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The original standard for postseason success.

On Wednesday, I explained the methodology for grading each quarterback in each season. Yesterday, I came up with an all-time career list of the best quarterbacks based on their regular season play. Today, a look at playoff performances.

Using the same formula, we can grade each quarterback in each game and adjust for era1. However, it should be obvious that the sample sizes here are incredibly small, and the stats are even less likely to tell the true story when looking at just one game. Strength of schedule becomes a significant factor here, as well. But, caveats aside, there’s a lot we can do with playoff data. For example, we can rank every quarterback performance in Super Bowl history:

1Joe MontanaSFOMIA19W353313040611272
2Steve YoungSFOSDG29W363256043111.1264
3Troy AikmanDALBUF27W302734038112.3258
4Joe MontanaSFODEN24W292975039713.3256
5Kurt WarnerSTLTEN34W45414204479.7225
6Jim PlunkettOAKPHI15W212613032014.5219
7Phil SimmsNYGDEN21W252683032312.4216
8Doug WilliamsWASDEN22W293404135811.6211
9John ElwayDENATL33W293361133111181
10Jim McMahonCHINWE20W202560028411.6174
11Joe MontanaSFOCIN23W36357203519165
12Jake DelhommeCARNWE38L33323303258.8146
13Tom BradyNWECAR38W48354313697.7141
14Terry BradshawPITDAL13W30318412667.8140
15Mark RypienWASBUF26W33292212878.7128
16Terry BradshawPITRAM14W213092321410.2123
17Bart StarrGNBKAN1W23250212248.7121
18Terry BradshawPITDAL10W19209202009.5121
19Aaron RodgersGNBPIT45W39304303488.3118
20Brett FavreGNBNWE31W27246202688.1111
21Drew BreesNORIND44W39288203218107
22Ken StablerOAKMIN11W19180101838.7103
23Troy AikmanDALPIT30W23209102188.791
24Kurt WarnerARIPIT43L43377313297.387
25John ElwayDENNYG21L37304112706.581
26Bart StarrGNBOAK2W24202101826.579
27Joe MontanaSFOCIN16W22157101887.876
28Tom BradyNWEPHI39W33236202597.475
29Joe NamathNYJBAL3W28206001956.568
30Peyton ManningINDNOR44L45333113086.867
31Ken AndersonCINSFO16L34300222546.467
32Jeff HostetlerNYGBUF25W32222102346.966
33Bob LeeMINOAK11L9811010010.965
34Roger StaubachDALMIA6W19119201406.763
35Steve McNairTENSTL34L36214002085.661
36Eli ManningNYGNWE46W4029610302761
37Terry BradshawPITMIN9W1496101046.559
38Kurt WarnerSTLNWE36L4436512287655
39Roger StaubachDALPIT13L30228311614.653
40Jim KellyBUFNYG25L30212002056.652
41Jim PlunkettRAIWAS18W25172101746.448
42Roger StaubachDALDEN12W25183101424.845
43Brad JohnsonTAMOAK37W34215212106.245
44Earl MorrallBALDAL5W15147011026.843
45Ben RoethlisbergerPITARI43W30256112096.537
46Bob GrieseMIAMIN8W77300637.934
47Brett FavreGNBDEN32L42256312405.634
48Daryle LamonicaOAKGNB2L34208211814.932
49Fran TarkentonMINMIA8L28182011414.531
50Gary KubiakDENNYG21L448004510.225
51Troy AikmanDALBUF28W27207011595.521
52Tom BradyNWENYG46L41276212616.120
53Len DawsonKANGNB1L27211111354.219
54Trent DilferBALNYG35W25153101545.517
55Tom BradyNWESTL36W27145101545.314
56Len DawsonKANMIN4W1714211974.910
57Gary KubiakDENSFO24L32800256.87
58Frank ReichBUFWAS26L11100109.45
59Steve YoungSFODEN24W32000206.55
60Vince FerragamoRAMPIT14L25212011274.44
61Danny WhiteDALDEN12W250031.14
62Matt HasselbeckSEAPIT40L49273112344.53
63Ben RoethlisbergerPITGNB45L40263222115.12
64Bill MusgraveSFOSDG29W160065.20
65Fran TarkentonMINOAK11L35205121323.7-4
66Babe ParilliNYJBAL3W10000-0.4-5
67Zeke BratkowskiGNBKAN1W1000-1-0.8-5
68Jay SchroederWASDEN22W1000-1-0.6-6
69Pete BeathardKANGNB1L5170071.3-6
70Tony BanksBALNYG35W1000-1-0.7-6
71Eli ManningNYGNWE42W34255211824.9-8
72Bob GrieseMIAWAS7W118811443.4-8
73Peyton ManningINDCHI41W38247111844.7-10
74John ElwayDENGNB32W2212301984.3-12
75Don StrockMIAWAS17L3000-3-0.9-17
76Steve FullerCHINWE20W4000-3-0.6-23
77Ron JaworskiPHIOAK15L38291131463.8-28
78Joe TheismannWASMIA17W2314322742.8-33
79Dan MarinoMIASFO19L50318122194.1-33
80Elvis GrbacSFOSDG29W1000-30-28.2-36
81Johnny UnitasBALNYJ3L2411001652.7-37
82David WoodleyMIAWAS17L149711281.9-37
83Donovan McNabbPHINWE39L51357332494.5-40
84Norris WeeseDENDAL12L102200-18-1.6-42
85Gale GilbertSDGSFO29L63001-17-2.7-44
86Gary CuozzoMINKAN4L31601-32-9.6-46
87Johnny UnitasBALDAL5W98812-12-1.3-47
88Tom BradyNWENYG42L48266102194.1-53
89Bob GrieseMIADAL6L2313401301.3-58
90Boomer EsiasonCINSFO23L2514401782.6-65
91Jim KellyBUFDAL28L50260011823.4-66
92Stan HumphriesSDGSFO29L49275121893.7-67
93Ben RoethlisbergerPITSEA40W2112302452-67
94Tony EasonNWECHI20L6000-40-5.6-72
95Roger StaubachDALPIT10L2420423371.2-78
96Chris ChandlerATLDEN33L3521913912.5-79
97Joe KappMINKAN4L2518302391.4-81
98John ElwayDENWAS22L3825713932.2-90
99Rex GrossmanCHIIND41L2816512541.9-90
100Steve GroganNWECHI20L3017712561.6-105
101Jim KellyBUFDAL27L78202-72-9.3-107
102Joe TheismannWASRAI18L3524302731.8-112
103Craig MortonDALBAL5L2612713-2-0.1-112
104Fran TarkentonMINPIT9L2610203-33-1.3-127
105Earl MorrallBALNYJ3L177103-64-3.8-136
106Frank ReichBUFDAL27L3119412160.5-137
107Neil O'DonnellPITDAL30L49239131222.3-147
108Billy KilmerWASMIA7L2810403-48-1.6-159
109Drew BledsoeNWEGNB31L4825324741.4-178
110John ElwayDENSFO24L2610802-22-0.7-182
111Rich GannonOAKTAM37L4427225350.7-212
112Craig MortonDENDAL12L153904-157-9-214
113Jim KellyBUFWAS26L5827524300.5-269
114Kerry CollinsNYGBAL35L3911204-124-2.9-335

If you type Montana’s name into the search box, you can see that he has the 1st, 4th, 11th and 27th best performance in Super Bowl history. The best performance in a losing effort goes to Jake Delhomme, who shredded the Patriots secondary in the second half of Super Bowl XXXVIII (he began the game 1 for 9 for 1 yard). The worst performance in a winning effort, unsurprisingly, goes to Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XL, although Joe Theismann against the Dolphins gets an honorable mention. Worst performance overall goes to Kerry Collins, although Craig Morton’s 4 interceptions and 39 yards on 15 attempts against his former team in Super Bowl XII could give Collins a run for his money.

What about best championship game performances in the pre-Super Bowl era?

1Tobin RoteDETCLE1957W192804038019304
2Sid LuckmanCHIWAS1943W262865038614.8248
3Otto GrahamCLERAM1950W33298412927.7236
4Sammy BaughWASCHI1937W33335313209.7228
5Harry NewmanNYGCHI1933L192092120410.7197
6Charlie ConerlyNYGCHI1956W101952023222.1192
7Bart StarrGNBNYG1961W171643022413.2152
8Otto GrahamCLEDET1954W121633219312.9135
9Frank RyanCLEBAL1964W182063121211.2132
10Norm Van BrocklinRAMCLE1951W61281014824.7129
11Tobin RoteSDGBOS1963W151732022613.1127
12Sid LuckmanCHINYG1941W121600016013.3125
13George BlandaHOULAC1960W313013036111.6123
14Charlie ConerlyNYGBAL1958W141871019011.6122
15Arnie HerberGNBNYG1938L141231014310.2117
16Johnny UnitasBALNYG1959W29264202677.4115
17Charlie O'RourkeCHIWAS1942L71280012818.3105

But we can look at more than just individual game performances. After grading each quarterback in each post-season game, we can then come up with a career post-season rating. There’s an argument to be made for placing more weight on the most important games; what I’ve done in the table below is created an unweighted post-season value added grade and a weighted grade, with the conference championship game counting twice as much as an early-round playoff game, and the Super Bowl (or the championship game in the pre-SB era) counting for three times as much. Here are the career post-season ratings for each quarterback with at least 175 career playoff attempts2, sorted by their weighted value. I’ve also listed their number of playoff games, their playoff record (in starts), and their converted yards per play during the playoffs (unweighted):

Joe Montana2316-7181037777806.9
Kurt Warner139-4121920814827.6
Terry Bradshaw1914-5110819554835.9
Troy Aikman1611-474618775366.2
Bart Starr109-172717662387.1
Steve Young208-671113475075.8
Peyton Manning199-10114213307466.6
Brett Favre2413-1179512928285.9
John Elway2214-794212686985.9
Ken Stabler137-579411553815.7
Drew Brees95-476410254087.2
Jim Plunkett108-236910183005.7
Tom Brady2216-65319508365.7
Daryle Lamonica114-56438842796.2
Aaron Rodgers64-25177562407.4
Mark Rypien85-23137562426
Otto Graham124-32326863344.3
Ken Anderson62-43686181886
Bernie Kosar93-44125692856.1
Len Dawson85-32495522165
Matt Hasselbeck115-63914964265.9
Dan Marino188-103954947115.3
Roger Staubach1911-63034634704
Jake Delhomme85-31784082435.6
Phil Simms106-4-993653024.2
Ben Roethlisberger1410-42223074475.6
Eli Manning118-32233023815.9
Doug Williams74-3-872741764.1
Johnny Unitas96-21752432474.6
Dan Fouts73-42012232995.2
Vinny Testaverde52-32052121966
Bob Griese126-51241812244.2
Joe Theismann86-23911622376.1
Warren Moon103-71411414275.1
Philip Rivers73-4144662455.8
Steve McNair105-5-142433314
Randall Cunningham103-677413954.8
Jeff Garcia62-4-37-372284.7
Jack Kemp62-4-21-521792.9
Wade Wilson62-3-22-752114.5
Billy Kilmer72-5108-761844.3
Vince Ferragamo73-3-105-762013.9
Brad Johnson74-3-241-842343.8
Jim Harbaugh52-3-197-1091783.7
Danny White135-5-119-1713824.2
Chad Pennington62-4-200-2002334.3
Jake Plummer62-4-161-2392074.2
Dave Krieg113-6-53-2803084.6
Neil O'Donnell93-4-53-2852904.7
Rich Gannon94-383-3432575.1
Ron Jaworski94-4-56-3542924.1
Mark Brunell115-5-169-3633254.2
Jim Everett52-3-195-3831833.7
Fran Tarkenton116-5-109-4353143.3
Donovan McNabb169-7-148-4406284.6
Joe Flacco95-4-328-4462694.2
Stan Humphries63-3-393-4872403.1
George Blanda82-2-236-5401972.5
Kerry Collins73-4-42-5712524.8
Jim Kelly179-8-14-8225704.7
Craig Morton125-5-446-9382512.1
Drew Bledsoe73-3-634-11042692.5

Manning and Brady.

Not a lot of surprises here. Joe Montana’s Super Bowl performances were legendary, and Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, and Bart Starr became legends based on their playoff performances. Fran Tarkenton, Jim Kelly and Donovan McNabb had their playoff struggles, and come up towards the bottom of the list. Joe Flacco, for all his bravado, has been a miserable quarterback in the postseason.

One thing that might jump out at you is seeing Peyton Manning ahead of Tom Brady as a playoff quarterback. But as Brady has become a more dominant regular season quarterback, his playoff success has faded. Whereas at one time in his career Manning had the choker label — and to some, whenever he makes a mistake in the playoffs, he re-earns such label — he’s had a number of dominant playoff performances. Take a look at the career numbers for both Manning and Brady in the post-season:


It’s still early, but Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have been outstanding in the postseason. Kurt Warner was an excellent post-season quarterback, which is what will likely push him over the edge as a Hall of Fame candidate.

What sticks out to you when looking at the postseason data?

  1. Note that I do not have individual playoff sack data prior to 2008, so I am using pro-rated sack numbers based on team sack data. []
  2. Attempts includes passing attempts, sacks, and rushing touchdowns []
  • Danish

    “Big game performer” is to me a guy who elevates his play for these big games. I think subtracting each player’s reg.season value from the playoffvalue gives us an idea of which player stepped up his game when the lights were brightest.

    • Danish

      Of course I don’t mean the raw value – I mean change the baselines alltogether. These ratings are, I assume, made with regular season league averages. I would change those baselines to regular season player averages.

      I mean if Peyton Manning shows up to a playoff game and plays like the 10th ranked regular season QB, I don’t think we want to count that as a good big game performance, but since this system will in fact give him a slightly positive score for a game like that.

    • Richie

      Eh, the “when the lights were brightest” argument never holds a whole lot of water with me. This almost falls into the Splits Happen category.

      Troy Aikman played in 15 postseason games and started 165 regular season games. Less than 10% of his career was played in the playoffs. Obviously he was a good QB in both places, but there’s just no way that he put any less effort into performing during the regular season. The other thing is that, in Aikman’s case, of his 15 postseason games, only 4 of them were played on the road, which means that he was presumably playing for the better team 67% of the time, plus I think they were favored in all 3 Super Bowls, so he was really expected to win 73% of his games. The deck was stacked in his favor.

  • Chase Stuart

    My guess is by doing this, you’ll end up saying Mark Sanchez was a better playoff quarterback than Joe Montana. Sanchez averaged 7.1 CY/P in the playoffs and has a value of +274 (unweighted) in six playoff games.

  • Tim Truemper

    “Not a lot of surprises here.” True enough, however I am surprised to see Danny White, Vince Ferragamo and Jim Kelly so low–either by just being in the negative for AV and weighted AV (the first two) or by the magnitude of Kelly’s AV/weighted AV. Their performances in losses must have been abysmal given all three had some strong games when winning in the playoffs. Also, not sure how Drew Bledsoe’s playoff career can be lower than Craig Morton’s! Then again, I may be overestimating without the hard numbers his horrible numbers in his SB starts.

    • Richie

      Yeah, I was also surprised to see Kelly ranked so low. Yeah, he lost 4 Super Bowls, but that also means he had 4+ pretty successful playoff runs.

      Looking at his playoff game log: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/K/KellJi00/gamelog/post/ looks like he only had 7 games with a QB rating of 80+ out of 17 games. Only 3 games with 100+.

  • Mark Frederick

    Just to play devil’s advocate, what if we said the most important games were the earlier rounds of the playoffs? One could argue that for your team to win the Super Bowl you must first get there, and if as a QB you played exceptionally to drag your team along in the playoffs, you still give them some chance even if you have a subpar Super Bowl.

    I would love to see a ranking to see which QB’s performed best weighting the earlier playoff games heavily and the championship/Super Bowl games less. Maybe giving a chance to have Fran Tarkenton and Jim Kelly look good?

  • Cameron

    What about Rich Gannon’s XXXVII performance? 24 of 44 with 5 INTs has to be in the bottom 10.