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Is Tom Brady the Best NFL QB Ever?

Tom Brady (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Patriots’ 2012 season is over, and once again it’s time to ask the question: Is Tom Brady the best quarterback to ever play the game? There are many ways to rank the greatest QBs ever, most of them subjective, but what follows is an attempt to draw conclusions from the facts in order to rank Brady among the NFL’s all-time great signal-callers.

Super Bowl success

Super Bowl wins certainly cannot be the only measure of a quarterback’s greatness, as attested most prominently by the fact that Dan Marino never won one. When it comes to Super Bowl performances, two QBs stand head and shoulders above the rest: Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, the only four-time winners, both of whom went 4-0 in championship game appearances. Brady is one of only two signal-callers with five Super Bowl starts, and at 3-2 has a better winning percentage in those games than the other, John Elway (2-3).

Montana was the Super Bowl MVP three times, Bradshaw “only” twice – the same as Bart Starr, Brady and Eli Manning. It’s hard to argue against Montana as the best Super Bowl QB, as he also holds the records for passer rating (an amazing 127.8 over four games), touchdown passes (11) and most passes without an interception (122), whereas Brady, on the strength of having played one more game, leads in complete passes (127) and passing yards (1,277).

Best Super Bowl QBs: 1. Montana, 2. Bradshaw, 3. Brady.

Playoff time

Much has been made of the fact that, with the Patriots’ loss on Sunday, Brady’s postseason record is 7-7 over his last 14 games after starting his career 10-0. But this doesn’t change the fact that Brady is probably the best playoff QB ever. Over the course of this year’s two postseason games, he surpassed Montana in playoff wins and passing yards, and trails only Brett Favre and Montana in TD passes. He also has the best record among QBs with at least 20 postseason starts, better than Montana, Elway, Favre and Peyton Manning.

Best Playoff QBs: 1. Brady, 2. Montana, 3. Elway.

The best regular season QB ever

There will be no question about this one when Brady retires. His collection of regular-season records is mind-boggling: in 2007, he led the Patriots to the first 16-0 season in NFL history, all while throwing a record 50 passing TDs. He has thrown a TD pass in each of his last 48 games, six shy of Drew Brees‘s record, and also owns the record for consecutive games with two TDs (13, tied with Manning and Aaron Rodgers) and three TDs (10 in that historic ’07 season).

At age 35, and having repeatedly expressed his intention to play until he’s 40, Brady is fifth on the all-time passing TDs list, and is projected to surpass Fran Tarkenton next season and possibly Marino in 2014. He’s at number nine in passing yards, and at his current rate should rise to sixth place by this time next year, when he’ll also likely be in the top five in completions (he’s currently eighth). If the Patriots win 12 games in 2013, Brady will trail only Favre and Manning in that category.

While many of Favre’s records may prove hard to break, by virtue of his having played 20 NFL seasons, the likes of Elway, Marino, Tarkenton and Johnny Unitas will all be looking up at Brady in the record books by the time he retires. In fact, considering that the Pats have won at least 10 games in each of the last 10 seasons, it’s not at all unreasonable to think Brady could surpass Favre’s 186 wins (he’s currently at 136).

Best Regular Season QBs (today): 1. Favre, 2. Manning, 3. Brady.

Best Regular Season QBs (in five years): 1. Brady, 2. Manning, 3. Favre.

Brady vs. Manning: The debate that has to end

For years, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have vied for the title of NFL’s best quarterback, at least in the media’s eyes, but by now it is clear that the entire argument is moot. Manning still leads Brady in some categories, most notably MVP awards: Manning has a record four, Brady just two. But Manning’s advantage ends there.

Following the Pats’ 31-21 defeat of the Broncos in week 5 this season, Brady has won 9 of the 13 games in which they have faced each other. Manning has played 14 NFL seasons, excluding 2011 when he missed the year after undergoing neck surgery, and Brady 11, not counting 2008, when he suffered a torn ACL in the first game, and yet the record books show a much slimmer margin than those three full seasons would suggest. Manning has won just 18 more games than Brady and thrown for 102 more TDs, but it’s in the postseason that Brady has really proven how much better he is than Manning.

For all of Manning’s solid play in the regular season, he actually has a losing record in the playoffs, at 9-11, and has only reached the Super Bowl twice, winning once. Yes, his overall numbers place him as one of the best ever, but his inability to consistently get the job done in the postseason leaves him closer to Marino than Montana.

The final verdict

There will always be those who will rank Montana ahead of Brady, and until Brady wins that elusive fourth Super Bowl ring, it will be hard to convince them otherwise. By any other measure, however, Brady has got to be considered at least on a par with his childhood idol. If he stays healthy, by the time he retires he could be in the top three in wins, TDs and yards – well ahead of Montana in all those categories. And already, he has proven to be much better in the clutch than both Favre and Manning, who will join him in the top three in the record books.

Tom Brady may not be number one in any single category (yet), but it’s very likely that he is, in fact, the greatest of all time.

About Nick García - @N_A_Garcia

Nick is the Celtics and college sports editor at Sports of Boston. He writes about basketball, football and anything else that comes his way. Follow him on Twitter @N_A_Garcia

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One comment for “Is Tom Brady the Best NFL QB Ever?”

  1. I know that way to rank the QB,s can you describe me clearly the way.

    Posted by Julia Taylor | February 26, 2013, 2:00 am

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