Elway was a HofF quarterback despite being saddled, for much of his career, with below average talent and inept offensive game plans. The Dan Reeves era was mostly keep the game close and let #7 win it at the end. Reeves was horrid at putting talent around Elway. First round picks were Wilhitte, Sewell and Nattiel. All three were average at best. As a result, Elway became the ultimate clutch quarterback.
Luckily, Shanahan came along with the west coast offense and built a solid team around Elway. As Bronco fans we love EddieMac, Rod Smith, TD and Shannon Sharpe. Lets be honest, its Elway who made those players careers. EddieMac was an afterthought when he was signed from the 49ers but was brought to Denver only because he knew Shanahan's offense. Rod Smith was an undrafted free agent. TD was a sixth round draft choice who almost quit his rookie year. Shannon Sharpe was a late round draft pick from the Reeves era. Would TD and Sharpe be in the HofF without the benefit of playing with Elway? Did Elway ever have a true number one receiver? Just imagine if Elway had played with a great talent evaluator and offensive genius his entire career.
On the flip side, Manning was given tremendous freedom throughout his entire career. Tom Moore let Manning run the offense for over a decade. John Fox let Manning do his thing. Only under Kubiak, was Peyton was forced to adapt to a system he wasn't comfortable with. Would he have been successful in a Dan Reeves offense? I seriously doubt it. Additionally, Manning was blessed with tremendous talent because the Colts were built by a HofF general manager. Edgerrin James was a top 5 draft pick. Harrison was a first round pick. Reggie Wayne was a first round pick. All three will likely end up in the HofF and would have been highly successful with most quarterbacks. When Peyton got to Denver, DT fell in his lap. Also, he had Elway as the talent evaluator and he may very end up as a HofF type general manager.
Elway was a franchis quarterback who could succeed in any system or with lack of surrounding talent. Put Elway on the 49era with Bill Walsh and he would have had a better career than Montana. Put Montana on the Broncos under Dan Reeves and he would have never won a single Super Bowl. Honestly, some of those Bronco teams had talent similar to todays Cleveland Browns.
We will never know if Manning could repeat his career numbers under less than ideal circumstances. Both are in the top 5 all-time, but Elway gets the nod because he has proven he didn't need top talent and could win in any system.