It’s a favorite hobby of sports fans – comparing your favorite athlete to another, trying to determine which of the greats is greater.
Patriots fans and Colts/Broncos fans spent many hours debating whether Brady or Manning was better. But in honor of Drew Brees surpassing Peyton Manning’s career passing yards mark, let’s take a look at Brady vs. Brees and compare the two no doubt, slam dunk Hall of Famers.
The overall numbers are remarkable, and also remarkably similar.
Career record: 199-57-0
5,750 completions on 8,984 attempts, 64% completion percentage, 67,418 yards, 500 TD, 166 INT, 7.5 yards per attempt, 7.1 adjusted net yards per attempt, 97.5 passer rating
Career record: 146-107-0
6,370 completions on 9,484 attempts, 67.2% completion percentage, 72,103 yards, 499 TD, 228 INT, 7.6 yards per attempt, 7.0 adjusted net yards per attempt, 97.3 passer rating
Brees overall has higher yardage volume, due primarily to the fact that he has attempted exactly 500 more passes over his career. Their efficiency in terms of passing is strikingly similar – 7.5 yards per attempt for Brady, 7.6 yards per attempt for Brees. Even with adjusted net yards per attempt (herein: ANYA), which factors in sacks and adds weight to touchdowns and interceptions, it’s still shockingly close with Brady having an edge of 0.1 yards per attempt. Their career passer ratings? Almost identical.
You can also argue that both really hit their strides in their late 20s, so let’s take a look at how they’ve performed starting with their age 27 seasons. I’ve picked 27 because that’s when Brees ended up on New Orleans and he really became a star.
Since Brady turned 27 two years before Brees, the volume stats don’t give a great picture, so we’ll focus on the ratio/average/rating stats here. They remain amazingly on par with one another.
22.8 completions on 35.4 attempts, 64% completion percentage, 272.3 yards per game, 7.7 yards per attempt, 7.4 ANYA, 2.1 TD per game, 0.6 INT per game, 100.0 passer rating
26.9 completions on 39.8 attempts, 68.3% completion percentage, 306.4 yards per game, 7.8 yards per attempt, 7.3 ANYA, 2.1 TD per game, 0.9 INT per game, 100.2 passer rating
So if these two are so similar, why has Brady always been discussed as if he’s in a different echelon than Brees? Part of it is because of Brees’ surroundings. Fair or not, Brees is dismissed as a “dome quarterback,” whose stats are inflated by the fact that he has played the majority of his career in a controlled environment. In addition to playing in a dome at home, having one divisional foe with a dome at the very least guarantees nine games in ideal conditions every year. Throw on top of that two other divisional opponents whose average weather in December doesn’t dip below 50, and that he started his career in San Diego where it is always beautiful, it skews the perception and suggests to some that he would not have such lofty statistics playing in less than ideal conditions as often. So let’s see if the statistics bear out this theory. Since the comparison represents just a six-game difference, I think it’s close enough to compare them side by side, but I still put more weight toward ratio/average statistics than volume.
Drew Brees indoors (career)
3,491 completions on 5,044 attempts, 69.2% completion percentage, 310.5 yards per game, 8.0 yards per attempt, 291 TD, 120 INT, 102.4 passer rating
Drew Brees outdoors (career)
2,879 completions on 4,440 attempts, 64.8% completion percentage, 255.9 yards per game, 7.1 yards per attempt, 208 TD, 108 INT, 91.4 passer rating
At first blush, yes, there looks to be a discrepancy here, but keeping some things in perspective. First off, 58 of the 124 games were in San Diego, including his first two years as a starter, which were not terrific (combined 28 touchdowns and 31 interceptions in 27 games). Passing was also more difficult in the league prior to 2004 when the league put an emphasis on illegal contact and Brees’ numbers reflect what most, including Brady, experienced once that emphasis was put in place. Rules have only gotten stricter (or laxer, depending on how you want to look at it) to open up the passing game.
So if we want a more accurate look at whether Brees really wilts outside of the confines of a dome, I think we have to take a look strictly at his numbers in New Orleans. Don’t throw out his San Diego years, but remember the context in which they were achieved. With that in mind…
Drew Brees outdoors (with New Orleans)
1,864 completions on 2,740 attempts, 68% completion percentage, 310.7 yards per game, 7.5 yards per attempt, 136 TD, 61 INT, 96.7 passer rating
So is Brees better in a dome? Sure, but not markedly so. But even with that, Brees he has played all of 11 games in his career in weather colder than 40 degrees. Brady has played 56. So there is a legitimate question as to how he would do, and it’s one that can’t really be answered. However, acknowledging this is a small sample size, he has a 93.4 passer rating in those games. Tom Brady’s is 95. Of course, it can also be noted that Tom Brady has a 99.2 career quarterback rating when there is precipitation (21 games), compared to Brees’ 86.0 mark (8 games).
So Brady must have an edge in the playoffs, right? Well, no. At least not statistically.
Tom Brady (postseason)
Career record: 27-10
24.9 completions on 39.6 attempts, 62.8% completion percentage, 276.4 yards per game, 1.9 TD per game, 0.8 INT per game, 7 yards per attempt, 6.4 ANYA, 90.9 passer rating
Career record: 7-6
27.2 completions on 41.3 attempts, 65.9 completion percentage, 323.8 yards per game, 2.2 TD per game, 0.7 INT per game, 7.8 yards per attempt, 7.6 ANYA, 100.7 passer rating
Now, it should be noted that there is a case to be made that Brady has played 37 playoff games. Eight were Super Bowls. Of the remaining games at non-neutral sites, 23 have been at home in New England in January, which certainly can make for some less than favorable conditions. Drew Brees has played in one Super Bowl and beyond that, exactly half (six) of his postseason games have been at home. The Saints are 5-1 in those games. They are 1-5 in road playoff games. Brees was hardly the reason why the Saints lost some of those games, but his 83.2 rating at Chicago in 28-degree weather (a loss), 75.7 rating at Philadelphia in 25-degree weather (a win) give a glimpse into how hard it is to operate in those conditions, no matter how good you are and help give some added context as to why some of Tom Brady’s postseason numbers are not as glamorous as some might expect.
Ultimately, what it comes down to between these two is one thing – winning. Tom Brady simply has done more of it. It may be unfair because both of these two would themselves tell you wins are a team stat, but in a league where the most important position on the team gets the bulk of the credit and blame for wins and losses, as a famous coach once said (or maybe more than once), it is what it is.
The bottom line is in a comparable number of regular season games, Brady has more than three seasons’ worth more wins. Brady has almost as many Super Bowl wins as Brees has playoff wins. Brady has lost almost as many playoff games as Drew Brees has played. They’ve each had a comparable number of game-winning drives and fourth quarter comebacks in the regular season, but come to the playoffs, it’s Brady who has led 11 game-winning drives to Brees’ three and eight fourth-quarter comebacks to Brees’ one. Has every loss been Brees’ fault? Of course not. But then again, he hasn’t been the reason for every win. The same rules apply to all quarterbacks. All have experienced some tough luck losses and lucky wins. Both can point to last year’s playoffs to illustrate that.
Fair or unfair as it might be, this is where the true difference is.
Either way, one thing is clear – we are witnessing two no doubt, slam dunk Hall of Famers who, even as they head closer and closer to social security, are still among the league’s best.
That might be their most impressive feat yet.