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All The Ways That Tom Brady Is Football’s GOAT

After Tom Brady and the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, we examined Brady’s place in the pantheon of all-time quarterbacks. Ultimately, we concluded that he was, at worst, the QB co-GOAT alongside Peyton Manning (in the regular season) and Joe Montana (in the playoffs).

That was in February 2015. All Brady has done since then is throw for 31,050 more yards and 219 more touchdowns, and win 83 more games — 70 in the regular season and 13 in the playoffs — along the way to three more titles and two more Super Bowl MVPs … including both of the last two in Sunday’s victory by his Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Kansas City Chiefs. Those six seasons alone would be better than almost any other quarterback’s entire career, but for Brady they represent less than a third of his total resume.

As the NFL’s all-time leader in QB wins, touchdown passes, championships won and Super Bowl MVPs, Brady has long since erased any doubt that he is the greatest in history at football’s most important position. All we can do now is rattle off the many different dimensions by which Brady is, in fact, the best ever. For instance, he is the Super Bowl-era career leader in total QB value over replacement (based on our QB Elo value metric, representing the number of yards a QB generated relative to an undrafted backup),1 beating Manning and Drew Brees. He’s also the career playoff leader, topping Montana:

Brady is the best, no matter the stage

Most career QB value over replacement* for quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era (1966-2020), overall and in playoffs only

All Games Playoffs Only
Quarterback Years Value Quarterback Years Value
Brady 2000-20 25,218 Brady 2001-20 3,432
Manning 1998-15 23,979 Montana 1981-94 2,313
Brees 2001-20 23,326 Manning 1999-15 2,273
Favre 1991-10 20,611 Bradshaw 1972-82 1,840
Marino 1983-99 19,404 Favre 1993-09 1,645
Rodgers 2005-20 15,972 Rodgers 2009-20 1,621
Elway 1983-98 15,647 Young 1987-98 1,567
Roethlisberger 2004-20 15,643 Elway 1983-98 1,546
Montana 1979-94 15,465 Brees 2004-20 1,461
Young 1985-99 14,502 Warner 1999-09 1,430

*Stats are adjusted for strength of schedule and era (translated to the 2016-20 NFL passing environment). Value is based on our QB Elo metric, which represents yards above replacement level. Includes playoffs unless otherwise indicated.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

And we’re just scratching the surface of the entire scope of Brady’s GOAT stats. As part of that second leaderboard, he is the king of Super Bowls in particular. Among all-time QBs in the big game’s history, nobody has produced more value over replacement in a Super Bowl career than Brady:

Brady is the all-time Super Bowl passing MVP

Most career QB value over replacement in Super Bowls, 1966-2020

Adjusted Stats*
Quarterback Years Games YPG ANY/A Value Best Performance
Brady 2001-20 10 325.0 7.9 883.10 168 (2003)
Montana 1981-89 4 326.9 12.1 613.20 213 (1989)
Bradshaw 1974-79 4 340.4 13.9 484.80 193 (1978)
Staubach 1971-78 4 274.4 9.7 428.70 180 (1978)
Warner 1999-08 3 448.1 10.1 399.00 183 (2008)
Elway 1986-98 5 241.4 6.6 280.80 116 (1986)
Manning 2006-15 4 278.8 6.8 270.00 106 (2009)
Aikman 1992-95 3 249.5 9.7 238.70 152 (1992)
Tarkenton 1973-76 3 280.4 5.7 199.70 131 (1973)
Roethlisberger 2005-10 3 234.6 6.1 191.20 112 (2010)

*Stats are adjusted for strength of schedule and era (translated to the 2016-20 NFL passing environment). Value is based on our QB Elo metric, which represents yards above replacement level.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Some of that owes to sheer volume, since Brady has started a record 10 (ten!) Super Bowls, spanning 20 seasons. A few others on the list — namely Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Kurt Warner — have had better per-game or per-play Super Bowl performances than Brady after we adjust for schedule and era. But in addition to the career record, Brady owns the seventh-best title-game performance ever — for his eye-popping numbers in Super Bowl XXXVIII — and three of the 11 best ever. In other words, Brady hasn’t been a mere Super Bowl “compiler,” even though he might also be the only player in history you could even accuse of being such a thing.

Speaking of adjusting for the dreaded “compilers,” let’s say we want to modify each QB’s total career value by mixing in his peak performance as well, in the manner of baseball’s JAWS metric (which averages together a player’s career value with the total from his best seven seasons). Brady also comes out as the best ever in that regard — since his peak value was only marginally behind Manning’s tally from their respective top seven seasons:

Brady has had the best mix of career and peak value

Highest average of career QB value over replacement* and peak value (in best seven seasons) for NFL quarterbacks, 1966-2020

Value
Quarterback Years Career Total Peak 7 Years JAWS
1 Tom Brady 2000-20 25,218 11,516 18,367
2 Peyton Manning 1998-15 23,979 12,406 18,192
3 Drew Brees 2001-20 23,326 10,933 17,129
4 Brett Favre 1991-10 20,611 9,950 15,281
5 Dan Marino 1983-99 19,404 10,806 15,105
6 Aaron Rodgers 2005-20 15,972 10,535 13,253
7 Joe Montana 1979-94 15,465 10,500 12,982
8 Steve Young 1985-99 14,502 11,169 12,835
9 John Elway 1983-98 15,647 8,751 12,199
10 Fran Tarkenton 1966-78 14,425 9,132 11,778

*Stats are adjusted for strength of schedule and era (translated to the 2016-20 NFL passing environment). Value is based on our QB Elo metric, which represents yards above replacement level. Includes playoffs unless otherwise indicated.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

In terms of literal peak value — who was the absolute best in their very best season? — Brady also has that covered. His 2007 season, which saw him set a new single-season record for touchdown passes (aided by the incomparable Randy Moss) and lead one of the most dominant and influential offensive attacks in football history, ranks as the most valuable quarterbacking campaign of the Super Bowl era according to QB value over replacement:

Brady also owns the GOAT season

Best single seasons (including playoffs) according to QB value over replacement for NFL quarterbacks, 1966-2020

Adjusted Stats*
Quarterback Year Team YPG TD Int ANY/A Value
1 Brady 2007 NE 338.5 73 7 9.57 2,278
2 Marino 1984 MIA 364.6 64 15 9.67 2,138
3 Manning 2013 DEN 336.0 67 11 8.76 2,047
4 Young 1994 SF 261.6 49 9 8.88 2,005
5 Manning 2003 IND 331.8 57 10 9.11 1,956
6 Brees 2011 NO 363.9 56 14 8.26 1,954
7 Young 1992 SF 275.4 39 7 9.31 1,933
8 Manning 2006 IND 312.1 49 11 8.42 1,888
9 Young 1993 SF 302.5 44 16 8.76 1,849
10 Brady 2011 NE 344.0 52 13 8.46 1,847

*Stats are adjusted for strength of schedule and era (translated to the 2016-20 NFL passing environment). Value is based on our QB Elo metric, which represents yards above replacement level. Includes playoffs unless otherwise indicated.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

And as my colleague Ty Schalter pointed out in our Super Bowl LV live blog, each chronological half of Brady’s career has been Hall of Fame-worthy in and of itself. Both the early-career and late-career versions of Brady made at least six Pro Bowls, one All-Pro first team and five Super Bowls, with three wins coming in the first half of his career and four wins in the second. If we split Brady into two separate careers, the first half would rank 17th in total value over replacement since 1966, and the second half would rank 12th.

In other words, Brady’s career is hiding not one but two of the top 20 quarterbacks in modern history inside of it! That’s also true if we split his career up by even- and odd-numbered seasons — “Even-Year Brady” would be the 17th-most valuable QB of the Super Bowl era, while “Odd-Year Brady” would rank 12th:

Brady is two of the best QBs ever

Super Bowl-era leaders in QB value over replacement*, with Tom Brady’s career split into separate halves chronologically or by even/odd seasons

Split Chronologically Split Even/Odd
Quarterback Value Quarterback Value
1 Peyton Manning 23,979 Peyton Manning 23,979
2 Drew Brees 23,326 Drew Brees 23,326
3 Brett Favre 20,611 Brett Favre 20,611
4 Dan Marino 19,404 Dan Marino 19,404
5 Aaron Rodgers 15,972 Aaron Rodgers 15,972
6 John Elway 15,647 John Elway 15,647
7 Ben Roethlisberger 15,643 Ben Roethlisberger 15,643
8 Joe Montana 15,465 Joe Montana 15,465
9 Steve Young 14,502 Steve Young 14,502
10 Fran Tarkenton 14,425 Fran Tarkenton 14,425
11 Philip Rivers 14,348 Philip Rivers 14,348
12 Brady — 2nd half 13,420 Brady — odd years 13,412
13 Warren Moon 13,393 Warren Moon 13,393
14 Matt Ryan 13,367 Matt Ryan 13,367
15 Dan Fouts 13,236 Dan Fouts 13,236
16 Ken Anderson 12,173 Ken Anderson 12,173
17 Brady — 1st half 11,798 Brady — even years 11,806
18 Eli Manning 11,480 Eli Manning 11,480
19 Donovan McNabb 11,404 Donovan McNabb 11,404
20 Terry Bradshaw 11,029 Terry Bradshaw 11,029

*Stats are adjusted for strength of schedule and era (translated to the 2016-20 NFL passing environment). Value is based on our QB Elo metric, which represents yards above replacement level. Includes playoffs unless otherwise indicated.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Of course, Brady wouldn’t be in the position to make those lists twice without completely tearing up the aging curve we once thought was unavoidable for older quarterbacks. Before he came along, few QBs had ever even been functional after turning 40, much less great. And none was a starter at all by 43, Brady’s current age. Yet Brady has ignored all of that history, setting new single-season QB value records for quarterbacks at ages 40, 41, 42 and 43. In fact, with an improved supporting cast, he was better at 43 than he’d been at either age 41 or 42:

Brady is outlasting all of history’s other old QBs

Most QB value over replacement* by age** for age 40+ seasons, 1966-2020

Age 40 Age 41
Quarterback Year Value Quarterback Year Value
Tom Brady 2017 1,434 Tom Brady 2018 1,296
Brett Favre 2009 1,306 Warren Moon 1997 1,032
Drew Brees 2019 950 Drew Brees 2020 835
Sonny Jurgensen 1974 517 Vinny Testaverde 2004 684
Vinny Testaverde 2003 477 Doug Flutie 2003 394
Age 42 Age 43
Quarterback Year Value Quarterback Year Value
Tom Brady 2019 855 Tom Brady 2020 1,372
Warren Moon 1998 325 George Blanda 1970 233
Doug Flutie 2004 134 Vinny Testaverde 2006 14
Vinny Testaverde 2005 64 Warren Moon 1999 1
George Blanda 1969 16 Doug Flutie 2005 -4

*Stats are adjusted for strength of schedule and era (translated to the 2016-20 NFL passing environment). Value is based on our QB Elo metric, which represents yards above replacement level. Includes playoffs unless otherwise indicated.
**Age is as of Dec. 31 of that year.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Maybe the scariest thing of all is that Brady isn’t done yet. “I’m coming back,” he told CBS’s Tracy Wolfson when asked about his future plans on Sunday. “You better believe it.” With the Bucs already looking ahead at bringing back most of their championship core for a repeat bid, Brady should get the chance to add even more to his history-defying numbers … not that he needs it in order to become the GOAT — a ship that sailed a long time ago.

Footnotes

  1. After adjusting for opponent and era by translating each QB’s stats from the context of their opponents’ games against all other opponents that season and into the typical passing environment of the 2016 through 2020 seasons.

Neil Paine is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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