When the history books are written, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will go down as two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. Where, exactly, each signal-caller will rank will always be debated, depending on whether the person making the argument prefers Super Bowl rings or passing yards. Even then, the final chapter of that story is a few years away from being written.
Yet the Manning-Brady debate can never be made without mentioning playing conditions. Playing in New England means dealing with nasty, ugly and sometimes brutal weather, while playing in Indianapolis means eight home games played under ideal conditions (now a retractable roof stadium, previously a dome) and taking an annual trip to Houston (which has a retractable roof as well).
Manning's legacy will always include the image of him standing in the pocket at the RCA Dome and hitting Marvin Harrison for long bombs; Brady's legacy will always include the image of him trudging through the snow, falling into the end zone and spiking the ball in the 2001 postseason against Oakland.
But how much does that difference really matter? How much better would Brady really be if he played the majority of his games in a controlled environment? We'll obviously never really know, but we can try.
Let's look at Brady's career as a whole. He's made 145 career starts, combining the regular season and postseason. Let's throw out the lone start of the 2008 season, as he only played for half of a quarter. He appeared in an indoor game in Detroit in 2000, but he made just three passing attempts, so we'll leave that one out as well.
Strictly looking at the numbers, here are the differences:
128 starts, 99-29 record
62.9 percent passing (2,695 completions, 4,287 attempts)
239 yards average per game (30,604 total)
222 TDs and 99 INTs (for a TD-to-INT ratio of 2.24-1)
16 starts, 11-5 record
65.5 percent passing (365 completions, 557 attempts)
267 yard average per game (4,272 total)
31 TDs and 16 INTs (for a 1.94-1 ratio)
From that, we know the following: Brady is 2.6 percent more accurate indoors and racks up 28 more passing yards per game, yet somewhat surprisingly, he throws more interceptions indoors. His interception percentage is 2.9 indoors, compared to 2.3 outdoors.
Yet those are the types of numbers that have always been used to describe Manning, while Brady has always had the title of "winner." But the numbers show that playing indoors may not help Brady in that regard. Though he won his first 10 starts indoors (a run that included two Super Bowls), he and the Patriots have gone 1-4 in their five most recent indoor games (including three in the 2009 season). As a starter, Brady has won 68.8 percent of his indoor starts and 77 percent of his outdoor starts.
So really, what does it all mean? It's not a shock to learn that Brady is more accurate and throws for more yards when he's playing underneath a roof, but it is strange that he throws interceptions at a higher rate indoors and wins at a noticeably lower rate.
So when you consider those two factors, the most we can surmise from the indoor stats is that if Gillette Stadium had a fancy glass roof and windproof walls, Brady would simply be a lot more like Manning.
Manning, who has nearly 20,000 more regular-season passing yards and 141 more touchdowns, only wins at a 66.7 percent rate. Remember, Brady wins 68.8 percent of his indoor games, compared to 77 percent outdoors. If New England played eight games safe from the elements, maybe Brady never would have "winner" eternally stamped on his forehead.
Taking that idea one step further, it's not completely crazy to believe that playing in bad conditions may make Brady better. You could look at his performance against the Titans this season, when a bizarre October snowstorm swept through Foxboro and Brady completed 29 of 34 passes for 380 yards and six touchdowns. Or you could look at the "Snow Bowl" in the '01 playoffs, when Brady went 32-of-52 for 312 yards in blizzard conditions. Or even the Week 17 game of the 2007 season in Giants Stadium, when Brady went 32-of-42 for 356 yards and a pair of touchdowns (those may not be extraordinarily eye-popping stats, but look up your favorite quarterback's numbers in the Meadowlands in December, and you'll find he probably didn't top 300 yards).
Obviously, Tom Brady plays in New England and Peyton Manning plays in Indianapolis. The two have already reserved their spots in Canton, taking rather different routes to get there. Manning's excelled in a dome, while Brady's persevered through the conditions. As it turns out, they both seem to be in the right place.