There are all sorts of ways to hash it out. Personal stats. Championships. Supporting casts. Sketch comedy.
All of it comes into play when debating Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the greatest quarterbacks of this generation. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and AFC East blogger Tim Graham could have made their exchange a little more interesting by backing the superduperstar from the opposite division, but each is genuine in his belief that one is better than the other.
Paul Kuharsky: When we did our all-decade team in June, I didn't bemoan the selection of Tom Brady as the quarterback. Brady's three rings and four Super Bowl appearances to Peyton Manning's one ring and one appearance broke any sort of tie. But I'll admit some of the debate it sparked out of Indianapolis prompted me to think more about the Brady-Manning debate. I made an argument for Manning as the all-decade MVP, as he has outpointed Brady in MVP awards, 3-1.
You can't go wrong with either. And I think, barring diehards on either side, that's accepted pretty universally.
I remain staunch in one belief: I don't think the strength or weakness of the supporting cast should be a huge factor. Still, on Manning's side of this debate right now, it has to be noted that he has an unimpressive rushing attack. People know he's going to throw it, and he's still been able to pick apart defenses with perfectly placed passes. Watching him closely through the first half of this season, it's his consistent precision that has led me to think he may be the better quarterback and that as career-defining as championships may be, postseason performance doesn't have to be the gavel that ends these conversations. Besides, he's not finished yet.
Tim Graham: You don't get to make the rules, slick. If I want to consider the supporting cast, then that's what I'm going to do. But I'll be quick about it because I hear where you're coming from. Brady's running back for the first two Super Bowls was Antowain Smith. His top receiver each year they won it all was Troy Brown, Deion Branch and David Givens. Not awful, but not Marvin Harrison either.
How many future Hall of Famers played on all three Patriots championship teams? I count one for sure: Brady. Maybe Adam Vinatieri or Richard Seymour gets in, but I've written about that before, and I can sense the readers' eyes are starting to cross as they fight through this material again. Brady won Super Bowls with good team players around him, but no stars to generate the type of stats Manning delivers. Yet when Brady got Randy Moss and Wes Welker to play with, the Patriots' offense broke records.
PK: Broke records, yes. Won the big one, no. So there goes the theory that if you have a great supporting cast, you should win it. Last time the Pats won it, Moss was still a Viking and Welker was with the Dolphins. Again, I'm a big Brady fan and love his body of work. He's done what was needed to win a lot of playoff games, and Manning hasn't matched him there. But the perception is Brady lights it up in the postseason and Manning chokes.
Yet in roughly the same number of games, Manning averages about 50 more passing yards and they are virtually identical from there: 1.5 touchdown passes a game, between 0.7 and 0.8 interceptions per game and completion percentages right around 62. Brady edges Manning in postseason passer rating by the whopping margin of 88.0 to 85.0.
I don't want to make it all about numbers, but looking at per-game averages in the regular season, Manning has the edge in yards (261.8 to 238.1) and touchdown passes (1.89 to 1.76), with Brady ahead only in interceptions (.75 to .92). Manning also has a higher regular-season completion percentage (64.7 to 63.2) and passer rating (95.3 to 93.4).
TG: Oy. So Manning wins one Super Bowl, yet Brady doesn't get credit for a great 2007 because he went 18-1 and didn't get a fourth ring? Thirty franchises wish they'd failed so miserably that year.
For me, it comes down to postseason excellence. Some players are able to handle the klieg lights better than others, and Brady might be the greatest big-stage quarterback of all time. Manning doesn't choke in the playoffs, and whoever claims that is foolish. His playoff record is almost .500, appropriate given that he's playing against the best teams in the league. As competitive as the NFL postseason is, that's nothing to be ashamed of. But that makes Brady's playoff record all the more astounding. Brady is 14-3, a winning percentage of .824 against top-shelf opposition.
Brady never has lost his first playoff game of any postseason, whether in the wild-card or the divisional round. He's clutch when it counts.
PK: Thirty franchises wish they failed as miserably as the team that made it to the Super Bowl and lost every year. And most of them wish they had Manning or Brady as their signal-caller. Manning regularly makes every conceivable throw, is putting the ball in spots as well as anyone ever has and has complete mastery of all the little nuances of quarterbacking. In terms of playing the position, nobody does it better right now.
Brady's knee injury last season was unfortunate and freakish, but too many conversations take place about tough quarterbacks without Manning as a central figure, and he's as durable as they come. He's on track to win a second MVP in a row and fourth overall, and he's hardly close to finished. Have we even seen him at his best yet?
We have on "Saturday Night Live." They're both good-humored, but I think Manning and his rocket arm get the edge when comparing their "SNL" appearances. That fake United Way commercial was just classic, and I read recently that when Manning banished the kid to the Port-a-John he was improvising. Brilliant stuff.
TG: I'll concede that United Way spoof was hilarious, maybe one of the top 25 bits "SNL" ever has done. And Manning has a definite edge when it comes to commercials. I've never seen somebody so theatrically versatile, from "Cut that meat!" to keeping the San Diego Chicken from mauling an electronics customer.
But Brady's acting résumé is pretty solid. He has pulled off the comedy trifecta of "SNL," "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy." He was on "Entourage" and appeared in the Farrelly Brothers film "Stuck on You."
But, as mentioned before, Brady's at his best when the world is watching him on the Super Bowl stage. When I think of the NFL's consummate leading man, it's Brady.
PK: Unless it's Manning.