Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is set to retire this week. People throw around "best regular season quarterback" as a backhanded sort of compliment to Peyton Manning because he lacked the postseason success of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
There's no question that Brady's the better postseason quarterback. But let's not pretend that Manning's regular season success didn't impact the dynamic of the rivalry.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are 6-4 in the AFC Championship game, and three of those losses have come on the road against Manning's teams in 2006, 2013, and 2015. Brady and the Patriots are 4-1 in the conference championship at home and 2-3 while on the road.
There's no question that regular season success impacted those playoff series.
Since 2001, the Patriots have won 84% of home games, versus 68% of road games. If the 2006 and 2015 Conference Championship games took place in New England, there's no question that the Patriots would have been far more likely to win, and could very well have collected two more Super Bowl titles.
In the 13 seasons where both Brady and Manning have played, the two have effectively split the years as the higher seed; Manning has led in seven years, Brady in six. In five of those six Brady years, the Patriots reached the Super Bowl. The sixth Patriots Super Bowl appearance came in 2011, when Manning was not playing.
On the other side, Manning was the higher seed in each season that his team reached the Super Bowl- and they were the #1 seed in each case. Manning has led the Broncos to the #1 seed in three of the past four seasons, with the lone exception being the Patriots 2014 Super Bowl season.
So while it's easy to say that Manning is a great regular season quarterback and that his teams fall flat in the playoffs, just remember that those regular seasons mattered. Those regular season wins put Manning's teams in a better position to beat the Patriots in the playoffs when their paths crossed.