Peyton Manning has played 50 more games, so of course his total numbers will be greater.
Drew Brees' offense is much more passer oriented, so of course his total numbers will be growing faster.
But Tom Brady still stands on the precipice of even greater history than he's already written. He has the chance to climb the time ladders of production and further cement his legacy as one of the, if not the, greatest quarterback of all time.
The trio of Manning, Brees, and Brady all rank in the top 10 of all time raw numbers, with Brady bringing up the rear in almost every stat apart from interception rate and quarterback rating (oh, and Super Bowl victories, but that's not what we're talking about).
Manning's always going to be regarded as one of the best due to his absurd production, as he's been able to pair his incredible skill with some of the best offensive talent in the league (first round picks galore). Brees is going to stay ahead of Brady because he just throws the ball so gosh-darn much: Brees has thrown 635+ times five out of the past six seasons, far eclipsing Brady's pace as he set a career high of 637 attempts last season. Mr. Brady's only broken 580 attempts three times in his career. That's a rate that Brady can't overcome.
But don't let that take away from Brady's impending rise. He may never catch those other two- and, quite frankly, it would better characterize his career if he never did- but he's definitely on pace to catch some of the other top passers in history.
Passing Attempts and Completions
Current rankings: 5958 attempts (11th) and 3798 completions (9th), 63.7% completion rate (9th)
Projection: 9th in attempts, 5th in completions, 9th in completion rate
Let's get completion rate out of the way- he's not going anywhere. Five of the eight players above him are active and they're not going to fall behind Brady, barring an absurdly terrible and great season. Of the three who are retired, Chad Pennington (1st overall at 66%) is nearly untouchable and Kurt Warner (4th, 65.5%) is up there as well. If Brady throws 600 times, he'll have to complete 418 passes to pass Steve Young which, while possible, would be a career high. If Matt Schaub has a poor season (yes, he has a higher career completion rate), then Brady could possibly pass him (Schaub is tied with Young).
For attempts, Brady is 11th and Brees is 10th. Brady will not pass Brees. Fact. But if Brady has another 600 passing attempt season (reasonable), he should pass Kerry Collins and Fran Tarkenton for 9th on the list. Brady would be primed to go from 9th to 6th all time in 2014 (Warren Moon, Drew Bledsoe, and Fran Tarkenton are bunched together), but that cluster's slightly out of reach for this season for Brady. Brees very well could blow by all of them if he matches last season's attempt count.
Brady has a chance to make some more noise on the completion rankings, as he's right behind a large grouping at the bottom of the top 10. With 400 completions, Brady can pass the likes of Bledsoe, Moon, and John Elway and into 5th all time. He'll be behind the active Manning and Brees, with only Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the retired targets.
Current Ranking: 44,806 yards (9th)
Brady has averaged 4,633 passing yards over his past five complete seasons. His only season below 4,000 yards was in 2010, when he passed for 3,900 yards on the third fewest attempts in his career (492). I think a 4,500 yard season is more than reasonable for Brady who, even with this young receiving corps, has the ability to make magic out of nothing.
He needs just a hair over 1,000 yards to pass Vinny Testaverde and Tarkenton into 7th place. If he can eclipse 4,519 yards, he'll pass Moon for 6th.
Touchdowns and Interceptions
Current Ranking: 334 TDs (5th), 123 INTs (1st)
Projection: 4th in TDs, 1st in INTs
Brees has 10 touchdowns fewer than Brady and while I think it's inevitable that Brees will eventually pass Brady, I don't believe this is the year that happens. Brady is 8 touchdowns behind Tarkenton, which means that Brady should move into the four spot in the first quarter of the season.
Interceptions are slightly more interesting since you want a lower number. Out of quarterbacks with 100 starts in league history, Brady's interception/pass attempt rate is the best of all time. He averages a pick on 2.06% of his throws. For comparison, Manning and Brees are tied at 2.68%. Favre is at 3.30%. Eli is 3.23%. Brady is the best of all time.
In order for Brady to slip down below Neil O'Donnell (2.11%) or Donovan McNabb (2.18%), Brady will have to throw 16 or 20 picks (per 600 attempts), respectively. Brady has never thrown more than 14 in a season. Sure, disasters happen and with all the rookies surrounding Brady, mistakes are inevitable. I just think Brady's a lock to stay in first.
Current: 96.6 (3rd)
Aaron Rodgers has the best career quarterback rating of all time at 104.6. Brady won't touch that. Steve Young, on the other hand, is in 2nd with a 96.8 rating, which is definitely in Brady's sights.
Let's say Brady completes the following: 400 completions, 600 attempts, 4520 yards, 35 TDs, 10 INTs. A reasonable year, sitting near where he produced last season, if not slightly below. While some might think that he should fall even further, remember that Brady only really had Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd all season at receiver. Hernandez missed 6 games, while Gronkowski missed 5. I think the current offensive unit can produce a similar season.
That's a season with a 101.5 QB rating, or below Brady's three season average of 104.6. That would also boost his career QB rating to 97.1, or second place all time. Manning and Tony Romo sit on his heels at 95.7 and 95.6, respectively, but barring a collapse by Brady and a spectacular season by the other two, Brady should still remain ahead of them.
Brady will likely go through some early season struggles to adjust to his new targets (even though the pre-season begs to differ), but I fully expect him to be back to his usual assassin-like self after the first quarter of the season. Keep in mind that Brady is a13 win-season away from passing Marino (147 wins) and Elway (148) in the all time wins column.
By the end of the year, should Brady and the Patriots make their 8th AFC Championship Game (24 teams haven't made 8 AFCCG as a franchise), Brady will distance himself even further from the other notable playoff quarterbacks and into a realm of his own. Brady already has the most conference championship appearances of any quarterback with one franchise (6: John Elway [DEN], Terry Bradshaw [PIT], Joe Montana [SF], Roger Staubach [DAL]), and he's tied with Montana with 7 career conference championship appearances.
Does Brady have enough to distance himself from the all time greats? I think so. But no matter the final outcome, Brady will continue to push his way towards the top of football's all time greats.