At the end of the season, it's always fun to look at stats around the league. I like to look at the league leaders in a few categories (the "Black Ink Test" makes a lot of sense), and after all, these are all the stats that will be on the backs of the football cards we buy next summer. NFL.com is mostly updated, and as always, we can rely on pro-football-reference.com for a lot of numbers we want to look at. This is really random and not analytical: I really like looking at season by season stats, so if I'm wasting my time with it, why not waste more time blogging about it. I'm spent talking about the 2007 Vikings; they've already taken up more of my time, money, and energy than they really deserved.
Comparing Tom Brady's 2007 to Peyton Manning's 2004
At the end, Tom Brady's career statistical year is pretty comparable to Peyton Manning's career statistical year.
Let's wipe out discussion of wins first: Brady's '07 Pats won 16 games, partly helped by the #1 defense in points allowed; Manning's '04 Colts ranked 19th in points allowed (and won 12 games). Let's also wipe out discussion of teammate contributions: Manning's '04 combo of Harrison-Wayne-Stokley is a wash with Brady's '07 combo of Moss-Welker-Stallworth.
Brady '07 edges Manning '04 in:
TD passes (50-49)
Completion percentage (68.9%-67.6%)
*Manning sat most of week 16 in 2004, throwing for just 6 yards: take that game away, and Manning averaged 303.4 yards per game, while Brady's '07 average was 300.4 per game.
Manning '04 edges Brady '07 in most of the averages categories:
Yards per Attempt (9.2-8.3)
Yards per Completion (13.6-12.1)
Touchdown Percentage (9.9%-8.7%)
In the end, the seasons are very close: 50 TD, 8 INT for Brady just edges 49 TD, 10 INT for Manning, and 67.6% for Manning is just a bit behind 68.9% for Brady (it's the difference of around 6 completions on the year). Excluding the final game of 2004 when Manning threw two passes, they each averaged 300 yards per game. Brady broke the significant TD record, but threw more passes than Manning, and in reality Manning's 49 TDs were in 15 games. So at the end, we're talking about a QB that completed 67-69% of his passes, threw for about 300 yards per game, threw for 49-50 TD passes, and threw just 8-10 interceptions. Brady just edges Manning, but it's really close to a wash.
And a bit on the Manning-Brady comparisons
For his career, the average Peyton Manning season features 64.2% passing for 4,163 yards, 30.6 TDs, and 15.3 interceptions, and 10.4 regular season wins. That's his freaking average.
As a starter, the average Tom Brady season features 63% passing for 3,766 yards, 28.1 TDs and 12.3 interceptions, and 12.3 regular season wins. I do think Peyton Manning is the best quarterback of all-time, but clearly, Tom Brady is also one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
The difference in wins for the two QBs (in regular season and postseason) can be credited partly to the defenses each QB has had. The Indianapolis Colts' defensive points allowed rankings in Manning's 10 years with the team: 29, 17, 15, 31, 7, 20, 19, 2, 21, 2. The New England Patriots' defensive points allowed rankings in Brady's seven seasons as starter: 6, 17, 1, 2, 17, 2, 1. The average finish for the Colts' defense in Manning's reign is 15.6, while the average finish for the Patriots' defense during Brady's reign is 6.6; I'd say that could be the difference between 2 wins per season and a 12-2 playoff record versus a 7-6 playoff record (it's not surprising that in Peyton Manning's playoff losses, the Colts gave up 24.7 ppg, and in his wins the Colts gave up 18.6 ppg; in Tom Brady's playoff losses, the Patriots gave up 32.5 ppg, and in his playoff wins, they gave up 16.25 ppg). While quarterback is the most important position in football, teams win football games, not individual players.
Note, stat folks: I'm an English teacher, not a mathematician; I'm just observing and presenting some of the obvious numbers, not doing any rigid analysis.
Randy Moss's 23 TD receptions
Tom Brady's 50 TD passes breaks a three year old record; Randy Moss's 23 TD receptions breaks a 20 year old record. Consider this, too: before Moss joined the Pats, Tom Brady's career high for TD passes in a season was 28, which he did twice: Randy Moss, receiver of 23 TD receptions, helped Brady beat his career high by 22.
Look just below Moss on the TD leaderboard: third-year WR Braylon Edwards caught 16 freaking touchdowns. Edwards was the third pick in 2005; at pick seven, the Vikings selected Troy Williamson. The new economic theory on the draft is that higher picks are bad for you because you have to pay them more. OK--but you still want elite players, and sometimes the difference between pick #3 and pick #7 is the difference between Braylon Edwards and Troy Williamson.
Receiving yards leader: Reggie Wayne
Adding in his 87 yards Sunday Night, Wayne led the league with 1,510 yards. I've always thought receiving yards is more significant than receptions: it's what you do with your catches that matters, right? Reggie Wayne is having a nice career, and he showed this season he can be Manning's go-to-guy without Harrison. Before the season I speculated that Wayne would take over as the #1 WR on the team, so I made him a fantasy football priority--Harrison's injury obviously made Wayne the guy, but last season their numbers were pretty close to identical. With or without Harrison, Reggie Wayne is now Indianapolis' #1 WR.
Four QBs threw over 30 TD passes: Tom Brady (50), Tony Romo (36), Ben Roethlisberger (32), and Peyton Manning (31). It's Manning's fourth time with 30+; each other QB did it for the first time. Six more QBs threw between 26 and 29 TD passes, which is why in fantasy football, you can usually function just fine with a second-tier option. Bananas seasons from a QB really help, though (in the Hazelweird League, in 2004 the champ and high scorer had Manning, and in 2007, the #2 team and high scorer had Brady).
Rushing Title: Ladanian Tomlinson
It seems that being a league leader in rushing yards means a lot to a RB's legacy. It really doesn't happen for other positions or statistical categories, but people will mention how many "Rushing Titles" a running back has. Tomlinson won his second rushing title, which is just icing for his great career. Adrian Peterson really struggled in the last four games, but still finished second. 17 RBs finished with 1,000+ yards, which is why that number itself isn't really anything special. A merely average running back that starts all season should get that (it's 62.5 yards per game).
Yards from Scrimmage
Maddeningly, NFL.com doesn't list leaders in yards from scrimmage, which I consider to be a critical category for RBs. Some offenses really involve RBs in the passing game, and those RBs deserve credit for their total contribution to the team. I'm going to guess that with 2,104 yards, Brian Westbrook led the league in yards from scrimmage this season.
OK, the Vikings
Somewhat maddeningly, our 8-8 Vikes ranked #1 in rush yards per game, #1 in rush yards per attempt, #1 in rush yards per game allowed, and #2 in rush yards per attempt allowed. Before the season I said that "one expects a team with a good defense and a good running game to be competitive." They were: 8-8 with just three losses by more than one score means the Vikings were competing in just about every game. But that's it: they competed. We want them to move beyond merely competing; we want them to win.
I'll say what I said repeatedly throughout the season: the main problem with the 2007 Viking team was the passing game personnel. They just didn't have adequate performances from the QB, WR, or TE positions. If they can put in the components of a real NFL passing game, they will be a good football team and will compete for a championship. Some components might already be on the roster and need improved performance and consistency (Sidney Rice, and maybe Tarvaris Jackson); other components will need to be acquired through draft, free agency, and trade. It's a passing league, and as Aaron Schatz writes, teams win in the playoffs "by passing the ball and shutting down the other team's quarterback with good pass defense."
And now we've got an offseason to talk about how the Vikings can build a passing game. If they do, they're a team on the rise; if they don't, they'll never rise beyond mediocre and merely competitive.