Is Tom Brady the GOAT?

Is Tom Brady the GOAT (Greatest of All Time)?  This has been a question that has been debated in New England and even across the country ever since the Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl.  In New England, the debate of the best QB of all time has basically been closed by most fans.  The general consensus is that Brady is the best of all time and there’s not a close second.  Brady has had a phenomenal career and he has cemented his legacy amongst Boston Sports Legends, but there’s another guy who deserves strong consideration.

The player who most often comes up in this debate, for those who want to have it, is Joe Montana.  Montana and Brady have both won four Super Bowls.  Both players were regarded as the top QB in the league during their respective eras.  Most importantly, they were both regarded as clutch players who raised their games when it mattered most.  In a big game, there is no one else you would want to lead your team on offense.  This is what put them both over the top when compared to their competition.

In addition to the winning and big game ability, there are a lot of similarities between Brady and Montana.  They both had the luxury of playing for all-time great coaches.  Montana had Bill Walsh and Brady has Bill Belichick.  Both players had a player that he was compared to who put up big numbers, but was not considered to be a big game player.  For Montana, the comparison was always with Dan Marino.  Marino had better stats than Montana in most years.  However, in the playoffs, he never led his team to the championship.  In fact, during his best year, the Dolphins lost to Montana’s 49ers in the Super Bowl.  This story sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  With Brady, it’s the same scenario in the comparison with Peyton Manning.  Manning has been a great regular season quarterback.  However, his playoff performances have left him well short of Brady’s greatness.  Most fans point to the 4-1 difference in Super Bowl wins, but there’s more to it than that.  Can anyone remember Tom Brady choking away a playoff game?  We could write an entire post with a list of Manning’s playoff games where he did not play well.

Now that we have set the stage, we’ll dive into the details on who is the greatest of all time.  Let’s start with this.  In these debates, it’s normal for the current player who is at his current peak to get the edge when fans discuss it.  It’s fresh in everyone’s minds.  In this case, the reality is that most fans either have not seen or do not remember how good Joe Montana was.  Brady just led the Patriots to the Super Bowl and already had a strong track record.  Here’s an example.  Lebron James has been compared to Larry Bird recently.  It’s the same exact mindset.  Lebron has a big playoff game and this talk starts up.  Yet, you could look to any of Larry Bird’s career playoff seasons and likely find much better performances.  In fact, after the 1986 championship season, Larry Bird was being debated as the greatest basketball player of all time.  Why?  Because his performances were fresh in everyone’s minds in 1986.  Lebron has even been compared to Michael Jordan.  Come on now!  If Michael Jordan was playing today would anyone be comparing Lebron James to him?  Whether Patriots fans like it or not, the same thing is happening with Brady in the Montana debate.  Making an argument for Brady is perfectly logical.  However, to say it isn’t even debatable is not being fair.  The overall point here is that it’s always normal for the vast majority to give the player who is at his current peak the edge in these types of debates.

We’re going to break this down into three categories:  Stats, Winning, and Big Games.

Regular Season Stats

Most fans on the Brady side will point out that Brady has better numbers than Montana.  He certainly does in the regular season.  However, so do Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.  The reality is that the game has changed significantly over the past 20-30 years and it’s become more of a passing league.  3,000 yards passing was a great season for a quarterback in the 1980’s  Now, 5,000 yards is becoming more common.  Therefore, the yardage and even the touchdown numbers are skewed in this debate.  It makes it difficult to compare the two players statistically.  However, we’ll take a look at the numbers.  Montana played 16 seasons.  Brady played 15 going into this season.  Going into the 2015 season, the players had the following numbers:


Completion % Passing Yards TD INT QB Rating
Brady 63.5% 53,258 392 143 95.9
Montana 63.2% 40,551 273 199 92.3

Despite the difference in the way the game was played, Brady wins the portion of the debate.  His TD/INT ratio is particularly impressive here.  From an accuracy standpoint, the players are basically even, but Brady’s overall numbers are better even if you include the difference in era.  Brady not only was an efficient quarterback, but he also was capable of putting up big yardage and TD numbers to match the other top quarterbacks.  Brady really stands out here.

Edge:  Brady



We all know that both players won four Super Bowls.  Many fans on the Brady side point to the fact that Brady could have six Super Bowls given the way the Patriot lost to the Giants in both Super Bowl games.  However, the same fans don’t recognize how close some of the other Super Bowl games were including the win over Seattle.  It all evens out in the end.  In addition, the argument that Brady made it to six Super Bowls and Montana made it to four is significantly flawed.  Why?  Because of the competition.  During his prime years, Montana’s 49ers lost in the playoffs to the Redskins once and the Giants three times.  The Redskins won three Super Bowls and the Giants won two during Montana’s prime years.  That’s four years where Montana was at his peak and lost to an all-time great team.  Brady did not have the same competition in the AFC.  The closest to this would be the Super Bowl winning Ravens.  We would all likely agree that Ravens team does not compare to the 80’s Redskins and Giants.  Who else was there?  Manning’s Colts?  The same Manning that Patriots fans would say always chokes in the playoffs, right?  Brady had many games in the AFC playoffs that were not very difficult.  Luck’s Colts, Texans, TEBOW…the list goes on and on.  This is why the six Super Bowl appearances to four argument is not a very good one.  There was a huge difference in competition.

Brady’s regular season career winning percentage is 77.3%.  Montana’s is 71.3%.  In the playoffs, Brady’s is 72.4%.  Montana’s is 69.6%.  Again, in the playoffs, Montana faced elite teams.  The fact that he won four Super Bowls in a decade that had two other all-time great teams is amazing in itself.

This is very close.

Edge:  Montana


Big Games

In the playoffs, Brady’s career record is 21-8 and Montana’s is 16-7.  These are both very good records.  Many fans look at the wins, losses, and Super Bowls as the only points to consider in this type of debate.  Troy Aikman had a 68.8% playoff winning percentage and was 3-0 in Super Bowls.  Should we include him in this debate?!  Didn’t think so.  Most fans would take both Brady and Montana in a big game over Aikman.

Let’s take a look at some playoff numbers for starters.


Completion % Passing Yards TD INT QB Rating
Brady 63.0% 7,345 53 26 89.0
Montana 62.7% 5,772 45 21 95.6


Before comparing, keep in mind that Brady has played in six more playoff games than Montana.  The numbers here are pretty close aside from Montana having a 6.6 point lead in QB Rating.  Overall, in big games, it’s pretty close, right?  So, how do we break this down even further?

Let’s go to the biggest game.  Here are the numbers in Super Bowls.


Completion % Passing Yards TD INT QB Rating
Brady 66.4% 1,605 13 4 95.3
Montana 68.0% 1,142 11 0 127.8

Keep in mind that Brady played in six games and Montana played in four.  Brady’s numbers here are great.  They show how he stepped up in the six most important games of his career.  Having said that, Montana’s are at a completely different level.  He completed 68% of his passes with 11 TD’s and 0 interceptions in his four career Super Bowls.  Think about that.  His QB rating was 127.8 in these games.  Think about what Tom Brady has done in the first four weeks this year.  He has 11 TD’s and 0 INT’s.  Joe Montana did that in four Super Bowls.  The bottom line:  Joe Montana was basically flawless in his four Super Bowl appearances.

Edge:  Montana


This is a fun debate.  It’s really close.  Taking all factors into consideration, the opinion here is that Joe Montana is still the greatest quarterback of all time.  This is an opinion based on stats, winning, and big games.  Having said that, arguments can certainly be made in Brady’s favor.  Even if you are on the Montana side, the reality is that Brady is not very far away from passing him.  On the flip side,  to say the debate is over and Brady is the GOAT without debate, as many Patriots fans have, is really not looking at this objectively.

Tom Brady and Lebron James are at the top of their games and are both being argued as the greatest of all time.  One debate is legitimate.  The other is not close.





2 thoughts on “Is Tom Brady the GOAT?

  1. Good article, and very good points…

    One question: how does the article address Brady doing all this during the free agency and salary cap era?


    • Thanks for the feedback. Free agency has definitely made a major impact on the game. However, the Patriots and 49ers both had elite players on their respective teams. Brady benefitted from having an elite defense during his first three Super Bowls. Montana certainly had great players on offense such as Rice, Craig, and Taylor. Brady had Moss and Gronkowski. Both players benefitted from playing with great teams and also playing for great coaches.

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