If you haven't heard, Tiki Barber, on his morning radio show TBD, was asked whether he thought Eli Manning was a better quarterback than his older brother Peyton, and Barber answered yes. After listening to Barber on both his show, and the Doug Gottlieb show later in the day, I can honestly say I still disagree with him, but I can understand the point he is trying to make. The NFL is a "what have you won for me lately" type of league, and success, at least currently, is determined by Super Bowl rings. However, just like statistics, Super Bowl wins can be misleading and we can't judge all quarterbacks based on their playoff and Super Bowl performances.
To judge quarterbacks, especially now, is extremely hard because of the different evolutions that the quarterback position has gone through. However, many people often like to focus solely on either statistics or winning, whichever proves their point, but rarely both, and this is true across all sports. Bill Russell may be the greatest winner that any sport has ever seen, winning 13 championships in 14 seasons including an NCAA championship, an Olympic gold medal, and 11 NBA championships. However, if you were to ask most people, they would say Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. The main reason why Jordan is the choice is not only because of his championships, but also his ability to produce impressive statistics every year that garnered him accolades like MVP trophies and Defensive Player of the Year. The best quarterbacks are able to not only win championships, but open eyes with their statistics and importance to their team on a weekly basis. There is no denying that Eli is a great quarterback, but we need to put things into perspective; Eli has two Super Bowl trophies due to two unbelievable efforts from receivers. If David Tyree doesn't make the "Helmet Catch," the Giants wouldn't have won their first matchup with the Patriots and without the combination of the Manningham catch and the Welker drop, it is likely the Giants would have been 0-2 under Eli in the big game. Peyton on the other hand has won one Super Bowl, but is considered by many to be the best statistical and preparation quarterback to ever play the game. He may also be one of the best winners that has ever played, even if his playoff record and Super Bowls don't show it. In his 14 year career, Manning has missed the ten win mark twice, once as a rookie. He has won 9 division championships, two AFC championships and one Super Bowl, and even has comeback from missing an entire season with a serious neck injury. It was also Peyton's job to lead the offense while carrying an underwhelming and unimpressive defense, while both of Eli's Super Bowl defenses were some of the most disruptive in those years.
As fans, we always try to compare two players to determine who is better, based on their résumé of work. However, if Super Bowl wins are going to be the only important statistic in an argument consider this: under the logic that Super Bowl wins are more important, quarterbacks like Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson would be considered better than Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, two Hall of Famers. In reality, Marino and Kelly were the heart and soul of their respective team and city, whereas Dilfer and Johnson rode two of the best defenses in NFL history on their way to Super Bowl victories. However, using pure passing statistics can also be extremely misleading, regardless if you use passing yards, passing touchdowns, or completion percentage. Brett Favre owns most of the career statistics for quarterbacks, including passing yards and passing touchdowns, and while Favre was the toughest quarterback of his time, and has a Super Bowl win, he isn't considered the greatest. Players like Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, and Dave Krieg are in the top fifteen in at least two of the categories, and while they were great quarterbacks for their teams, none of them are in the Hall of Fame and shouldn't be considered as greatest of all time.
The combination of statistics and winning, both in the regular season and playoffs, is a good start to gauging the effectiveness and greatness of quarterbacks, but so much more goes into it. Most of the "great" quarterbacks were true pocket passers with very limited mobility, until John Elway and then Steve Young added the ability to make plays with their feet as well as their strong arms and football knowledge. As the evolution of quarterbacks continued, mobile quarterbacks became more and more common in the NFL and continued to change how the position is perceived. To compare quarterbacks to each other is, in reality, almost impossible to do because there is no "perfect" quarterback to model after. Each player brings their own personality and tendencies to the position making each quarterback unique and fun to watch. Instead of wasting our time comparing and critiquing, we should enjoy some of the best quarterback play the league has ever seen.