When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw three interceptions in the second half alone last Sunday to almost single-handedly deliver a playoff win to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady, the inevitable questions immediately arose. Which QB has had the better career?
We don’t need to revisit what the historical record will say about Brady: That’s well documented. But the two guys represent an interesting comparison, for a handful of reasons: age, career success, and collegiate origins (both played for B1G schools).
This is what we see at this point, considering Brees may be on his way to imminent retirement:
- QB rating, regular season: Brees 98.7, Brady 97.3
- QB rating, postseason: Brees 97.1, Brady 90.2
- Approximate Value (AV), per game: Brady 0.98, Brees 0.96
In terms of pure statistical production, Brady has played 301 games in the NFL, while Brees has only played 287 games. Brady has 13 more starts in his career, and we can see the sabermetric splits above in terms of comparing the 42-year-old Brees with the soon-to-be 44-year-old Brady. Both men have exceeded expectations in terms of longevity in the sport at their positions, without a doubt.
One of the key elements we note above is Brady’s significant decline from regular-season production to postseason production—and how that has not hurt his playoff record as a starting QB. Somehow, despite losing more than 7 points off his QB rating, Brady has a 32-11 record in the postseason, while Brees may finish his career with a mere 9-9 mark as a playoff starter, despite being relatively the same-quality QB in January.
Brees managed to get the New Orleans Saints to only one Super Bowl in his career—identical to Green Bay Packers legend Aaron Rodgers—while Brady seems to have been a regular participant in the NFL’s championship game with 9 appearances over his career.
Ignoring the elephant in the room for now, it’s clear that Brees (like Rodgers), has been a better quarterback than Brady, even if that quality of play has not been reflected in a team’ won-loss record. We all know the overall success of a football team relies on a lot more than its QB, even if the relative success of that team often does start with quarterback play.
We also can confirm this is reality: A good QB can’t take a bad team very far, while a good team can carry a bad QB all the way to Super Bowl titles (looking at you, Trent Dilfer). We’ve seen the latter play out quite often in NFL history, in truth, while the former is something harder to fathom.
Archie Manning is the poster boy for the former, and his 1980 season with the Saints says it all: 81.8 QB rating, 23 touchdown passes, 20 interceptions, and a 1-15 record as a starter. Brees wasn’t stuck on Saints teams like that, but in his 15 seasons with New Orleans—he also played for five seasons with the San Diego Chargers to begin his career—the team was good enough for the postseason just 9 times.
In those six seasons where the Saints didn’t make the playoffs? Here were Brees’ QB ratings, in order: 89.4 (2007), 96.2 (2008), 96.3 (2012), 97.0 (2014), 101.0 (2015), and 101.7 (2016). That’s rough, especially when you notice that in each of those non-postseason years, Brees’ QB rating just got better and better.
How bad does your team have to be when a QB with sabermetric ratings like that cannot get it to the playoffs? The generic average of those seasons comes out to 96.9 QB ratings. That’s basically almost the same as Brady’s career QB rating—yet Brady only missed the playoffs as the starting quarterback once (2002), when he posted an 85.7 QB rating.
So, it’s clear—regardless of why—that Brady has benefited tremendously from team play around him, whether it be in coaching or talent. Brees has not had those same benefits, and he still has been the slightly better NFL quarterback.
When you throw in the fishy stuff about Brady’s career, it’s even more obvious that Brees should be remembered long term as the superior player … without much of a doubt at all.
Sidebar: We’ve covered Brady’s suspicious health in his career already, with the controversial influence of his dubious trainer. He has not missed a game since 2008 to injury even though he’s now 43 years old. Meanwhile, Brees has shown a normal aging process, missing 10 regular-season games over the last three seasons as he approached his 40s. Like Barry Bonds, one of these QBs has shown a historically hitherto-unseen ability to “improve with age.”