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Playoff Drive Statistics: Tom Brady and Joe Montana Are the Best Quarterbacks

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is regarded as the best quarterback of the 2000s and 2010s. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana is the best quarterback of the 1980s. Both are interchangeable as the greatest quarterback of all time, even if Brady disagrees.

Football Outsiders compiled a list of playoff quarterbacks to compare each on a per-drive basis. "Per-drive" is better than comparing a final score due to the change in pacing of offenses. The data is pretty interesting.

Brady has played an astounding 337 drives of playoff football, the most in the data set, and ahead of Peyton Manning (293), Brett Favre (274), Joe Montana (248), John Elway (239), and Dan Marino (205).

I decided to look at the ten players with the most playoff drives because Brady has more than twice the playoff drives as 11th place Troy Aikman (164), and because ten is a great, easy number.

The ten quarterbacks that qualify out of the data are Brady, Manning, Favre, Montana, Elway, Marino, Jim Kelly, Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb, and Joe Flacco(!!).

When evaluating offenses, the most important metric is how many points they put on the board, and no one has done it better than Tom Brady.

Rk QB DR Pts/Dr
1 Tom Brady 337 2.23
2 Joe Montana 248 2.15
3 John Elway 239 2.13
4 Ben Roethlisberger 188 2.09
5 Jim Kelly 195 2.08
6 Brett Favre 274 2.03
7 Joe Flacco 173 1.97
8 Peyton Manning 293 1.95
9 Dan Marino 205 1.79
10 Donovan McNabb 187 1.68

To be fair, if we expand the rankings beyond just the top ten to those with 100+ drives, players like Steve Young (141 drives, 2.46 Points/Dr), Aikman (164, 2.44), Aaron Rodgers (138, 2.43), Kurt Warner (144, 2.35), and Drew Brees (130, 2.35) could all reach the top of the list. Russell Wilson (106, 2.22) would rank just behind Brady.

Open the rankings to the full data set, and Colin Kaepernick (60, 2.75!!!!) leads the list and Alex Smith (62, 2.26) vaults ahead of Brady as well. Setting a minimum number of drives is necessary.

Flacco, Manning, Marino, and McNabb are in a category of 100+ drive players with a sub-2.00 points-per-drive (PPD) rate. They are joined by Matt Hasselbeck (133, 1.95), Warren Moon (107, 1.87), Eli Manning (119, 1.80), Mark Brunnell (113, 1.56), Steve McNair (117, 1.54), Randall Cunningham (125, 1.46), and Dave Krieg (105, 1.31).

There are 23 quarterbacks with 100+ playoff drives, with 12 above the 2.00 PPD threshold, and 11 below it. Whether or not you believe in a "clutch" descriptor, it seems that those quarterbacks above 2.00 PPD are generally categorized as being clutch, while those below are considered chokers, streakier, or just plain unlucky. I'll note that I don't believe that in actuality, but that's probably how these players would be described.

Brady falls under that perfect mix of longevity and production and he will ultimately be regarded as the greatest postseason quarterback of all time.