NESN Debates: Which Quarterback Is More Important to His Team’s Success, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?

NESN Debates: Which Quarterback Is More Important to His Team's Success, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? Editor's note: Each week, NESN.com's editorial staff will debate a topic via email in a feature called "Field Judges." We'll post the conversation and the ruling on NESN.com.

This week's question: Which quarterback is more important to his team's success, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?

Ricky Doyle, Assistant Editor, Tuesday, 10:08 a.m.:

Why hello there. I hope everybody's got their debate shoes on. And if not, regular shoes will work just fine. But, nevertheless, it's time for us to question each other's intelligence and tackle another toss-up — a Watertown Throwdown, if you will.

This week, I think it's time we venture into the world of football because I couldn't be any more fired about about the season starting. Hopefully you are all as pumped and jacked as I am. Anywho, with Peyton Manning's 2011 season up in the air, I can't help but think back to Tom Brady going down in the season opener three years ago. I don't think anyone can dispute the fact that both future Hall of Famers are a major reason why the Patriots and Colts are consistently Super Bowl contenders, but who, in your opinion, is more important to his team's success?

Ben Watanabe, Assistant Editor, Tuesday, 11:10 a.m.:

You're a cruel man to pose this question, Richard. You've forced me to go against Tom Brady, thereby placing in jeopardy the livelihoods of myself and my loved ones. Our blood will be on your hands.

As far as "who is better," I don't think there's much doubt it's Brady. If New England is starting a drive on their own 20 in a tie game with two minutes left, you can pretty much turn off the TV knowing Brady is going to orchestrate a game-winning drive. As to who is more important, though, my vote is Manning.

Both the Patriots and Colts have become perennial Super Bowl contenders during these guys' tenures, but take away Manning and the Colts become the Jaguars or Titans. Prior to Manning's arrival, the Colts were a dismal franchise. Their five previous seasons before drafting Manning went like this: 4-12, 8-8, 9-7, 9-7, 3-13. That's a 33-47 cumulative record. They were 3-13 Manning's rookie year, reversed that record in his second season and have won at least 10 games every season (save one) ever since.

The Patriots at least had a puncher's chance before Brady arrived. Maybe everyone suffers from short memories, but Drew Bledsoe was a pretty good quarterback. Real fans will never forget the way he took the Pats to the playoffs in a gutsy, injury-riddled 1998 campaign – not to mention Super Bowl XXXI, when Desmond Howard went crazy. In the five seasons before Brady took over as the starter, New England went 11-5, 10-6, 9-7, 8-8, 5-11. That's 43-37 combined. The franchise was clearly trending downward, but it wasn't toppling, as it was in Indianapolis.

Is either team championship caliber without its All-Pro QB? Probably not. But I'd take Bill Belichick, Vince Wilfork and Ryan Mallett/Brian Hoyer over Jim Caldwell, Dwight Freeney and Curtis Painter/Kerry Collins. Wouldn't you? 

John Beattie, Associate Editor, Friday, 11:50 a.m.:

Peyton Manning is far more important to his team than Brady is to the Pats.

Manning's Colts are built around him and the playbook is designed for his arm, awareness and abilities. Without him, who are the Colts?

Without Brady, the Pats remain a cohesive unit, spearheaded by one of the greatest coaches of all time. Not to take anything away from Brady's abilities, but if Matt Cassel can come in and bag 11 wins in the offense on short notice, then who couldn't?

Michael Hurley, Senior Assistant Editor, Friday, 3:52 p.m.:

We could go on and on about hypotheticals, but why bother when we have concrete evidence?

And you don't have to go back to Drew Bledsoe, either. You can just go back to 2008, when the football world was robbed of the opportunity to watch Tom Brady;s mastery every Sunday. The Patriots definitely weren't as good a team with Matt Cassel under center than they would have been with Mr. Brady, but they went 11-5 and finished eighth in the league with 25.6 points per game.

Now, we'll find out if the Colts can play similarly without Manning, though there aren't many folks on this earth who are willing to bet the Colts are going to win 11 games. Likewise, you're nuts if you think they're going to score the 27.2 points per game that they did last year with some combination of Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter taking snaps. It's going to be ugly.

We won't know until the end of the season, but it's clear that the Colts are built almost entirely around Manning, while the Patriots can at least survive for a little without the greatest quarterback on the planet.

Jeff Howe, NESN.com Patriots reporter, Friday, 5:31 p.m.:

Peyton Manning might have had the greatest single season for a quarterback in NFL history in 2009, when he resuscitated the Colts with late-game heroics week after week, and somehow managed to lead them to the Super Bowl, where he obviously went kerplunk. It was a similar story in 2010.

The Colts' offensive line has been fairly pathetic for a couple seasons, and they can't come close to running the ball the way they used to. Plus, their defense has been a shell of itself since the middle of the decade when they were great against the pass and (sometimes) efficient against the run. The most feared portion of the Colts' defense is the heat they bring on the quarterback in obvious passing situations, which are the direct results of the big leads that Manning has built.

Point being, the Colts have a bad football team around Manning, and they don't have Tony Dungy to motivate them anymore. Manning has said things about head coach Jim Caldwell to make you wonder if he's got any faith in him at all, and Caldwell hasn't exactly done anything to prove him wrong.

You want me to believe Kerry Collins can rescue this team? Give me a break.

The Patriots are stacked at just about every position. If Brian Hoyer took over the offense, I think they'd have a good opportunity to reach double-digit victories because of the power they've acquired on defense and the explosion they've now found at running back.

The Colts might have been able to skate by without Manning earlier in the decade, but they don't have a chance without him now. It's the organization's fault for not surrounding him with enough talent.

Ricky Doyle, Saturday, 8:38 p.m.:

As much as I'd love to play devil's advocate just to get a rise out of you guys, I cannot bring myself to do so. I must hop aboard the Manning bandwagon and label him as more important to his team. However, I don't think it's the landslide that you all have made it out to be.

I know Matt Cassel came in and the Pats still won 11 games in 2008. But that was also at a point when there were debates as to whether the Pats could run the table in the regular season again. Was it likely? No. But that's how good they were considered to be entering that season after their 18-1 campaign the year prior. I think you would've found a lot of people who thought the Pats would rack up 13 wins or more that season with Brady at the helm. In other words, by losing Brady, the Pats probably lost three or four more games than they would have with him in the lineup, which is a pretty good indication of how valuable he is.

Also, I've never seen a player have a more positive impact on the players around him than Brady. He's elevated the production of a number of mediocre players throughout his career in a way that I'm not sure Manning could. I'll admit a lot of that has more to do with the offense that Bill Belichick runs, but Brady still deserves a certain degree of credit.

Deion Branch is the classic example, in my opinion. There was some question as to what kind of impact he would have upon his return to the Pats because of his drop-off in production in Seattle. Yet when he arrived back in New England, it looked like he had never left the Pats' offense, as Brady immediately turned him back into the player that signed a six-year, $39 million contract after the 2005 season.

Wes Welker also sticks out to me. He's a talented player, no doubt. But Brady has transformed him from a solid slot receiver and kick/punt return specialist into a perennial Pro Bowler. Randy Moss, as physically gifted as he is, even benefited greatly from having Brady as his QB, going from a receiver who was trending downward to a receiver who posted one of the most statistically impressive seasons in NFL history. Even guys like David Patten, David Givens and Reche Caldwell became solid receivers in New England in large part because of Brady's guidance on the field.

For these reasons, I'd take Brady over Manning any day of the week and twice on Sunday if I were to assemble a team. But, when you look at each one's team as it stands, I can't deny the fact that the Pats are better built for sustained success than the Colts, which you guys have all alluded to. In fact, I'll be surprised if the Colts make the playoffs this season, whereas I think the Pats would still make the postseason even if Brady were to sustain an injury (God forbid).

RULING

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will forever be compared because, for years, they were head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFL. But while deciding which quarterback is "better" could yield a different answer, everyone seems to agree that Manning is more valuable to the Colts than Brady is to the Patriots.

A large part of why we all believe this to be true is because the Pats played without Brady in 2008 and still showed that they can be a solid football team, picking up 10 wins despite missing the playoffs. We've never seen what kind of team the Colts are without Manning because he's started every game since entering the league in 1998. We're now going to get our first taste of the Colts without Manning, though, and everyone seems to be in agreement that the results might not be pretty. It's up to Kerry Collins to prove us wrong.