Peyton Manning had an amazing NFL career, and Tom Brady has had an amazing career in the league to date. There are plenty of pundits willing to debate their individual accomplishments, and plenty of areas they can be compared, with Manning leading in career completion percentage (65.3 to 64.2 percent) and yards per attempt (7.7 to 7.5), but Brady ahead in touchdowns to interceptions (624 to 203 versus 539 to 251) and Super Bowl wins (seven to two). One player-turned-pundit who’s faced both has a distinct preference for going against Brady rather than Manning, though; that would be ESPN analyst Bart Scott, who discussed this with Alan Hahn on their ESPN Radio show Thursday:
.@BartScott57 talks about the difference between playing Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning:
"I'd rather play against Tom Brady every day of the week than go against Peyton Manning!" pic.twitter.com/aq2ZVE3JuZ
— ESPN Radio (@ESPNRadio) June 16, 2022
Here’s some of what Scott says there, spotlighting Manning’s ability to read defenses and play mind games with his own verbal signals:
“For me, I’d much rather go against Tom Brady every day of the week than go against Peyton Manning. I believe that’s how everybody feels. …In the heyday, you’d never have anyone say ‘I’m so afraid of Tom Brady.’ …Peyton Manning gives you a total sense of, a different set of anxiety. Like, you have anxiety. You sleep at night like ‘Damn, I do not want to be the tip, I do not want to be the fish…you don’t want to be the guy that he’s like, ‘Ahahaha, I see you, Bart! This is a fire zone from the left side because Bart is cheating to his blitz! Ahahaha!'”
“With Tom Brady, it was more about Bill Belichick, the entire team, the execution, them having a game plan. With Peyton Manning, literally, he’s yelling something in the first quarter, it meant something totally different in the second quarter…like ‘Damn, Peyton, what happened? You ain’t doing what you supposed to!’ ‘It’s something different, Bart!’ Like, man, my head hurts, you’re feeling like you have to go take a SAT!”
This is an interesting discussion from Scott because it goes well beyond the clichés of “clutch presence” and even the basic statistical analysis to talk about the literal experience of playing against both Brady and Manning. And Scott has significant experience against both of them; Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk notes that Scott faced Manning five times in the regular season and three times in the playoffs, and faced Brady 10 times in the regular season and once in the playoffs.
However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into “Peyton Manning was definitively a better quarterback than Tom Brady.” Much of what Scott is talking about here is specific reads and specific revelation of those reads from Manning, plus Manning’s own deception games on offense. Those can certainly make life hard for defensive players both before and during games, and Manning has definitely been more vocal about specific reads than Brady has. But Brady has found an incredible amount of success against a lot of different defenses himself, even if he might not taunt them as much. And, yes, football is a team sport where offensive scheme and talent also come into any player’s success, as Scott notes, but Brady’s found significant success outside of New England the past couple years.
Scott certainly isn’t wrong to have a preference on which quarterback he’d rather face. And his discussion of this is interesting, revealing some of the things that defensive players consider both ahead of and during games when facing opposing quarterbacks. But ultimately, his preference is his preference; he can’t speak for every defensive player, and even a majority of defensive players’ preferences wouldn’t be necessarily determinative of greatness (see the silliness the “most feared hitter” discussion has led to in baseball). It is definitely notable to have Scott’s preference on the record, though.