Peyton Manning or John Elway: Which QB would you rather have?

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Peyton Manning and John Elway mug for a photo at the Pro Bowl in 2006 (Photo: CNN / Sports Illustrated)

Peyton Manning and John Elway mug for a photo at the Pro Bowl in 2006 (Photo: CNN / Sports Illustrated)

DENVER — At long last, it’s a legitimate question.

Is there a Denver Broncos quarterback who is as good as or — dare it be uttered? — better than He Who Shall Always be Named in the Ring of Fame?

More specifically: Would you rather have John Elway in his prime, or the Peyton Manning who now owns a 16-4 record as a Bronco?

Open your ears, Denver, this debate is coming on strong.

Elway had the arm strength, but Manning has the accuracy.

Elway had the ability to scramble, but Manning makes decisions in the pocket so quickly, he doesn’t need to scramble.

Elway was the master of the two-minute drill, but Manning plays at that pace for 60 minutes.

Elway brought two Super Bowl championships to Denver. Ummm … well … Manning hasn’t even played two seasons in the Mile High City yet.

That last point is the one that will still likely tip the scales in Elway’s favor.┬áBut from a statistical perspective, it’s hard to argue that Manning isn’t currently on a better regular season run than Elway ever enjoyed in blue and orange.

Consider these side-by-side statistics for a moment:

  • Manning is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 12 touchdowns in the first three games of a season. Yes, that means Elway never did that.
  • Manning has completed 73 percent of his passes over three consecutive wins this year. Elway matched that over three consecutive games in 1993, but he attempted 34 fewer passes than Manning and the Broncos lost one of those games.
  • Manning has now led the Broncos to 13 straight regular seasons wins. That is one win shy of the franchise record, set when Elway led the Broncos to 14 straight regular season wins in 1998.

Lest we need a reminder, Elway’s Broncos went on to win their second straight Super Bowl that season.

Ultimately, it’s that postseason success that will define this debate. Manning is yet to win a single playoff game in Denver thanks to a crushing, last-second Hail Mary from the Baltimore Ravens last season.

But before you cast your vote for the longtime fan favorite, pull open the NFL’s passing statistics today. You’ll see Manning’s name firmly entrenched on top of nearly every conceivable passing category, including yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and passer rating.

That is territory Elway never occupied.

Oh yeah, and Manning is also yet to throw an interception this season.┬áJust in case you’re counting — and let’s be honest, we are — Manning hasn’t thrown an interception in four straight regular season games now. The longest interception-free stretch of Elway’s regular season career was five games.

So go ahead and say it’s too soon to compare the Hall of Famer to the future Hall of Famer. Go ahead and say Manning hasn’t faced a quality opponent yet in 2013. Go ahead and say Manning has better receivers this season than Elway ever did.

Those are all worthwhile points to consider in this debate.

But at least admit one thing: Denver finally has a quarterback who has made this a debate just as worthwhile.

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