Yeah I finished it. Have fun.
This list does not include the Wow factor of how great a player is, or my personal assessment of their talent level. It doesn't matter if I think Kordell Stewart was the greatest QB of all time, and would have shown it if not for playing with horrible receivers and against a massive anti-Kordell Conspiracy, I looked at stats only. No points are granted for playing with crappy receivers or a terrible O-Line. I looked at game scores to see what kind of help they got defensively and from the running game, but only weighted that data when the players were really close in everything else, or if the stats showed a glaring trend. There will be one list I made myself at the end of the page, and links to various searches from PFR that I found insightful. My main sources of evaluation were: (not in order of weight mind you)
Games played (I ended up not letting anyone under 10 games on the list)
Performance in close games/leading the team to victory
TD-INT/Completion percentage/ per game Tds and INTs. (I tried to balance these to adjust for different styles over time.
The player vs. players of their career span.
Performance in games lost. (a 3 pt. Loss when the QB played terrible looks bad on the QB, a 4TD outing when the defense just gets rolled makes the QB look better)
Performance in Championship Games.
I also included running yards and rushing Tds, interceptions in the 4th qtr of close games and yards per pass attempt in my evaluations. With all that data floating around I tried to form a picture of the QB from just the data. I still am debating the placement of some of these, but I'm pretty confident in 8 of them. I'll discuss my qualms at the end.
Lastly, since I relied on stat sites this list only includes QB's that played from 1960 onward. I couldn't find easy to use stats from before then. Apologies to Otto Graham, who in a little research looked like he would belong on this list, but compiling all his data myself, and the data of other potential candidates plus their peers from game logs just wasn't going to happen.
Let the fun begin.
#1. Bart Starr
1st all time for QB rating for those with over 5 games in playoffs at 104.8. 9-1 record, 15TD 3INT, 61% completion percentage. Among Quarterbacks from 1960-1970 he has the highest playoff QB rating by 20 pts. Johnny Unitas arguably was better in the regular season, but Starr was the king of the post season. Keep in mind that while Starr only played 10 postseason games, he played in 7 post seasons, winning 6 championships. While he only had to win one game for all but two of those trips, he faced the top team in those 5 games. Starr is credited with one 4th qtr comeback/game winning drive (called winners from here out) in those ten games. You should know which game; 1967 vs. the Cowboys in the game known as The Ice Bowl, scoring the go ahead TD with time running out on a QB sneak.
#2. Joe Montana
Not far off from Starr, Montana is the Benchmark for the Super Bowl era. Although Brett Favre has taken over most of his playoff records, Montana still holds the #1 spot in TD passes and wins, and is hands down the best Super Bowl QB of all time. Montana is credited with five winners in the playoffs and four 4th qtr go-ahead TD passes, trailing only Kurt Warner's 5. The man has 0 INTs and 11TDs in the Super Bowl, that's ridiculous, it's not even funny. The second most SB passes without an INT is 46, Montana threw 122 passes.
The next three could easily swap places depending on what stats you value most.
#3. Kurt Warner
For QBs with more than three playoff games, Kurt Warner is #1 in yards per game and TDs per game. His 31-14 TD to INT ratio puts him as one of only nine QBs to throw a pass in 5 games or more and have a 2-1 TD to INT ratio. (The full list is at the end of the post) also his completion % ranks just behind Aaron Rogers for 2nd highest among QBs with 5 games. Warner has thrown 5 TD passes to give his team the lead in the 4th qtr, but is credited with only two winners. The mark on Warner is his 1-2 record in Super Bowls, in fact if you ignore the Super Bowl results for Montana and Warner, you could easily argue Warner should be above Montana. (I'd still go Montana because Montana played in so many more games)
#4-5. Tom Brady vs. Terry Bradshaw
I know someone will bring up spygate, but I'm not even giving it a consideration in these rankings. Brady vs. Bradshaw is a very hard call. Both have 15-4 records, both have 30 TDs, both have played in four Super Bowls and received the MVP award twice. Both have only one post season with a QB rating over 100. Bradshaw is credited with one more winner and one more 4th qtr go ahead TD pass than Brady, but I'd drop one of his winners and 0 of Brady's.
Bradshaw deserves this spot because he was slightly better during the prime of his career and because he didn't lose any of his Super Bowl appearances, Tom Brady deserves the spot because he threw 10 fewer INT's over 19 games. I'd give the spot to Brady, but only if I had to make a choice. I don't. I say we have them fight for it. In all seriousness, stats say the order after Montana is Warner, Brady, Bradshaw; Championships say it's the reverse. I'm erring towards stats because of the nature of this post, and I don't think you have to win a Super Bowl to be a great playoff QB. Playing well and losing still says you're pretty good. Lastly, looking at these two compared to others of their time they both come out as elite, but not standing above their contemporaries like Starr.
That finishes the top five, and I'd like to state that they belong pretty much by themselves, the rest of the QB's on this list drop off a decent bit from the top five.
#6. Roger Staubach
The first QB to win ten playoff games, first to appear in three or four Super Bowls, and the third to win two. Not as prolific a passer as Bradshaw, but he picked up more rushing yards. His 12-7 record differs from Bradshaw's by two Super Bowl head to head match ups. Staubach makes this list despite a lower QB rating largely because of what I found when I looked deeper into the stats. Staubach made the playoffs eight times, only losing his first game twice. He had a very good post season four of those eight times, an average one three times, and a horrid one once. He had two terrible games and ten I would categorize as very good or great. Only Joe Montana and Kurt Warner have more 4th qtr go ahead TD passes, his three tie Bradshaw for third among QB's on this list. Lastly his 95.4 QB rating in the Super Bowl is one point lower than Warner's and higher than Tom Brady's. When you dig past the surface of Staubach's stats you find a QB who stepped up and played very well in the postseason. . . most of the time.
#7. Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman has great playoff stats. His roughly 1.5 TDs, 250 yards and 1 INT per playoff game is very solid for making this list. His 11-5 record is very good, and his three Super Bowl wins should put him in the debate with Warner Brady and Bradshaw. The problem is those QBs and even Staubach did things Aikman didn't. Aikman doesn't have any playoff games where he played good yet his team lost. He does have games where they won convincingly despite an average outing from him, and in two of his losses he absolutely stank. Aikman gets credit for all of one winner, and that one isn't very legit. He has exactly zero go ahead 4th qtr TD passes. In his games for the Cowboys, the closest point margin was 9 points, in a loss. They never won a game by less than 10 points. All the QB's above Aikman proved their worth in close games and the fourth qtr. Aikman did not, whether he could have done it or not he didn't, and while I won't penalize him, I am giving credit to the other QB's on this list who did and thus he drops to seventh.
#8. Brett Favre
The record holder. Twenty four games, 791 passes, 481 completions, 5855 yards, 30 interceptions. He falls one short of tying Montana's 45 TD passes. He is fifth in games won, trails seven of the QB's who make this list in completion %, and eight of them in yards per pass. He is second to Montana with 10 playoff games with a 100 or higher QB rating. He is credited with one winner and two 4th qtr. go ahead TD passes. Favre at times was a top five playoff QB, at other times he didn't deserve to be on this list. Overall I like where I have him. He's done more than anyone beneath him on this list.
#9. Peyton Manning
Manning is the only QB on this list with a losing playoff record. Peyton has made the playoffs eleven times, but only won a game in four of those years. His worst post season was in 2006 when he threw only 3 TDs and 7 INTs in four games. The Colts won the Super Bowl that year. Peyton gets credited for one 4th qtr go ahead TD pass and 1 winner. (His brother has two of each) He makes this list because his passing stats are very good, but he is 1-6 in games decided by less than 7 points. Ten of his 19 games the Colts haven't reached 20 points, only the Titans have played 10 playoff games from 1998-2010 with 1/2 or more of their games scoring under 20 points. The Colts defense is also 5th among the 12 teams that have played 10 playoff games since 1998 for points allowed. In games where the Colts run for less than 100 yards Manning is 3-10. Manning makes this list for the opposite reason as Staubach. His numbers look great, but when you look deeper he doesn't look like he even belongs on this list.
#10. Ben Roethlisberger/Ken Stabler
Ben Roethlisberger is probably best known for his lowest QB rating in a SB win, but his playoff stats are nothing to laugh at. His TD's, YPG and completion percentage are all on par with great playoff QB's, his Interceptions are a little high but his QB rating is pretty good. Further the Steelers have not scored less than 20 points in any of Ben's playoff games, and the Steelers defense gives up more points per game than Manning's Colts. (22 ppg – 20.8 ppg) Roethlisberger gets credit for two winners, and one 4th qtr go ahead TD pass. Largely though his 10-3 record speaks for itself. The popular knock that the Steelers defense wins those games for him does not hold up to scrutiny, nor does the Steelers vaunted running game rational, as Ben is 4-1 in games where the Steelers rush for less than 100 yards, 6-2 when they gain 100 yards or more.
I was shocked to include this name on the list. When I started out to make this list I wrote down 20 names off the top of my head that I thought would be in the running, Stabler didn't make that list. His 7-6 record in playoff games is not impressive, but his QB rating, completion percentage and TD-INT ratio beat his two contemporaries on this list. He only made it to one Super Bowl though, winning that one as his Raiders dominated the Dolphins.
Stabler makes this list based largely on one incredible stat. Stabler threw three go ahead TD passes in his 13 playoff games, and ran for two more. That gives him five total, tied for 1st with Kurt Warner. He is tied for fourth with 3 winners credited to him. The two TDs he scored that didn't get him a winner? One was a 30 yard run that preceded the Immaculate reception, I won't count his defense being the victim of the greatest play in NFL history against him. The other was a TD pass that gave his team the lead, then they lost it before a second 4th qtr go ahead TD pass from Stabler won it. Further, in the fourth qtr with his team trailing by 4 to 7 points (FG won't help) Stabler trails only Eli Manning and Joe Montana for getting a TD pass. Winning the game in the fourth qtr. is a huge mark for a playoff QB, some make this list despite not accomplishing that feat, others simply because they did. I could not leave Stabler off this list, or even put him as an honorable mention. The man won games for his team in the playoffs.
The big names who didn't make it.
So the list went to 11. Yet still many great QB's didn't make it. John Elway, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Jim Kelly. Plenty of guys with lots of playoff appearances and Hall of fame on their credentials just don't have great playoff results. Steve Young has that great Super Bowl run but aside from that isn't great, Dan Marino has a losing record and a 77 QB rating. Jim Kelly just wasn't very good in the playoffs.
John Elway has the most wins of any QB not on this list, but his amazing suck in two Super Bowls and stats that mirror Roethlisberger doesn't get him on this list. Elway's claim to fame is four winner's, but he has only one 4th qtr go ahead TD pass. The biggest debate still raging inside me is putting Elway ninth and leaving off Manning. I think the tenth spot duo deserve to be there, and Manning is the only player on the list with great numbers and poor results. Elway's teams largely lived and died with him, but until Terrell Davis showed up he couldn't win a Super Bowl. But still, is he better than Manning? If I made this list ten times Elway would make it five of those. He had some phenomenal moments but he also had some downright dreadful ones.
I didn't put in any QB's with less than 10 playoff games played. One or two years can get you great looking numbers, but I'll take guys who did it more for the all-time list. However some standouts who missed because of their smaller sample size:
Only played in 5 playoff games but posted a 112 QB rating and a 7-0 TD to INT ratio with a 4-1 record. He gets 2 winners in those five games, and has the distinction of having the highest QB rating in a playoff loss, mind you his only loss.
Another 5 game Playoff QB, has a 112.6 QB rating and a 13-3 TD to INT ratio with a 4-1 record. Rogers has one Super Bowl win and a 1-1 postseason where he posted the second highest QB rating in a playoff loss. Rogers could very well end up with the top five on this list if his playoff success continues.
Let the hate begin. Seriously though the kid has good stats. He also looks better when you dig into the numbers. As a playoff QB he is on pace to be better than Manning, I think he could end up in the Brett Favre/Troy Aikman range on this list. That of course assumes he improves as he ages and doesn't drop off from his play so far.
QB's with five games, greater than 2-1 TD-INT ratio
Jeff Hostetler 7-0
Tony Eason 7-0
Drew Brees 15-2
Bart Starr 15-3
Aaron Rodgers 13-3
Mark Sanchez 9-3
Frank Reich 7-3
Kurt Warner 31-14
Joe Montana 45-21
Some stats I found very useful in making this list:
Every playoff QB performance sorted by name. (I learned to hate this list)
That should do it. If you find any stats you don't believe, or have a question about somebody I didn't expound on enough let me know.