Chasing Brett Favre and Dan Marino

Peyton Manning ranks third all-time in passes completed, passing touchdowns, and passing yards, with Brett Favre ranking first in all three, and Dan Marino second. Favre and Marino also rank first and second, respectively, in passes attempted, with John Elway third and Manning fourth.

I’m going to take a look at each of these four statistical categories and see what exactly it will take for Manning to catch Favre and Marino. I’m going to ignore Elway’s passing attempts, because he’s only 40 ahead of Manning, which could easily be accomplished in the first game of the 2012 season, and would be surprising if it didn’t happen during the second game.

Let’s kick off by looking at completions. Currently Peyton Manning has 4,682 career completions, which is 285 behind Marino (4,967) and 1,618 behind Favre (6,300) so while Mario is well within reach, Favre will be much more difficult to surpass, which will be the underlying theme across the board for these stats.

Currently through Peyton’s 13 seasons in which he actually played, he has averaged 360.15 completions per year, which is 22.51 completions per game. I’m going to lay this out in a chart that shows how many completions he will have to average per year and per game to catch Favre and Marino in one, two, three, four, five, or six years.

I realize that Peyton’s current contract is only for five years, and there is doubt whether he will play that long, but I included the sixth year just in case he decides to stick around for one more year after that and simply for curiosity’s sake. I’ve also highlighted the different numbers in colors: green for it should happen, blue for it might happen, purple for it being unlikely to happen, and red for impossible.

Now, I didn’t use standard deviations to determine the appropriate color (though I did consider it) because of how the NFL has become even more of a passing league since Peyton entered the league in 1998. For example, four of the top six all-time best seasons in terms of passing yards came from the 2011 season alone. That’s crazy. Anyway, here are the numbers:


Brett Favre Dan Marino
Years Left Year Game Year Game
1 1618.00 101.13 285.00 17.81
2 809.00 50.56 142.50 8.91
3 539.33 33.71 95.00 5.94
4 404.50 25.28 71.25 4.45
5 323.60 20.23 57.00 3.56
6 269.67 16.85 47.5 2.97

This shows that Peyton should catch Marino this year while it will likely take him playing out his entire contract with the Broncos to catch Favre.

Moving on to attempts, Peyton has a career total of 7,210, which is 1,148 behind Marino (8,358) and 2,959 behind Favre (10,169). So far in his career, Peyton is averaging 554.62 attempts per year, or 34.66 per game. Here’s the chart for attempts:


Brett Favre Dan Marino
Years Left Year Game Year Game
1 2959.00 184.94 1148.00 71.75
2 1479.50 92.47 574.00 35.88
3 986.33 61.65 382.67 23.92
4 739.75 46.23 287.00 17.94
5 591.80 36.99 229.60 14.35
6 493.17 30.82 191.33 11.96

This shows that Peyton could catch Marino in attempts in two years, and would almost definitely do it in three, but on the other hand he only has an outside chance at catching Favre even if he plays out his entire five-year contract with the Broncos, but if he does stick around for one more year after that, then he’ll almost certainly do it.

What’s interesting about attempts is that you can make an argument for it being a good thing that he would have a harder time catching Favre and Marino in this category, because if you can throw more completions, yards, and touchdowns with fewer attempts, that actually makes it more impressive. The flip side of that coin is that having more attempts shows longevity.

Third on the list is passing yards, of which Peyton has 54,828 of. Marino (61,361) is 6,533 ahead of him and Favre (71,838) is 17,010 ahead. Peyton has averaged 4,217.54 yards per year (263.60 per game) so far in his professional career. Chart time:


Brett Favre Dan Marino
Years Left Year Game Year Game
1 17010.00 1063.13 6533.00 408.31
2 8505.00 531.56 3266.50 204.16
3 5670.00 354.38 2177.67 136.1
4 4252.50 265.78 1633.25 102.08
5 3402.00 212.63 1306.60 81.66
6 2835.00 177.19 1088.83 68.05

Peyton isn’t going to catch either Favre or Marino this year (unless he shocks the world and absolutely shatters the record that Drew Brees set last year when he threw for 5,476 yards). What is likely to happen is that Peyton will catch Marino by the end of his second season with the Broncos, while he’d have a pretty decent shot at catching Favre by the end of his fourth year, and would likely do it by the end of his current contract, in his fifth year.

Moving on to the final (and most coveted, in my opinion) of the records, Peyton Manning currently has 399 touchdowns, putting him just 21 behind Marino (420) and a whopping 109 behind Favre (508). Peyton has averaged an extremely impressive 30.69 TDs per year and 1.92 per game, which makes our chart look like this:


Brett Favre Dan Marino
Years Left Year Game Year Game
1 109.00 6.81 21.00 1.31
2 54.50 3.41 10.50 0.66
3 36.33 2.27 7.00 0.44
4 27.25 1.70 5.25 0.33
5 21.80 1.36 4.20 0.26
6 18.17 1.14 3.50 0.22

So similarly to completions, Peyton should catch Marino this year, and despite being 109 behind Favre, this category is the one that he has the shot at catching Favre in the soonest. It’s incredibly unlikely that Peyton averages 36 touchdowns per season over the next three years (though, that is exactly what he did during the three-year stretch from 2004 through 2006).

What’s significantly more likely is Peyton averaging at least 27 touchdowns per season over the course of four years, which he has done in any and every four-year stretch of his career, including his first four seasons (1998-2001), and even if you include the 2011 season (which he obviously didn’t play in) he wasn’t all that far off from that mark during the 2008-2011 stretch, averaging over 23 TDs, which is incredible.

Either way, Peyton Manning could catch Marino within two years for all four of these statistical categories, whereas it will likely take four, five, or maybe six years for him to catch Favre.

As a Colts fan, I wish him all the luck in the world and hope he can catch Favre in all of these categories and get another couple of rings in the process, while the Colts are rebuilding. And as a Vols fan, I hope that once he has done those things, he comes back to Knoxville to be the offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach, roaming the sidelines in Neyland Stadium.


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