Commentary

Who's the better Manning?

Our experts judge Eli and Peyton against each other on their quarterbacking skills

Originally Published: September 13, 2013
By ESPN.com staff

Of the hundreds of siblings in the history of pro football, there is little doubt that the brothers Manning are the greatest of them all.

After all, there were 348 sets of brothers to play professionally through the 2012 season, as documented by the Pro Football Hall of Fame ... but no two players from the same family have been enshrined in Canton.

Yet.

Peyton Manning is a mortal lock to become a Hall of Famer. He ranks second only to Brett Favre in career completions and passing touchdowns. He ranks No. 3 in career passing yards, behind Favre and Dan Marino, and he's likely to pass Marino this season. He's a four-time NFL MVP. He led the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl XLI championship. We could go on and on and on.

Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP and three-time Pro Bowler. In this, just his 10th pro season, he will very possibly crack the top 20 in career passing yards, touchdowns and completions. At age 31, he has plenty of time to pile up enough statistics to earn entry to the Hall of Fame. Another Super Bowl victory would virtually guarantee enshrinement as well.

To make a short story long, when Peyton's Denver Broncos face Eli's New York Giants on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, it will be a highly extraordinary occurrence.

Two brothers, very possibly future Hall of Famers, will be playing opposite each other at the peaks of their abilities in what has an outside chance to be -- gasp -- a preview of Super Bowl XLVIII … which coincidentally will also be contested at MetLife Stadium.

Head-to-head, Peyton has gotten the best of Eli, winning both previous matchups.

So as we consider whether Eli can turn the tables this time around, we tapped five ESPN experts to compare and contrast the brothers in the largest context possible.


Our panel:

John Clayton: ESPN senior writer; member of writers' wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Gary Horton: ESPN analyst; longtime NFL scout and college football coach.

KC Joyner: ESPN Insider; author and football analytics expert.

Mike Sando: ESPN Insider; longtime NFL writer; member of Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

Matt Williamson: ESPN Insider; former Cleveland Browns scout.


Without further ado, we present the ultimate Peyton-Eli comparison …



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EDGE, ELI (4-1): Eli is the answer here. He has much better arm strength and is very willing to sit in the pocket, take a big hit and deliver the football deep downfield. He is oblivious to blind-side pressure and has vastly underrated physical and mental toughness, which is instrumental in delivering the deep ball season after season. Eli is especially adept at hitting slot receiver Victor Cruz on the deep-middle seam route, which can be very difficult for opponents to defend. Peyton's arm strength has waned considerably, but he was never a true power thrower, even in his early years. Yet, in his prime as a passer, we all remember him hitting Marvin Harrison on the deep ball time and time again. Like Eli, Peyton will sit in the pocket to make a throw, but he is also better at buying time because his feel for the pass rush (especially up the middle) and his pocket footwork are just so exceptional. But Peyton needs to load up to drive the ball downfield much more than Eli does. That being said, Peyton was dead-on when throwing deep in Week 1 against the Ravens. But Eli is the choice here. -- Williamson

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Joyner); Eli (Clayton, Horton, Sando, Williamson)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, PEYTON (5-0): This one is easy. Peyton is unbelievably accurate and might have better ball location than any quarterback in the game today. His timing and anticipation are off the charts, and he can drop the ball exactly where it needs to be for his target  not only to secure it but to make a big play after the catch. This has been even more apparent in Denver than during Peyton's time with the Colts. He is ultra-precise with his slot options, Brandon Stokley and now Wes Welker, hitting them quickly in stride without luring them into huge hits from opposing linebackers in the middle of the field. But he now also has an outstanding and powerful run-after-the-catch player, Demaryius Thomas, who gets the ball from Manning in the proper position to make big plays. Eli is far more inconsistent. When hot, he can make accurate throws one after another, but Eli has had far too many moments when you are left scratching your head as he flat out misses open targets. -- Williamson

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Clayton, Horton, Sando, Williamson, Joyner)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, ELI (3-2): I know Eli has two Super Bowl rings to Peyton's one, so I can understand the votes for the younger Manning, but I still would take Peyton if I needed to win a playoff game. He's been in too many big games in the regular season and the postseason, and I wouldn't bet against him. In many ways, his career mirrors that of John Elway, his boss in Denver. Elway took all the heat for not winning Super Bowls until his final two seasons in the league. Could Peyton be going on the same path? It's possible. The Broncos are my pick for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and they sure looked the part in the opener against Baltimore. Because of his presence, Peyton is usually a lock to be in the playoffs, so the expectations are always high. In Eli's two Super Bowl seasons, he and the Giants sneaked up on teams and got hot at the right time. I'll take Peyton. -- Clayton

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Clayton, Horton); Eli (Sando, Williamson, Joyner)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, ELI (3-2): While the overall vote goes to Eli, how can I go against the all-time leader in fourth-quarter comebacks? Peyton has 38; Eli has 24. Peyton has been on a bunch of teams with suspect defenses and has been forced to make miracle finishes. He is a master at it. In many ways, he set the stage for the way the game is played in 2013. Peyton moved the game into three-receiver sets, shotgun and no-huddle because he has been so good with it. He has the best feel for those last-minute drives. He knows that it's important to make most plays positive. He's not afraid to call a quick run and then fire a pass to the sideline that makes it easy for the receiver to get out of bounds. Go with the leader when you want that last-second drive. -- Clayton

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Clayton, Horton); Eli (Sando, Williamson, Joyner)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, PEYTON (5-0): Of course he isn't the new-age running quarterback who can beat a defense with his feet, but Peyton is still unbelievably difficult to game plan for despite being "one-dimensional." He knows as much about your defense as you do, and if he doesn't when the game starts, he will by halftime -- ask the Ravens. His mind for the game surpasses any that I have witnessed. There is no right answer in defending him, because every defense known to man has some weakness, and Peyton knows every weakness. Not only that, he is outstanding at getting his teammates into the proper play call to exploit the weakness. Peyton doesn't use much pre-snap motion or a wide variety of formations and personnel groupings. Instead, at the line of scrimmage his mind goes to work on a defense that often remains static and therefore is more able to be diagnosed and manipulated. Then it is all about execution with familiar plays that he has practiced with his teammates countless times like few quarterbacks in history. He doesn't lock onto one receiver, and his favorite receiver is the open man, no matter who that might be on any given play. Eli has consistently improved in this regard and is also one of the toughest quarterbacks to game plan for right now. He, too, is outstanding at the line of scrimmage and at finding the opponent's weaknesses, but Peyton is off the charts in this department. -- Williamson

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Clayton, Horton, Sando, Williamson, Joyner)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, PEYTON (5-0): Peyton is a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer. Eli might need one more trip to a Super Bowl to get over the top and into the Hall of Fame. But football isn't all about Super Bowls. Peyton was a game-changer and opened the door to the passing game that helped the league thrive. Were it not for Peyton Manning, his no-huddle offense and his play out of the shotgun, the NFL might be more of a running league than a passing league. He entered the game in 1998, when the quarterbacks were either getting too old or weren't all that good. Teams could send QBs to the World League and have them come back as starters. Peyton pushed the game toward passing with his play, just like Johnny Unitas taught the football world you can win football games through the air. -- Clayton

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Clayton, Horton, Sando, Williamson, Joyner)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, ELI (4-1): Peyton does not have a strong arm. In fact, I was rather unimpressed with it last week against Baltimore. I also believed that Peyton really struggled to deliver the football in Denver's elimination playoff loss to the Ravens last season in harsh conditions. Considering the environment that the Broncos play in late in the season and perhaps well into the playoffs (and maybe this season for the Super Bowl), Peyton's inability to drive the ball through brutal conditions on "arm-strength throws" is a major concern when games matter most. Still, his mind is so unbelievably sharp and he is so very difficult to game plan for that he more than makes up for this deficiency the vast majority of the time. And my hunch is his arm will look better as the season goes along; we can't forget that he is not all that far removed from his neck surgeries and extensive rehabilitation. Plus, he did throw the ball much better in the second half of the Broncos' huge win in Week 1, and no one else makes those around him better the way Peyton does. As for Eli, he has an above-average arm but does not possess the arm strength of someone like Jay Cutler or Joe Flacco. Eli has more than enough in this area, however, and, as we have seen in his Super Bowls, has the throwing power to deliver the ball even when his feet are not set or his environment is suboptimal. He is also tough as nails, which allows him to wait for his man to get open and deliver the ball while taking a big shot. Eli's arm strength is highly functional but doesn't wow the average fan. Younger brother wins this category hands down. -- Williamson

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Joyner); Eli (Clayton, Horton, Sando, Williamson)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, PEYTON (4-1): Even though I disagreed with Tiki Barber's claim that Eli wasn't a great leader, you've never heard any such talk about Peyton. He's the supreme leader. In Indianapolis, if a player wanted to move his locker, he didn't ask management. He had to go through Peyton or it wouldn't happen. Peyton shows his leadership on every play. He directs players with his hands and his voice at the line of scrimmage. He makes players accountable for their mistakes. You could say Peyton is to offensive leadership what Ray Lewis was to defensive leadership. -- Clayton

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Clayton, Horton, Sando, Williamson); Eli (Joyner)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, PEYTON (4-1): Both Eli and Peyton rank high on the intelligence scale, but I'll give the slight nod to Peyton. Both quarterbacks run an intelligent game on the field, but I like the way Peyton helps promote the game with his knowledge of NFL history and quarterback play. Eli is quiet and respectful. Growing up with an older brother such as Peyton might be one of the reasons. Since college, Peyton has been the main spokesman for his team, and he does it well. When you talk to him, he asks as many questions as the interviewer because he constantly wants to talk football and learn about current affairs in the league. -- Clayton

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Clayton, Horton, Williamson, Joyner); Eli (Sando)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?


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EDGE, PEYTON (3-2): This is a tough thing to comment on, but no player in the league makes those around him better than the older Manning brother does. His knowledge of the game on both sides of the ball is extremely impressive. His work ethic and dedication to the game (remember, coaches spend countless hours at the office) is also outstanding. Peyton seems to instruct his teammates very well and has total command of his team, but who knows what sort of coach he would truly be? Many star athletes have tried coaching and couldn't understand why lesser players could not just do great things. But Peyton's greatest attributes are mental rather than physical, so I think he would make the transition well if he tried it. -- Williamson

•  HOW THEY VOTED: Peyton (Clayton, Horton, Williamson); Eli (Sando, Joyner)
•  YOUR VOTE: Peyton or Eli?

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