Of course, every Manning playoff start serves as a referendum for numerous tired narratives: Can Manning handle cold weather? Can he still win playoff games? Does he use the garlic butter sauce that comes with his Papa John's?
In reality, those questions can’t be answered in one game. So how will Manning fare this weekend? Also a pretty hard question to answer, considering we don’t know the extent to which health problems have caused his poor performance this season.
What we can do is look back at some of Manning’s past divisional performances and have some fun with stats!
In 10 divisional round playoff games, Manning is 4-6, completing 61.9% of his passes for 2,608 yards, with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Manning’s completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating are all slightly lower in the divisional round compared to his career averages, solid evidence for all the playoff truthers out there.
Manning has averaged 40 pass attempts per game in his 10 divisional round starts, a small uptick from his career average. Manning has thrown the ball at least 42 times in six divisional round games, and he’s never thrown fewer than 30 passes in a divisional round game, a hint to the large burden he has often carried for his teams.
His best statistical game came in 2003, in a 38–31 victory over the Chiefs. He attempted the fewest number of passes (30) of any divisional game, but he connected on 22 of them for 304 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a passer rating of 138.8.
His worst performance, at least statistically, also came in a win. In a 15–6 triumph over the Ravens in 2007, Manning only connected on 50% of his passes, throwing for 170 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. You may remember that particular postseason run—it ended with Manning’s only Super Bowl victory.
Interestingly, in the last seven times he’s been in the divisional round, Manning has alternated wins and losses. (This is good news for Broncos fans, because Denver lost to the Colts last season.)
Manning will be making his start Sunday off a first-round bye, which he’s done seven times before this upcoming game. This is bad news for Broncos fans.
Manning has a 2–5 record coming off the bye. These are situations in which Manning has been a) the first or second seed in the AFC and b) playing at home.
Wins include solid performances in 2009 and 2013. The five losses are the reason people question playoff Manning. However, of those losses, Manning has thrown the ball over 40 times on four occasions. Maybe it’s because his team was losing, but maybe it’s because Manning was his team’s only hope.
Overall, Manning has completed 61.9% of his passes off first-round byes, with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions for a passer rating of 83.1, which is more or less the equivalent of Ryan Tannehill’s entire career. (Seriously! Tannehill’s career passer rating: 85.2.)
The running thread through all of these games? Manning has been good. Good enough to be named starter for 11 divisional games, good enough to earn seven first-round byes (Manning has more byes than Tony Romo has playoff starts) and good enough to be the subject of so many debates.
Will Manning be good enough for one more divisional win? We’ll find out Sunday.