Why Tom Brady is better than Joe Montana – and it’s not even close

“If it doesn’t matter who wins and loses, why do they keep score?”

Vince Lombardi uttered this quote over 60 years ago and it still rings true today. What better way to measure a team’s capabilities on the field than the final outcome of the game? And the person most responsible for a team’s success is none other than the quarterback. So let’s start the argument there.

Player Regular Season Wins Regular Season Win % Playoff Wins Playoff Win% Super Bowl Wins Super Bowl Win%
Brady 160 77.2% 21 72.4% 4 66.6%
Montana 117 71.3% 16 69.5% 4 100%

Brady clearly has the more impressive resume in both the regular season and the playoffs, and while both have won four Super Bowls, Montana edges out Brady on a percentage basis in the big game. So aside from two Super Bowl losses from Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback has his childhood idol beat in every category. But are we really going to punish Brady for advancing further in the playoffs than Montana? That seems silly.

This is like giving Montana a pass for losing the 1991 and 1994 AFC Championship games but punishing Brady for taking his team a step further yet falling short in the 2008 and 2012 Super Bowls, especially since Brady has more playoff wins a better playoff winning percentage than Montana.

Or, to put it into simpler terms, it is like punishing Brady for winning more than Joe Montana. The numbers speak for themselves: Tom Brady has won a lot more than the 49ers Hall of Famer.

Edge: Tom Brady

Some will scoff at this sizeable win discrepancy and say “Brady played on better teams” or something of that nature. Well, that argument can easily be proven wrong two fold.

First, there’s a reason that JJ Watt hasn’t won an MVP award; while he may be the best and most destructive football player in football, he still isn’t the most impactful. That honor goes to the quarterback position, and the numbers show it:

Position Number of MVP Awards Won
Quarterback 39
Running Back 18
Other 3

For anyone that follows football, the chart above is just regurgitating information you already know. However, what it also illustrates is that since quarterback is clearly the most valuable and most impactful position on the field, it certifies that both Brady and Montana were the catalysts for their team’s successes. Essentially, the better the quarterback, the more success a team will have. And we already established that Brady had more success than Joe Montana.

Yet, since football is the ultimate team sport, a quarterback can’t do everything. Let’s take a look at the quality of teammates that both star QBs played with over the course of their respective careers.

Category: Caliber of Teammates

While there is no one way to determine the quality of teammates, there is a very strong correlation between the number of Pro Bowl selections a team has and the number of wins from that same team in a given year. Take a look at this data from the 2014 season:

brady table 1

The correlation coefficient at 0.681 (on a scale of -1 to 1) is moderately strong here, indicating that there is in fact a correlation between Pro Bowlers and wins. So now that we know more Pro Bowlers generally leads to more wins, let’s take a look at the quality of teammates for both Brady and Montana.

Player # of Pro Bowls from teammates # of First Team All- Pro selections from teammates
Brady 60 20
Montana 63 23

Over the course of his career, Joe Montana played alongside a more talented group of players than Tom Brady, including six seasons with the best receiver to ever grace planet Earth: Jerry Rice. Brady only had two full seasons of Randy Moss and yet broke the single-season NFL touchdown record in one of them.

Hearkening back to the regression line above, the fact that Montana played with more Pro Bowlers shows that the extra talent on the 49ers contributed more to their success than the talent in New England. And since we already established that Brady won more than Montana, we can now also say that Brady won more with less talent, thus making his success even more impressive.

Edge: Tom Brady

Ok, but Joe Montana’s Super Bowl wins are more impressive, right? After all, he beat both John Elway and Dan Marino en-route to two separate titles whereas the two best quarterbacks that Brady beat were Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb.

Not so fast… remember that QBs aren’t just facing off solely against the opposing QB, but rather against the entire other TEAM.

Category: Quality of Super Bowl Wins

With both players winning four Super Bowls, that category seems like a wash… until you look a little closer. FiveThirtyEight.com recently released ELO ratings for each of the top 2,047 seasons had by NFL teams ever and subsequently ranked the teams high to low. Click here if you want to learn more about what ELO actually does, but it essentially is a simple benchmark for measuring a team’s performance over the course of an entire season with the average NFL team having an ELO of 1500.

Let’s take a look at the teams that both Joe Montana and Tom Brady beat in their four Super Bowl wins:

Tom Brady

Team ELO Rating All-Time Rank
2001 Rams 1719 55
2003 Panthers 1576 596
2004 Eagles 1675 138
2014 Seahawks 1749 22
Average 1,679.75 202.75

Joe Montana

Team ELO Rating All-Time Rank
1981 Bengals 1631 308
1984 Dolphins 1727 47
1988 Bengals 1608 417
1989 Broncos 1619 361
Average 1,646.25 283.25

In Montana’s four Super Bowl wins, his 49ers clearly beat up on some sub-Super Bowl caliber teams. While Brady’s victories aren’t eye-popping at first glance, he at least beat three top 150 all-time teams. Montana only beat one.

Now, this isn’t Montana’s fault whatsoever – he took care of business when he had to. It’s just that the business he took care of was against lesser competition than what Tom Brady had to face, thus making Brady’s victories slightly more impressive.

Edge: Tom Brady

How about their actual play on the field? Surely that is vital in determining who is the better signal caller. Heck, there’s a reason Terry Bradshaw never gets mentioned in the “best QB ever” debate when he won four Super Bowls: his stats and performance were never extraordinary.

Category: Career Stats

Player Passing Yards Passing TDs Passing Yards/G Completion% TD% INT% QB Rating
Brady 53,258 392 255 63.6% 5.5% 2% 96.1
Montana 40,551 273 211.2 63.2% 5.1% 2.6% 92.3

Tom Brady puts Montana’s career passing yards and touchdowns to shame, but there’s two important caveats here. First of all, Brady has played in 17 more games than his counterpart (mainly due to strike seasons in both 1982 and 1987 – both QBs have a total fourteen seasons notched as the starting QB of their respective teams). Secondly, NFL teams pass much more nowadays than they did 25 years ago, thus inflating Brady’s numbers.

However, take a look at the statistics that in bold. Each of these stats are percentage-based, meaning that they allow us to compare players across different eras without worrying about amount of games played nor inflation totals. They purely illustrate how well a quarterback actually performs on the field.

The Patriots quarterback wins all of these categories with ease too. He completes passes at a higher rate, throws touchdowns at a higher rate, throws interceptions at a lower rate, and has a better overall QB rating. So essentially, in all relevant forms of statistical analysis, Brady is the better quarterback no matter how you slice it.

Category: Conclusion

Joe Montana is one the greatest quarterbacks to ever set foot on an NFL field, and there’s no question about it. The numbers don’t lie, though. No matter how one looks at the data, Tom Brady is the better quarterback. His stats are far superior, he wins more with less talent around him, and his Super Bowl victories are more impressive. The only question that remains, though, is this: If not Joe Montana, then who, if anyone, is better than Brady?


“Players.” Joe Montana: Career Stats at NFL.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

“New England Patriots.” Tom Brady: Career Stats at NFL.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

“Introducing NFL Elo Ratings.” DataLab. N.p., 04 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

“The Best NFL Teams Of All Time, According To Elo.” FiveThirtyEight. N.p., 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

“Tom Brady NFL Football Statistics | Pro-Football-Reference.com.” Pro-Football-Reference.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

“Joe Montana NFL Football Statistics | Pro-Football-Reference.com.” Pro-Football-Reference.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Dylan Elder 

Class of 2019

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