Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees: Which QB is better?
*This article has since been updated to reflect Tom Brady and Drew Brees' career statistics, as of Jan. 25, 2021.
The longstanding Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees debate presented a new piece of evidence Sunday night, when Brees and his New Orleans Saints bested Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second time in 2020.
In the primetime showdown, Brady suffered the worst defeat of his 21-year NFL career and recorded his third-worst passer rating (40.4), while Brees threw for 222 yards and four touchdown passes in a 38-3 win.
If we were to judge these two quadragenarian quarterbacks solely on their head-to-head matchups this season, Brees would easily come out on top. But based on overall body of work from more than two decades in the NFL, identifying the superior quarterback is far more complex.
Let's dissect the debate by comparing production, using five key statistics, and look at a few other intangibles to determine which quarterback has been better in their NFL career.
Brady got his first start with the New England Patriots in Week 3 of the 2001 season, a year after he was drafted in the sixth round out of Michigan.
In 2002, Brees — who was selected out of Purdue in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft — became the full-time starter in San Diego, where he played until he signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2006.
Brady has started 299 regular-season games, whereas Brees has been a starter in 286.
Brees has thrown for 1,154 more yards and attempted 47 fewer passes.
Brees has led the league in passing yards seven times (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016). Brady has done the same just twice (2005, 2007).
The Saints QB's highest single-season passing yards total is 5,476 yards, which he achieved in 2011, the same season Brady threw for his career high (5,235).
However, while Brady has accumulated fewer passing yards, he averages more passing yards per completion (11.7) than Brees (11.3).
One important measure of a quarterback's effectiveness is accuracy, and in this category, Brees has been far superior.
Brady has led the league in completion percentage just once (68.9% in 2007), while Brees did so in 2009 (70.6%), 2010 (68.1%), 2011 (71.2%), 2017 (72%), 2018 (74.4%), and 2019 (74.3%).
In 2020, Brees completed 70.5% of his passes, while Brady has completed 65.7%.
Brees may have won the accuracy battle, but when it comes to scoring, he and Brady are neck and neck.
At the conclusion of the 2020 regular season, Brady had 581 career touchdown passes, and Brees — who played in four fewer games — finished with 571.
For the season, Brady recorded 40 touchdown passes, his second-highest season total, while Brees tallied 24 through 12 games.
Brady and Brees have also been the league leader in touchdown passes four times each, but Brady has thrown for the most in one season, with 50 in 2007. Brees' highest single-season touchdown total is 46 (2011).
Finding the end zone is one thing. Throwing away scoring opportunities is another.
Brady has had 191 passes intercepted, good for a 1.8% pass interception rate (tied for fourth all-time). Brees has been picked off 243 times, a rate of 2.3%.
Even more damaging for Brees, Brady's highest single-season interception total is 14 (2002, 2004, 2005), while the Saints QB has thrown at least 14 interceptions in 10 seasons. Brees recorded his highest interception total (22) in 2010, and he led the NFL in picks (19) in 2012.
One more way to analyze a quarterback's overall production is through passer rating, which uses pass attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions to calculate a quarterback's efficiency.
Brees owns a 98.7 career passer rating, which is only slightly higher than Brady's 97.3.
Looking across each season, Brady has recorded the highest individual passer rating of the two, with a 117.2 mark in 2007. Brees' best rating (116.3) came last season, when he started only 11 games because of a thumb injury.
Brady vs. Brees postseason success
The players heralded as the greatest of all-time are the ones who won the games that mattered the most.
To Brady's advantage, he played under one of the greatest coaches, Bill Belichick, who guided the Patriots to nine Super Bowl appearances and six titles, all with Brady. The Patriots QB also earned Super Bowl MVP four times.
At the end of the 2020 season — Brady's first with Tampa Bay — he guided the Bucs to Super Bowl LV. The game, on Feb. 7, will mark Brady's 10th Super Bowl appearance — which is twice as many appearances as any other starting quarterback in NFL history.
Brees spent most of his career playing under another highly regarded coach, Sean Payton, and reached just one Super Bowl, which he won in 2010, along with Super Bowl MVP.
Brees' overall postseason record is 9-9, while Brady's record is 33-11.
Brady vs. Brees clutchness
Not only does Brady top Brees in postseason production, but he has led his team on more game-winning drives in the playoffs.
In 44 games, Brady spearheaded 14 game-winning drives. He also accomplished nine fourth-quarter comebacks.
Out of Brees' 18 postseason games, he captained three game-winning drives and two fourth-quarter comebacks.
Brady's 39 career fourth-quarter comebacks rank second all-time, behind Peyton Manning. Brees is third, with 36 fourth-quarter comebacks.
Brady vs. Brees win percentage
Brees has recorded 172 regular-season victories (the fourth-most by an NFL quarterback) and suffered 114 losses, good for a 60.1% win percentage.
Brady has won 77% of his regular-season games, and his 230 wins are the most by a quarterback in NFL history.
Is Brady or Brees the better QB?
Does a player’s total passing yards, completion percentage, and number of touchdown passes mean more? Or does win percentage, Super Bowl titles, and Super Bowl MVPs outweigh the individual stats?
Who has been the better quarterback in his career?
This debate may never come to a definitive conclusion, but one thing is for sure. Even in their 40s, Brees and Brady are two of the best quarterbacks in the league. And when it's all said and done, they will go down as two of the best to ever play the game.