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Potential vs. Promise

Thursday, January 18, 2007, 22:27 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Peyton Manning is due.

That’s the reason many football experts are giving for why they pick the Indianapolis Colts to beat the New England Patriot’s in this weekend’s AFC Championship game. Google the phrase “Tom Brady is due” and you get exactly nothing. Google the phrase “Peyton Manning is due” and you get a blog entry about last week’s Ravens game on the web site of KOLN/KGIN television in Nebraska, an analysis of a Colts/Bengals game in the Indianapolis Star, a post earlier this week on the New York Giants message board, the prediction of a Washington Post sportswriter about a game against the Browns back in 2005, a post about this weekend’s game on a Comcast message board, a post on the Chargers forum about last weekend’s game. Oh, and an article mentioning that Manning is due a $10 million roster bonus in March.

Peyton Manning is due. If all those people are saying it, it must be so. It’s as if they’re flipping a coin that has come up heads in the last nine flips, so naturally it’s due to come up tails, right? Actually, statistically that’s wrong; each and every coin flip has a 50-50 chance of coming out heads. What happened before doesn’t matter now.

Football, of course, isn’t a coin flip. What happened before does matter, not in the sense that the game doesn’t have to be played, and certainly not in the sense that it’s a zero-sum situation where losses and wins must balance out in the end, but rather as a pretty good indicator of what is likely to happen next. Using another sport as an example, if the Boston Celtics aren’t good enough to win more than one of every three games they have played so far this season (which, sadly, they aren’t), it isn’t reasonable to expect them to do much better going forward. Not that I wouldn’t be thrilled if they did, but I digress.

Manning and the Colts—and it is grossly unfair to put it all on the quarterback—have a history of greatness in the regular season and mediocrity in the playoffs. The Colts’ record in regular season games Manning has played is 92-52 (a .639 winning percentage). But in the postseason, they’re only 5-6 (.455) with Manning. The Patriots are 70-25 (.737)* in regular season games Tom Brady has played, and 12-1 (.923) in the postseason. Manning’s history is one of inferior performance in the playoffs. Brady’s history is of superior performance in the playoffs, not only in comparison to his own regular season success, but in comparison to every other quarterback. So if people are picking the Colts to win based on the old adage that even a broken clock is right twice a day, then that’s fine. But please, stop with the ridiculous “Peyton Manning is due” statements. They don’t mean a thing.

Am I making a game prediction? Hell, no. I don’t know enough about football, but I’m smart enough to know that the Colts are a good enough to have a very good chance of winning any particular game. I just don’t expect them to step up and win this one.

After this weekend’s game, the better AFC team will be heading to the Super Bowl. If that ends up being the Indianapolis Colts, led by Peyton Manning, then good for them. Forgive me if I’m not putting money on it.

* Brady also played part of one game in 2000, the result of which I don’t know. So this record is actually either one game better or one game worse.

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