MVP Ghosts Haunt Peyton Manning’s Playoff Soul

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 07, 2014



Denver's playoff hopes may rest on this 1980s paranormal power trio.

Sad but true: Denver Broncos dreams after Peyton Manning's record-setting 2013 season may rest on forces more powerful than you and we: it may rest on the shoulders of 1980s paranormal power trio Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, and their ability to bust the spirits that haunt Manning's playoff soul. Untrue fact: "Ghostbusters" was released about the last time Manning won a playoff game.

By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Gridiron Ghostbuster (@footballfacts)

Peyton Manning is fresh off what might have been the greatest season by any quarterback in NFL history. But there are ghosts of underachievement and misperformance chained to his playoff soul.

There are two types of football fans out there: those who see the ghosts with their shackles of Cold, Hard Football Facts linked to Manning's legacy; and those who foolishly deny their Earthly form.

The 2013 postseason brings their existence to the forefront again.

Manning threw a gaudy 55 touchdown passes to shatter Tom Brady’s 2007 record (50), and connected for 5,477 yards through the air, also an NFL record.

His 13-3 Denver Broncos scored a record 606 points, the first 600-point team in NFL history, and enjoy the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Manning is all but guaranteed a fifth NFL Most Valuable Player award. No other performer in history has earned that honor more than three times.

And none of it will matter – yet again – if Manning’s Broncos fail to win the Super Bowl; or, worse, if they’re bounced again from the postseason without a single victory.

Manning, more than any other player in the 2013 postseason field, faces the pressure of unmet expectations past and lofty expectations present.

The seven other teams in the playoffs can fall short of winning it all and still look back on a successful season.

Not the Denver Broncos.

At issue, of course, is Manning’s incredible regular-season production paired with a legacy of postseason mediocrity.

  • Manning’s teams have won games at an awesome .696 clip (167-73) in the regular season.
  • Manning’s teams have won games at a Marino-esquire .450 clip (9-11) in the postseason.

Most notably, eight of Manning’s 12 playoff appearances have ended without a single victory, easily a record for one-and-done postseason appearances, including four of his last five and each of the last two.

He's not enjoyed a playoff victory since the 2009 AFC title game.

Four of the seven other remaining playoff quarterbacks were still in college the last time Manning won a playoff game (Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton).

Six of the seven other remaining playoff quarrterbacks have enjoyed a postseasoon victory since Manning's last. Newton, who plays in his first postseason game Sunday, is the only exception.

That history of coming up short in the biggest games of the year hangs around the neck of Manning’s legacy like a rusty anchor chain.

And the results of the wildcard round did not break Manning’s way.

  • Manning is 14-21 in his career against the three remaining AFC playoff teams: Patriots (7-14), Chargers (7-6) and Colts (0-1)
  • Manning is 19-1 in his career against the two AFC playoff contenders bounced in the wildcard round: Chiefs (11-1) and Bengals (8-0)
  • Manning is 1-4 in his postseason career against the Patriots (1-2) and Chargers (0-2).
  • Manning is 0-1 in the postseason against the lone remaining NFC team that he faced (Saints)
  • Manning's Broncos went 13-3 in 2013
  • Manning's Broncos went 1-3 in 2013 against the Chargers, Colts and Patriots

Manning’s teams are 5-4 in the postseason during his MVP years; they will fall to 5-5 in the postseason during his MVP years if the Broncos lose to the Chargers Sunday – a team that beat the Broncos in their last regular-season meeting, played in Denver on Dec. 12.

You can see Manning's record vs. every NFL team right here.

Folks can come up with excuses why Manning’s teams have fizzled year after year in the playoffs. But the real statistical reason is quite obvious: they lose because Manning and the offense come up short year after year.

Scoring by Manning Teams (regular season vs. postseason)

YearWLReg PPGPost PPGLoss PtsDiff. in Loss
19990126.416.016-10.4
20000126.817.017-9.8
20020121.80.00-21.8
20032127.927.714-13.9
20041132.626.03-29.6
20050127.418.018-9.4
20064026.726.3n/an/a
20070128.124.024-4.1
20080123.617.017-6.6
20092126.022.317-5.3
20100127.216.016-11.2
20120130.135.0354.9
 Total91127.0 20.416.1-10.9

* MVP seasons appear in italics (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009)

The numbers are fairly brutal and indisputable: 

Peyton Manning's teams lose in the playoffs because they can't score points! 

They scored an average of just 16.1 PPG in 11 playoff losses, nearly 11.0 PPG below their scoring average in the regular season.

In nine of 11 playoff losses, Manning's teams scored 18 points or less. Only once, in last year's loss to the Ravens, could you find a playoff game where Manning's team matched or exceeded its regular-season scoring average.

And even in that game, Manning hardly covered himself in glory: he threw a pick six that gave Baltimore an early 14-7 lead and his bad, Brett Favre-esque, across-the-body INT handed the Ravens their winning field goal opportunity in overtime.

Manning's Broncos also managed to lose a game in which they scored a pair of special teams touchdowns, a punt return and kick return, each by Trindon Holliday.

So the 35 points aren't even reflective of Manning's production that day. The offense scored only 21 points, much more consistent with his career postseason track record.

Eight quarterbacks remain standing in the 2013 NFL season. But only one is haunted by an inglorious postseason history frighteningly inconsistent with his regular-season success. Only one will be seen as failing to meet his destiny if he falls short of winning the Super Bowl.

Only one needs help from Ghostbusting forces of paranormal pigskin.

That quarterback is Peyton Manning, the record-breaking superstar who’s about to win an incredible fifth Most Valuable Player Award but remains haunted by ghosts of postseasons past.


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