Tom Brady: The Greatest Playoff-Winning QB Ever

John Vampatella
February 04, 2014 at 01:48pm ET

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Tom Brady did not win the Super Bowl following the 2013 season.  Nor did he win it following the 2012 season.  Or the 2011 season.  Or in any of the last 9 seasons.  This Super Bowl-winning drought has led some to criticize Brady for not being a great playoff performer or winner.  Mike Francesca of WFAN gleefully pointed out recently that Brady has barely been a .500 QB since their last Super Bowl title.

Francesca's point, such as it is, exists because Brady's three Super Bowl championships were won during his first three trips to the playoffs, and the Patriots went 9-0 during that time.  And it is true that since then, Brady is just 9-8 in the playoffs.  So are the critics right?  Is Brady mediocre in terms of winning playoff games?

Well, first off, it is disingenuous to discount all the winning Brady did early in his career.  After all, he actually did go 9-0 in the playoffs to start his career, and he actually did win three Super Bowls.  Those things count on his resume.  They shouldn't be tossed aside as if they never happened.  It would be like saying that, apart from all the great playoff games Pedro Martinez pitched, he really wasn't very good in the playoffs.  The great performances do count.

Moreover, the way Brady's playoff success breaks down is sort of freakish in nature.  Recall that he won three Super Bowls, each by three points.  And he lost two Super Bowls, by three and four points, when one play in any of those games could have changed the outcome.  If Carolina converts a two-point conversion and beats New England after the 2003 season, but Wes Welker comes down with a huge incompletion late in Super Bowl 46, we aren't even having this discussion, as Brady's Super Bowl wins thus become adequately spaced out.  Winning really is that fragile in today's NFL.

Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to examine this narrative.  Has Brady been just mediocre in terms of winning playoff games since his last Super Bowl title?  In order to evaluate this, I compared Brady to 13 other all-time great quarterbacks:  Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Roger Staubach, Brett Favre, Steve Young, and Troy Aikman.  How does Brady stack up against these great players in terms of winning playoff games?

First I looked at each of these QBs' playoff wins and playoff winning percentage in total.  As a caveat, I did not include games by these QBs when they were backups and played just a few snaps (for example, Steve Young during the Joe Montana days in San Francisco).  Now, Brady has the most playoff wins of any QB in history with 18.  Montana is second with 16, and Bradshaw and Elway are tied for third at 14.  Here's the complete list:

Playoff Wins

  1. Brady - 18

  2. Montana - 16

  3. Bradshaw - 14

  4. Elway - 14

  5. Favre - 13

  6. Staubach - 12

  7. P. Manning - 11

  8. Aikman - 11

  9. Roethlisberger - 10

  10. Marino - 8

  11. E. Manning - 8

  12. Young - 8

  13. Brees - 6

  14. Rodgers - 5

I then looked at their playoff winning percentage.  Here's how that list looks:

  1. Bradshaw - 14-5, .737

  2. E. Manning - 8-3, .727

  3. Roethlisberger - 10-4, .714

  4. Montana - 16-7, .696

  5. Brady - 18-8, .692

  6. Aikman - 11-5, .688

  7. Elway - 14-8, .636

  8. Staubach - 12-7, .632

  9. Rodgers - 5-4, .556

  10. Brees - 6-5, .545

  11. Favre - 13-11, .542

  12. Young - 8-7, .533

  13. P. Manning - 11-12, .478

  14. Marino - 8-10, .444

Brady's winning percentage isn't as good as the four above him on the list, but it's still top 5.

So Brady is right up there among the elite in NFL history in terms of winning playoff games, and winning percentage.  He has also been to the most Super Bowls in history, tied with Elway at 5.  His 3 wins are tied for second place with Aikman behind Bradshaw and Montana, at 4.  He has also been to more Conference Championship games than any QB in history, with 8 appearances.  Peyton Manning said after this year's AFCCG that they should name the game after Tom Brady because he's been there so many times.

But all this brings us to the question of whether Brady, since his last Super Bowl victory, has been simply mediocre in the playoffs.  In order to truly understand this, I asked the same essential question of every single QB in this group:  If you remove the years when they won the Super Bowl, what's their playoff record?  The numbers may surprise you.

At this point, Brett Favre has the most number of playoff wins in non-Super Bowl-winning seasons, with 10.  However, he has 11 losses as well, giving him a winning percentage of .476.  That makes Favre the most accomplished playoff winner in non-Super Bowl-winning seasons in NFL history.

Except for one person:  Tom Brady.

Here is the list, based on winning percentage:

  1. Brady - 9-8, .529

  2. Favre - 10-11, .476

  3. Elway - 7-8, .467

  4. Staubach - 6-7, .462

  5. Marino - 8-10, .444

  6. Roethlisberger - 3-4, .429

  7. Young - 5-7, .417

  8. Brees - 3-5, .375

  9. P. Manning - 7-12, .368

  10. Montana - 4-7, .364

  11. Bradshaw - 2-5, .286

  12. Aikman - 2-5, .286

  13. Rodgers - 1-4, .200

  14. E. Manning - 0-3, .000

In other words, if you take away their Super Bowl-winning seasons, every single one of these quarterbacks looks much, much worse.  And that is a patently obvious statement, yet apparently it needs to be mentioned.  Tom Brady is the only QB in NFL history that has a winning record in the playoffs in non-Super Bowl-winning seasons.  That is remarkable.  The average QB in this group wins 41.4% of his playoff games in non-Super Bowl-winning seasons.  Brady is at 52.9%.  No QB in the NFL has ever won a higher percentage of his playoff games in years where he did not win a Super Bowl.  Tom Brady is not only the greatest winner in playoff history, he has taken his team deeper more often than anyone, and he's even been the best in history when his team hasn't won the Super Bowl.  That's remarkable.

There is one more item to consider:  How often have these quarterbacks been one-and-done?  Here is the list again, this time by the number of one-and-dones:

  • 8 - P. Manning

  • 4 - Elway, Montana

  • 3 - Favre, Staubach, Marino, Bradshaw, Aikman, Rodgers

  • 2 - Roethlisberger, Young, Brees, Brady

So for all his playoff success, rarely has Brady simply been a complete dud.  If you take that number and divide it by the total number of playoff games they have played, Brady looks even more impressive.

  1. Brady - 2 out of 26, .077

  2. Favre - 3 out of 24, .125

  3. Young - 2 out of 15, .133

  4. Roethlisberger - 2 out of 14, .143

  5. Staubach - 3 out of 19, .158

  6. Bradshaw - 3 out of 19, .158

  7. Marino - 3 out of 18, .167

  8. Montana - 4 out of 23, .174

  9. Elway - 4 out of 22, .182

  10. Brees - 2 out of 11, .182

  11. Aikman - 3 out of 16, .188

  12. E. Manning - 3 out of 11, .273

  13. Rodgers - 3 out of 9, .333

  14. P. Manning - 8 out of 23, .348

The rarity with which Brady goes one-and-done, combined with the regularity with which he goes deep into the playoffs, have combined to make him the greatest playoff-winning QB in the history of the NFL.  These numbers show that the narrative that Brady is mediocre in the playoffs is false.  It is true that since his last Super Bowl win he is just 9-8, but that percentage is higher than any other QB's playoff winning percentage in non-Super Bowl-winning seasons.  Brady is criticized for this simply because the three championships came early in his career, and none have come since then.  That's an unfair burden to place on any QB for comparison's sake.

The bottom line is this:  Tom Brady is the greatest playoff-winning quarterback in NFL history.  Period.