Quarterbacks are judged by Super Bowl wins.
Want to discuss Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning? What about Eli versus older brother? Is Joe Flacco elite? What about Ben Roethlisberger? Where does Aaron Rodgers rank compared with Brett Favre?
Start counting rings.
It is simplistic. It's stupid. It is inevitable.
For years, if a top quarterback won a championship at some point in his career, he was considered validated. It's wasn't a bad standard, though it serves to short change the incredible Fran Tarkenton. For the most part, however, it made a modicum of sense. Steve Young's fantastic career would have felt incomplete if he had retired with that monkey still clinging to him.
Now, however, goofy analysts and shallow-minded fans simply hold up a finger or two to show which quarterback they think is better when arguing at the bar down the street.
This article won't attempt to disabuse anyone of their favorite pub-stool trump card, no matter ridiculous it may be. Instead, let's take a sober look at just how much one more ring would mean to the league's top quarterbacks.
Manning is the greatest quarterback of his generation, and perhaps the best ever. The only knock against him is based on his playoff record. He has suffered through five blown fourth-quarter leads by his defenses (an NFL record for playoff games), including one in the Super Bowl.
Having recently passed Tom Brady in career passer rating, the only thing he has left to do is win another couple of championships. As he stands now, he's been to two Super Bowls and won one. If he wins a second, the only men with more will be Joe Montana, Brady, Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw. Even without a win, no one in their right mind would elevate Bradhshaw or Aikman over Manning, so the race for the greatest of all time would narrow to Montana, Brady, Manning and Johnny Unitas (who played most of his career before the Super Bowl era).
There's no question that no player on this list stands more to gain historically than Manning. Most analysts will concede Manning is the best quarterback they've ever seen, but the failures of his teammates down the stretch have left the door open for criticism.
For Manning, the second ring quiets all doubters.
Brady has had two entirely different careers mashed into one unbroken run of dominance.
Early on, he was hoisting more Lombardis than the '67 Packers. Of course, the knock was that he was just a system quarterback who rode the coattails of his coach and defense to titles.
Then he showed the world that he's a dominant passer and set new records for efficiency and production. Of course, in the process he lost two Super Bowls causing everyone to question whether he had lost his edge.
There is no question that Tom Brady from 2007-2013 is a vastly superior player in every way to the Brady who won championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Of course, that's what makes the 'rings' argument so asinine.
Still, for Tom Terrific, a fourth ring (and sixth Super Bowl appearance) would tie him with Montana and Bradshaw and give him a legitimate claim to the title of best quarterback of all time. He has the stats. He would have the hardware.
The advanced metric community already embraces him as among the best ever. The ring lovers of America can't wait to anoint him.
All he needs to do is slip one more on his finger.
There was a small window of time when a narrative formed that Roethlsiberger was preternaturally clutch. The Steelers were marching toward their third Super Bowl despite generally terrible quarterback play.
Because the simple minded couldn't accept that there might be other reasons for the victories, they crafted a story to explain away Roethlisberger's generally uneven play in the 2010 playoffs, saying that his "clutchness" was the reason the Steelers were nearly champions.
That worked right up until it didn't. Pittsburgh lost the Super Bowl as Big Ben failed on the final drive.
Roethlisberger has started to break down physically thanks to a decade of beatings. He's already a likely Hall of Famer, and probably underrated overall. A third ring would certainly go a long way toward establishing as one of the 10 best of all time.
It's not crazy. He's only three to four years away from breaking into the top 10 in most significant counting stats. Another fantastic year and a ring, and he'll make every list of the greatest of all time when he retires.
Eli will always be compared to Peyton.
Let's accept that now.
As things stand, the only reason there's a discussion about the two is that Eli has two rings. The best season of his career would rank as his older brother's ninth best year. So in terms of quality play, there's really nothing to compare.
You could take the worst nine seasons of Peyton's pro resume, and they would still dwarf Eli. Keep in mind, Peyton's ninth-worst season was 2003 when he was NFL MVP. In his seventh-worst season, he was also MVP.
They will always be compared, but there is no comparison.
If Eli won that third ring, however, he'd climb into Aikmanville. Already a legend for what he's done in New York, the fight between ring believers and the sane would reach a fever pitch.
Eli and Peyton would become Ground Zero for the most divisive debate in NFL history.
Brees is often the forgotten man in the 'best quarterback playing today' discussion. Part of the reason is because people discount much of his production due to Sean Payton's prolific passing structure.
The knock on Brees has always been that he puts up big, but empty yards. Despite an amazing career, his teams have only made the playoffs five times. He's never led his team to victory in a road game in the playoffs.
He's great, but popular perception sees him as a cut below Brady and Peyton Manning.
Another ring would change that perception. He's had some fantastic games in defeat in the postseason. He's lost three games with a passer rating over 90 in the playoffs. Only Peyton and Warren Moon have more.
It's not his fault he doesn't have more hardware on his hands, but the same could be said of many players.
Another ring would add some weight to the big yardage totals on his spreadsheet.
Rodgers is poised to have a unique career. Because he spent so many years as a backup, the league's all-time leader in passer rating has a career that is all peak.
A second Super Bowl pushes him above Favre and into Bart Starr territory in Green Bay.
He's younger than the other players on this list, so there's still time for his career to form, but most have him as the best of the new generation of quarterbacks, and he has the chance to dominate the game for another decade.
Before he walks away, he'll be remembered as the greatest quarterback in franchise history, but only if he dons some more jewelry.
Flacco owns the most unlikely spot on this list. He's been an average quarterback most of his career and, save a really hot month of January, is wholly outclassed by the other men already mentioned.
The perception of Flacco is that he's a just a guy who happened to peak at the right time. He's 2008 Eli Manning, without the famous father.
Whereas some of these players are vying for spots on Top-10 All Time lists, Flacco isn't even one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league right now.
Another victory on the biggest stage, however, and Flacco could become the next Eli Manning. Of course, it'd be great if he ever managed to have a Pro Bowl season along the way too.
For now, he's the outlier. He's the average player looking for validation as one of the greats.
@NateDunlevy If you were willing to give a pass to Unitas because he played most of his career before the Superbowl era then where does that leave Otto Graham. His 112.1 passer rating for the 1946 season was when he was a ROOKIE! That record wasn't beaten until Joe Montana's 1989 season when he broke using the Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense which is more favorable to passer rating numbers after 43 years while Otto Graham whilst averaging 10.5 YPA. Getting numbers like that whilst playing a down field passing game, outside and in the 1940's before pass interference penalties and other rule changes to increase passing and back when receivers were mauled by DBs and running was considered the only way to succeed is simply staggering. The so called once in a generation QB class have nothing on him.
Thats before you mention the fact that he lead the Browns to 10 straight title games and that he won 7 of those 10. He also 5 MVPs, 7 All-Pros and 5 Pro Bowls(one Pro Bowl MVP) and is a Hall of Fame member(1965).
I agree with what was said about the Manning Brother's however Eli does have 2 SB wins vs Brady, not to mention I'm thinking both Flacco & BIG BEN are a bit overrated & Brady has earned his stripes FOR ALL OF THE POST SEASON SUCCESS HE HAD IN HIS CAREER Brees & Rodgers are getting there BUT I NEED TO SEE MORE FROM BOTH OF THEM.
Bottom line, its' a team game. You still need to have a respectable defense and running game. I'm a Saints fan, but we have absolutely no running game (even though we have good RB's) and our receivers (at least at Chicago) are too dumb to go PAST the first down marker on third down plays. If Graham or Brees get knocked out, we're toast.
Sounds like a peyton apologist to me. Blaming the defense for playoff losses is ridiculous. The Colts were built as a one man team so everything is his responsibly.
Game 1. The defense stops the dolphins in overtime and the Colts miss a field goal.
Game 2. Peyton had two chances at the end and did not get it done. The Colts lost to Billy Volek for goodness sake.
Game 3. Peyton had three possessions in the 4th quarter and no points. The defense only gave up three points in the second half prior to overtime.
Game 4. A one possession game until the ill fated pick 6 by Tracey Porter. You can’t make that throw in the Super Bowl.
Game 5. Only 16 points in the game. Peyton scored 27 points a game during the regular season and allowed 23 a game. The defense did its job. The game was at home also for Peyton.
I would say that Peyton may be greatest regular season quarterback of all time. The defense has probably played better in the playoffs than the regular season. Peyton has failed to live up to his regular season numbers
Rogers took a bad team and won a Super Bowl. Bradshaw Brett wasn't that good, In fact if it wasn't for there defense they were worthless. Far was on his was out, booed many times by fans and reporters before Regggie White came to play, Reggie saved his job and career, I challenged anybody and everyone to watch Far the year before Reggie and the 1st year Reggie Played for the packers, than tell me you think Far was a good enough to play 2nd string QB
Brees has played with MUCH worth defenses than the others. Give him the Steel Curtain and he'd have won at least 7 straight Super Bowls. and he's rarely had a running game either. Saints would have gone to SB 2 years ago if tf they hadn't given up 5 turnovers against SF. We were clearly the best team in NFC that year, having smoked the SB champs, the NY Giants , in November.
Because of the way the 2009 season ended for the Colts with the Super Bowl lose to the Saints, I think that people forget how brilliant Peyton was that year. That team was extremely flawed, coached by Jim Caldwell and still started 14-0.
Many things, but the real reason I bring this up is the 2009 AFC championship game against the Jets. I believe people just have conveniently forgotten Peyton's performance in that game. Every thing considered, the weapons Manning had that year and the quality of the Jets defense, I would put that performance up with any playoff performance of any QB on this list.
@John O Dwyer Perhaps if today's QBs played in a semi-pro league for almost half of their careers they would have had comparable achievements.
@lucktab So the missed field goal is Peyton's responsibility, according your own statement.
@lucktab Just wow, where to begin? Okay:
Game 1: The D allows a late comeback to tie and eventually win plus 200+ yards to journeyman RB Lamar Smith whose career averages were 4 YPG and 3.7 YPC. his 5.2 YPC in that game was 41% better than his career average. Blame Manning. The league's "most accurate kicker" with many good kicks from 50+ misses a 48 yarder in OT to win. Blame Peyton. (Note: you want to talk about best ever reg season versus least clutch post-season, Mister Vanderjagt is your poster child. I hear they are building a statue of him in Pittsburgh.)
Game 2: Billy Volek is all you need to say. I guess the better QB won THAT one.
Game 3: OT playoff loss to SD. Since you are in favor of placing playoff loss blame on the QB who had 1 TD no INTs and a 75.5 QBR (90.4 passer rating), surely you will award credit for the win to the other QB, Rivers, who had no TDs, 1 INT, and a QBR of 25.3. The utter illogic of that invalidates your argument that the QB is to blame for the loss if you can't credit him with the win). Special teams won that game for SD--Colts started 7 drives at or inside their 20 including three inside the ten (average start all game: the 17), while SD's average starting position was their 37. Basically, that puts Manning in a 20 yard hole every time and he played the game to a tie--that's fantastic work! How can you put that loss on him? Sproles alone accounted for 328 total yards rush/rec/rtn. How is Manning to blame for that? Only an idiot would not recognize that.
Game 4: Brees was 22 of 24 in the second half. Again, blame Manning. Avg starting LOS for NO was the 32, for Indy was the 16. Again, Manning and the Colts had to generate 15 additional yards on every drive just to be even with the Saints. It's safe to say Manning was outplayed in this game by Brees, but it's also safe to say Brees had more help.
Without looking at the context of the whole game, you are pinning the blame on a QB for having only 1 SB win while his career payoff passer rating is superior to two contemporaries (Ben, Tom) who have 5 SB rings. He has a higher playoff completion % that Ben, Tom, Eli (7 rings total) and a higher playoff AY/A than Tom and Eli. In short, he did more in the postseason as a QB to help his teams than these other guys, and still they have more rings, ergo they are better. Where's the logic in that?
@lucktab Possibly, I haven't' analyzed his post season performance. But Dan Marino had NO defense and no running game and only made it to the SB one time. Bradshaw had a fantastic supporting cast, but he was tough in an era when the NFL actually allowed real contact.
@beacon1950 What a load of crap. Favre struggled at first because he was a young QB, in his first and second seasons. Was it Reggie who caused Favre to throw all those touchdowns and win 3 straight MVPs?
Kind of a dumb comment- different eras my friend. Sure, today's game is more sophisticated, but put Manning or Brady in a 1950s game and after leading an impressive TD drive and high fiving teammates on the sidelines, the coach would be calling them sissy boy for not getting out on the field playing outside linebacker.
Personally I think championships are over rated, but if you're going to go down that path, you can't ignore that Otto Graham led the Browns to the championship game all 10 years he played, winning 7 times.
@Bobman1 @lucktab As I mention the Colts were a one person team. He has to take responsibility for the those loses. The Colts were more dependent on one person than any other team. All the credit to Rivers for his performance in the playoffs. I will say that the Super Bowl against the Saints was poorly coached. We can all agree that his regular season numbers are great, but fall short in the playoffs. I will be the first to admit that he was asked to much for the team.
@Wpmsd What I'm getting at is that Otto Graham played 4 years in the AAFC, not the NFL. That's where his best statistical years and over half his championships came from; for four years he wasn't playing against the best football players in America. Don't get me wrong, the man is still an all-time great, and he still had a lot of success in the NFL, but his achievements, while obviously significant, aren't of the "holy crap automatic GOAT" variety that some tend to think they are when looked at in context.
@lucktab @Bobman1 That's a pretty lazy line of thought. Obviously the Colts were heavily built around Peyton, but the questions that need to be asked are whether that's a reasonable standard to hold anyone to and whether the fact that the Colts lost means that he played poorly.
Game 1: Peyton leads the team to a would-be game-winning field goal. Vandy shanks it, he never sees the ball again as the D gives up the losing points.
Game 2: Look at the two drives. The second to last one ended with four shots at the goal. One a run to get slightly better position (a reasonable enough move). Another he missed Dallas Clark, I'll give you that. Next play literally nobody was open and the announcers raved about the D coverage that yielded nothing. Fourth down he was sacked in 2 seconds because of a missed block. And on his final drive he hit Clark, who let it go through his hands. So yeah, one of those plays he should have made, but look at all the other crap that happened. Overall still a very good game played.
Game 3: In addition to what Bobman has said, on 3rd and 2 the first down could have easily been made if a) the Colts had a reasonably competent running game, and b) the tight end hadn't forgotten the snap count, getting Peyton sacked immediately after the hike. If you want to cite other players being the reason Peyton should be held more accountable, at least make sure they do their jobs.
Game 4: I have my own bones to pick with Peyton for not going to the run more against this Saints D, but the INT was on Reggie. The throw was fine. If you want to look at a second-by-second breakdown of why that is (from an unbiased Cleveland Browns blog, look no further: http://www.dawgsbynature.com/2010/2/19/1302008/rufios-playbook-breaking-down
Game 5: When comparing the regular season to any given postseason game, you HAVE to look at what's different. Peyton lost his starting TE, slot receiver, and several pieces of an already sketchy line from what he had during the 2010 season. His best weapon was being covered by the best corner in the league and the run game was completely and utterly futile. Furthermore, the Colts had less possessions to score points and dealt with worse starting field position than in the regular season.
Nate Dunlevy's original site, 18to88.com, taught me to look actually look at the numbers in context, why things are the way they are beyond cliched talking points (a skill that carries over well to most other areas of life, especially politics). How can you possibly say, "oh, well, he's the QB, so it has to be on him" and leave it at that? When you have all the stats, all the play by plays, all the video footage of how things went down, why would you not do everything in your power to use those to make an informed decision? Playoff wins come from everyone doing their jobs when they have to do them. The Colts were typically run all over in the playoffs. More runs mean more time mean less possessions mean less points on both sides, means the offense looks worse and the defense looks better. Peyton also has the worst starting playoff field position of any QB since 1980. Worse starting field position means more yards need to be picked up means points are harder to come by. Then you have to account the many, many other people who need to perform competently. This does not happen equally between teams. Peyton hasn't been perfect in the playoffs (possibly cost us a SB in 03, you can pick out a few other moments here and there), but the bottom line is when dealing with the very small sample size in a situation that deals with a lot of evenly matched teams that consist of 21 other players not even counting STs, it's exceedingly possible for a player's team's record to not be a good representative of how that player actually performed.