Good games, weird data

The highest highs and oddest lows of Peyton Manning

The highest highs and oddest lows of Peyton Manning

In researching the Fitzmagic score, I knew I was on to something when I saw some results I didn’t expect. Intuitively, you think of the imperfect young quarterbacks in bad situations like Geno Smith, the journeymen flashing glory like Nick Foles, or the colossal busts gamely tossing one good game out in a sea of trash like JaMarcus. Russell. Yet, we find Peyton Manning, a verified Hall of Famer, solidly in our top five.

Manning sits somewhere in the millennial quarterback rankings between Brady, Brees, and Rodgers, a tactician turned Nationwide hawker who flapped his arms and audibled into glory every Sunday. He’s turned into memes, performed admirably as a self-deprecatory SNL and ESPY host, and ended his career with nearly every meaningful passing record (until Brees torched all of them and inspired this amazing congratulations video). 

odds and ends of the Manning dynasty

We remember Manning the record breaker, the Super Bowl champion, and the nerdy foil to Brady’s sneering, Gastonian reign of dominance. Yet, as the Fitzmagic score shows, there’s a bit more volatility to the Manning oeuvre than his contemporaries. Let’s turn back to our dataset and look a bit further into why we’re showing Eli’s older brother at the top of the list. A quick reminder: we sliced together game logs from 2008 to 9/23/18 to focus on modern offenses, so we’ll miss some of Peyton’s early struggles (especially his tumultuous rookie season). Peyton’s distribution of passer ratings in the last ten years has a strange little sliver on the wrong end of the graph, quite different than his analogues Brees or Brady.

All three have the peak of the histogram above 100, but Peyton’s definitely got some dips and valleys to his distributions. It’s also a bit jarring to see the differences in their later seasons. Look at the season passer ratings for their age 36 – 39 seasons: what’s scariest is that we’ve got two more Brady seasons with only a very slight decline. Father time is no match for the Alex Guerrero homeopathy, apparently.

It’s in that dip toward the end that powers our Fitzmagic score for Peyton and deserves a closer look.

Peyton’s game logs

THE LOW: Broncos v Chiefs, November 15, 2015


5 out of 20 for 35 yards

Four interceptions

0.0 passer rating

Benched for Brock Osweiler

I could have ended this at Benched for Brock Osweiler. Fighting through an apparent injury, Manning had the worst game of his career against a key divisional rival. His 1.75 YA meant that he’d need nearly six downs to get ten yards this game. He completed five times to the Broncos and four times to the Chiefs. The best part of this game? It fell in a season where the Broncos started a 39 year old Manning nine times, Brock Osweiler 7 times, and still ended the year winning the Super Bowl. Thank god for Von Miller, huh?

THE SECOND LOW: Colts v Packers, October 19, 2008


21 out of 42 for 229 yards

Two interceptions

46.6 passer rating

To be fair to Peyton’s injury in the 0.0 game, we’ll include the second worst game in this dataset, a 34-14 blowout at Green Bay to the eventual 6-10 Packers and first-year starter Aaron Rodgers. Both of Manning’s interceptions got returned for touchdowns–we call that a Matt Schaub in these parts. He failed to get anything going all game against an underdog Packers defense. This game embodied the oddity of the AFC in 2008.

In it, the Colts would go 12-4 and come in second to the Titans. Hell, the Dolphins would win the AFC East. This year also was the last time the Patriots missed the playoffs or didn’t win the AFC East; for those at home, that’s ten straight years of uninterrupted dominance.

Peyton may have had a high floor, but that hardwood had a couple spots where you could fall all the way to the basement if you weren’t careful. His ceiling, though? 


THE HIGH: Broncos v 49ers, October 19, 2014


22 out of 26 for 318 yards

Four touchdowns

Zero interceptions

157.2  passer rating

Editor’s note: Peyton actually had four perfect games in his career, in 2000, 2002, 2003, and a pre-playoffs scrimmage in 2008 against the Titans (where he only attempted seven passes). In our dataset, we’ve got this great example to showcase the glory of Peyton.

I’ll always remember Peyton’s 2013 season as his John Wick year, a peerless assassin that guaranteed 300 yards and three touchdowns without blinking. He ended the season with 55 touchdowns, 10 picks, and an average passer rating of 115.1; for my fellow fantasy addicts, he was a season-destroying QB1 with a bullet. After a brutal loss in the Super Bowl to the Seahawks, the world expected a rebound year for Peyton. He didn’t disappoint: his numbers slipped slightly, but the Broncos still posted a 12-4 record and a division title.

This game showcased every bit of glory in the Manning era at Denver. He had the same number of incompletions as touchdowns. Oh, and he broke the all-time passing touchdown record doing it. 

The man could slip,, but if you caught him on the right day, he could drop a perfect game on you like nobody else. He’s the peak of Fitzmagician might.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

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Jamie Larson