that he's probably played against the NFL's best defenses a few times, for any given season.

As Manning and the Denver Broncos prepare to face this year's version of the NFL's best defense - the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs - I thought it worthwhile to look at how Manning has performed against the NFL's best defenses in the past. I looked at the top-rated defense each year in Peyton Manning's 14-year career, then checked to see if Manning played against that defense that year. Then I noted how he performed and whether his team won.

The results are encouraging... if you're Peyton Manning of late, or a Denver Broncos fan. If you're an NFL season's best defense - ahem Kansas City - you're wishing you were facing the Peyton Manning in the first half of his career.

Update- One commenter astutely points out that Manning did not participate in the entire game against the Jets (his one loss in the last seven seasons) - in fact he only played a quarter. So if we were to take that game out, he would be 4-4 - perfect since 2006, winless before that. I'll leave the table as-is however.

Year Opp Avg. pts allowed Result Yds TDs INTs Rat
2012 Steelers* 19.6 W 31-19 253 2 0 129.2
2009 Jets 14.8 W 30-17** 377 3 0 123.6
2009 Jets 14.8 L 15-29*** 192 0 0 95.7
2008 Steelers 13.9 W 24-20 240 3 0 95.8
2006 Ravens 12.6 W 15-6** 170 0 2 39.6
2003 Patriots 14.9 L 34-38 278 4 1 95.7
2002 Dolphins 18.8 L 13-21 289 1 3 56.6
1998 Dolphins 16.6 L 15-24 276 1 2 47.7
1998 Dolphins 16.6 L 14-27 302 1 3 58.6
*Manning's team was actually top-ranked defense, so 2nd ranked team was used. **Playoff game. ***Manning didn't finish game.

Overall: Manning teams are 4-5. He has thrown 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Not a bad day at the office, but not Peyton's best day at the office for certain.

Now let's look at the first half vs. the second half of his career.

Since 2005: Manning teams are 4-1. Manning has thrown eight touchdowns to only two interceptions in that span. Note again that in 2009, Manning didn't play the whole Jets game; he was effectively 4-0.

Before 2005: Manning is 0-4. Manning threw seven touchdowns to a whopping nine interceptions against elite defenses in those early days.

Some notes:

  • Points allowed were used to define "top defense" following an impromptu Twitter poll Monday night.
  • Manning teams actually finished as the NFL's best defense three times in his career: in 2012, 2007, and 2005. 2012 was the only year Manning happened to face that 2nd-best team.
  • Manning's worst performance against a top defense was in the 2006 playoffs against the Ravens, but the Colts won anyway; Manning and company went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
  • In fact, Manning hasn't thrown an interception against a season's top-ranked defense since 2006.
  • The Chiefs allow 12.3 points per game - the best scoring defense Manning has ever faced, according to this chart. But that average is against a nine-game sample, not a 16-game sample; we'll know how the 2013 Chiefs compare to the other teams on this list once they've completed their 16 regular season games.

There isn't enough data to guarantee Manning will win or lose, or even that he'll perform well. The upward trend, however, suggests that Manning should play well against the Kansas City Chiefs, and win.