Was the New York Giants' 21-17 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI a great game for Eli Manning? Or a lousy game for Tom Brady? Neither, actually. Although Manning's team won and Brady's team lost, the two quarterbacks were virtually equal in their performances on Sunday.
The raw numbers are close, but they give the edge to the Giants' passer. Manning had three more completions for 20 more yards. Brady threw four more incomplete passes, and though he threw two touchdowns to one for Manning, he also threw the game's only interception. And while Brady took one fewer sack than Manning, he also committed an intentional grounding penalty that cost the Patriots two points.
Remember, though, that Brady and Manning weren't competing head-to-head. Brady was playing against the Giants' defense, while Manning was playing against the Patriots' defense, and that's a huge advantage for Manning. The Patriots were 28th in Football Outsiders' pass defense rankings during the regular season. The Giants' defense ranked 21st, and that includes games when it was missing several key defenders. By the end of the year, when everyone was healthy, it was clearly better than that.
When you factor in opponent adjustments, the quarterback battle on Sunday was virtually a wash. Manning finished with 129 DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement -- more info available here), while Brady had 127. As close as that matchup is, it seems unfair that one of those players should be deemed a winner and the other a loser.
Which brings us to the matter of legacy. Should our perceptions of Brady and Manning change based on Sunday's game? Two weeks ago we ran a table showing the best playoff quarterbacks since 1995. To the right is what the table looks like after the Super Bowl: