Monday, January 20, 2014

Greatest quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era

Totally off-topic here but I trust that football fans will enjoy this post.

Let me preface this by saying that in my view, the most important stat is won-loss record especially in big games.  If you rack up over 100 yards in the 4th quarter against the Prevent defense, that does not impress me much.  Also, when you throw it 45-50 times every game, you better have over 300 yards passing or else you're not moving the ball down field.  Also, I am unimpressed by high completion percentages.  Throwing the ball to the open man behind the line of scrimmage and watching him break a tackle for a 3 yard gain on a 3rd and long accomplishes nothing.

The quarterback rating system has been used for many years to standardize performances and is based on 4 key statistical categories: 1. completion percentage, 2. yards/attempt, 3. touchdown pass rate, 4. interception rate.  It's a good but flawed system of evaluation.  IMO, the two key stats that contribute most to winning football games are yards/attempt and touchdown/turnover ratio.  The passer rating system does not take into account fumbles or sacks and ignores yards gained on the ground as well as rushing touchdowns.  Moreover, a completion for negative yards would yield a passer rating of 79.6, which is double the 39.8 for an incomplete pass.  As far as interceptions, some hurt far more than others.  A "pick 6" near your own goal line counts as no worse than a deep ball that is intercepted 30 yards down field on a 3rd and long play, which is almost as good as a punt.  The total QBR system is a better measure as it gives more weight to plays of greater importance and counts sacks, fumbles and rushing performances but has only been around since 2006. 

With the rule changes to open up the passing game and proliferation of the West coast offense, passing stats have tremendously improved over the years.  Back in the early 70s, a 70 passer rating with a 50% completion rate and a 1:1 TD/INT ratio would have been acceptable, maybe even better than average.  Nowadays, those numbers will get you sent to bench quickly.  Thus, it is very difficult to compare quarterbacks of different eras which is why I limited this to the Super Bowl era.  Without further ado, here is my top 10 list.

10. John Elway- slightly over-rated in my opinion.  Racked up over 50,000 yards but had a rather ordinary 79.9 rating along with 3 Super Bowl losses in the '80s, 2 of which were blowouts.  Still, you can't argue with a 5-1 record in AFC championship games, clutch performances in the 4th quarter and yes, those last 2 Super Bowl wins cement Elway as among the greatest.

9. Troy Aikman- Regular season stats are nothing special but went 3-0 in the Super Bowl and was terrific in all 3 big games.  The presence of Emmitt Smith would bring down his yards and touchdowns but again, I value won-loss record over stats.

8.Kurt Warner- One of my personal favorites and definitely one of the most under-rated quarterbacks of all time.  Finished with an impressive 93.7 rating (8th best in history), 2 MVPs and led 2 previously moribund franchises to the Super Bowl.  Won just 1 of 3 Super Bowl appearances but played well enough to win all 3.  Was drafted by Green Bay and was cut in favor of Ty Detmer.  Also lost his job during his career to Mark Bulger, Eli Manning and the legendary Matt Leinart.  You can't help but shake your head over that.

7. Dan Marino- Held all the major passing records including yards and touchdowns before Favre came along.  Also had a quick release and took very few sacks. Of course the knock on Marino is that he never won a Super Bowl and only even got there once.  Though his Dolphin teams were almost always competitive, they were rarely championship caliber, which is why he does not rank higher on this list.

6. Steve Young- Joe Montana was a hard act to follow in San Francisco but Young did quite well for himself.  Retired as the highest rated passer ever (96.8).  Won his only start in the Super Bowl but could have won at least 1 more if he had started in favor of Montana in '89.  Numbers would be much more impressive if not for spending 5 years as Montana's backup and beginning his career with a horrible Tampa Bay Bucs team.

5. Terry Bradshaw- Another one of my personal favorites.  Even for his era, his statistics were nothing special and he was surrounded by Hall of Fame talent.  That said, he is one of only 2 quarterbacks to win 4 Super Bowls without a defeat.  Could the Steelers have won those games with their backup QB?  I don't think so.  Did not win the starting job for good until his 5th year and was called dumb due in large part to his southern accent.  That's something I can relate to on a personal level.  Career was cut short by an elbow injury and had at least 3 more good years left.

4. Brett Favre-  Holds just about every passing record.  2 Super Bowl appearances including 1 victory and 1 near miss.  Packer teams were almost always contenders with Favre behind center.  Legacy is clouded a bit by waffling on retirement several times but certainly among the all time greats.

3. Tom Brady- 3 Super Bowl wins in 5 appearances as well as 8 AFC championship appearances.  Record as a starting QB stands at a remarkable 148-43.  This came from a 6th round draft pick who may not have even gotten a shot if not for an injury to Drew Bledsoe.

2. Peyton Manning- He's on track to break Favre's records.  The knock on him is that he's only a .500 winning quarterback in the playoffs.  He's got a chance to prove those doubters wrong with a win over Seattle in 2 weeks.  If he can do that and become the 1st QB to lead 2 different franchises to a Super Bowl victory, he's got a case for #1 all time.

1. Joe Montana- 4-0 record in the Super Bowl and never threw a single interception in the big game.  I don't believe he ever fumbled either.  Only knock on him is that he had injury problems near the end of his career.  This came from a 3rd round pick who did not win the starting job at Notre Dame until midway through his junior year.

Honorable mentions:
Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers may join this elite group when their careers are over.
I'd also like to note the best of the pre-Super Bowl era:
Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton.  Tarkenton played in both eras and was 1 ring short of joining this list.

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