clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Quarterback Wins is not a stat

New, comments

QB Wins gets thrown around a lot as a way to measure success — and it shouldn’t.

NFL: Pro Bowl Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The title of this article is a lie. Quarterback Wins is indeed a stat. It is, however, a bad stat.

Quarterback Wins is a simple stat to calculate: if the quarterback’s team wins the football game, that counts as a quarterback win. If the quarterback’s team loses the game, then that’s not a quarterback win, because a loss is not a win.

Now that we got the mechanics behind quarterback wins, let’s talk about it.

Quarterback Wins is often used to present a quarterback as being successful. It makes sense, right? The goal of football is to win, and if your quarterback has a lot of wins, then your team has a lot of wins.

Assigning a victory for an individual works for a sport like golf, where success and failure is largely based on one player. Tournament wins can be used to compare Sam Snead (82 PGA wins), Tiger Woods (80 81 - congrats Tiger), and Jack Nicklaus (73).

Except football doesn’t work like that. A quarterback is not solely responsible for whether or not a team wins. In today’s NFL, a football roster is composed of 53 players. On game day, 46 of them are active. Is your starting quarterback important? Yes. Are they so important that all other 45 players don’t matter? No.

When people use Quarterback Wins to rank quarterbacks, they are essentially ignoring every other player who impacted the game.

Let’s look at some numbers:

As per the rules of Quarterback Wins, the winning team’s quarterback is credited with a win. Let’s look at the quarterbacks:

Colts vs. Jaguars

Cody Kessler: 18-24, 150 yards – 1 Win

Andrew Luck: 33-52, 248 yards, 1 INT – 1 Loss

Chiefs vs. Rams

Jared Goff: 31-49, 413 yards, 4 TDs – 1 Win

Patrick Mahomes: 33-46, 478 yards, 6 TDS, 3 INTs – 1 Loss

Is it fair to say that Jaguars won because of Kessler, or the Chiefs lost because of Mahomes? No. So why do we use Quarterback Wins like it is fair? Sure, these are extreme examples, but the fact remains that a win isn’t indicative of a quarterback’s performance.

Let’s look at the top 25 winning quarterbacks (technically 27, but there are ties):

NFL Quarterbacks by Wins

Rank Quarterback Wins Losses Ties Win percentage
Rank Quarterback Wins Losses Ties Win percentage
1 Tom Brady 207 60 0 0.775
T-2 Peyton Manning 186 79 0 0.702
T-2 Brett Favre 186 112 0 0.624
4 Drew Brees 155 108 0 0.589
5 John Elway 148 82 1 0.641
6 Dan Marino 147 93 0 0.613
7 Ben Roethlisberger 144 69 1 0.672
8 Fran Tarkenton 124 109 6 0.519
T-9 Johnny Unitas 118 63 4 0.638
T-9 Philip Rivers 118 90 0 0.567
11 Joe Montana 117 47 0 0.713
12 Eli Manning 116 114 0 0.504
13 Terry Bradshaw 107 51 0 0.677
T-14 Matt Ryan 102 72 0 0.586
T-14 Warren Moon 102 101 0 0.502
16 Jim Kelly 101 59 0 0.631
17 Aaron Rodgers 100 57 1 0.633
T-18 Donovan McNabb 98 62 1 0.596
T-18 Dave Krieg 98 77 0 0.56
T-18 Drew Bledsoe 98 95 0 0.508
T-21 Ken Stabler 96 49 1 0.657
T-21 Joe Flacco 96 67 0 0.589
23 Phil Simms 95 64 0 0.597
T-24 Steve Young 94 49 0 0.657
T-24 Bart Starr 94 57 6 0.599
T-24 Len Dawson 94 57 8 0.591
T-24 Troy Aikman 94 71 0 0.57

The top five looks pretty clear-cut: Brady, Manning, Favre, Brees, Elway. But as we go further down the list, we get some names that stand out.

Sure, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco have three Super Bowl MVPs between them. But if you were tasked with ranking the top quarterbacks of all time, would you put them above the likes of Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Ken Stabler, or Steve Young?

Now you might be saying that volume is important, and it is. Eli has played over 200 games, while players like Stabler and Young didn’t top 150. Let’s sort by win percentage and a minimum of, say, 96 games started. Why 96 and not 100? Because 96 is evenly divisible by 16, which has been the number of games in an NFL regular season since 1978. And because I said so.

On top of the previous 27 players, I’ve thrown in a few extra names. I’ve likely missed players with higher win percentages, but that’s besides the point:

NFL Quarterbacks by Win Percentage

Quarterback Games Started Wins Losses Ties Win percentage
Quarterback Games Started Wins Losses Ties Win percentage
Tom Brady 267 207 60 0 0.775
Roger Staubach 114 85 29 0 0.746
Joe Montana 164 117 47 0 0.713
Peyton Manning 265 186 79 0 0.702
Jim McMahon 97 67 30 0 0.691
Terry Bradshaw 158 107 51 0 0.677
Ben Roethlisberger 214 144 69 1 0.672
Russell Wilson 112 75 36 1 0.67
Ken Stabler 146 96 49 1 0.657
Steve Young 143 94 49 0 0.657
John Elway 230 148 82 1 0.641
Johnny Unitas 185 118 63 4 0.638
Aaron Rodgers 158 100 57 1 0.633
Jim Kelly 160 101 59 0 0.631
Brett Favre 298 186 112 0 0.624
Joe Theismann 124 77 47 0 0.621
Earl Morrall 102 63 36 3 0.618
Jay Schroeder 99 61 38 0 0.616
Tony Romo 127 78 49 0 0.614
Dan Marino 240 147 93 0 0.613
Jack Kemp 105 64 37 3 0.61
Bob Griese 151 92 56 3 0.609
Randall Cunningham 135 82 52 1 0.607
Norm Van Brocklin 101 61 36 4 0.604
Bart Starr 157 94 57 6 0.599
Phil Simms 159 95 64 0 0.597
Donovan McNabb 161 98 62 1 0.596
Steve McNair 153 91 62 0 0.595
Len Dawson 159 94 57 8 0.591
Drew Brees 263 155 108 0 0.589
Joe Flacco 163 96 67 0 0.589
Matt Ryan 174 102 72 0 0.586
Alex Smith 161 94 66 1 0.584
Jake Delhomme 96 56 40 0 0.583
Kurt Warner 116 67 49 0 0.578
Troy Aikman 165 94 71 0 0.57
Philip Rivers 208 118 90 0 0.567
Andy Dalton 120 68 50 2 0.567
Dave Krieg 175 98 77 0 0.56
Cam Newton 122 68 53 1 0.557
Fran Tarkenton 239 124 109 6 0.519
Y.A. Tittle 152 78 50 5 0.513
Drew Bledsoe 193 98 95 0 0.508
Eli Manning 230 116 114 0 0.504
Warren Moon 203 102 101 0 0.502
Matthew Stafford 141 66 75 0 0.468
Ryan Fitzpatrick 126 50 75 1 0.397

Once again, Brady is at the top. Then we have the usual suspects: Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning. But look who is sandwiched between Peyton Manning and Terry Bradshaw: Jim McMahon. With 97 career starts, McMahon has a win percentage of 69 percent.

Further down the list, we have a mix of Hall of Famers and... not Hall of Famers. Russell Wilson’s win percentage of 67.0 percent is justifiable, given that he’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the league. However, would you extend the same justification to the likes of Earl Morrall, Alex Smith, or Jake Delhomme, all of whom have win percentages higher than Warren Moon’s 50.2 percent win rate? Win percentage, as well, isn’t a good indicator of a quarterback’s talent level.

A football team is like a movie. The head coach is the director—they have a vision and they try to get everyone to fulfill it. The quarterback is the lead actor—they get the headlines. The running backs and receivers are the supporting cast—seriously, we actually call them this. The offensive line are the stunt actors—they do a lot of the gritty work but aren’t recognized very often. The defense and special teams are everything else—this includes positions like grips, gaffers, cameramen, costume designers, and hair stylists.

Individually, the director and actors get the most credit for a film’s success. The same applies to the head coach and the skill position players. I blame fantasy for the latter, but that’s another story for another time.

However, every aspect of a movie crew is important. A movie doesn’t win Best Picture without good directing, acting, editing, lighting, music, or visuals. On the other end of the spectrum, movies with bad acting and directing can still get awards—here’s looking at you, Academy Award-winning Suicide Squad. In the same way, a football team rarely wins without a good offensive line, defense, and special teams. Conversely, they can win without a good quarterback, such as the 2000 Ravens with Trent Dilfer, the 2002 Buccaneers with Brad Johnson, or the 2015 Broncos with Peyton Manning. Yes, Manning is an all-time great. No, he was not good in 2015.

It’s time to stop using Quarterback Wins.

In psychology, there’s a theory called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The basic needs are at the bottom – you cannot have a higher level of need without having first achieved the levels below it.

Let’s make a football version of this.

I call this the Whiticar Triangle of Football, or WTF. Atop the pyramid is the quarterback. Quarterback is an important position, but it needs support. You cannot have a football team with only a quarterback. In this case, the foundation comes in the form of every other player position. Every position relies on each other.

A receiver relies on the offensive line to give the quarterback enough time to throw the ball. A cornerback relies on the defensive line creating enough pressure so that the opposing quarterback throws the ball soon. A quarterback relies on the defense to limit scoring.

These positions are all intertwined, and that’s why it is absurd to credit only one position with a victory.

Wait a second. Why is there a small green sliver at the bottom of the pyramid? What could it be?

Let’s zoom in.

There you have it. The one position that doesn’t rely on anyone else: the longsnapper.

They have one job: snap the ball. It doesn’t matter if the punter drops the ball or the kick is blocked: the longsnapper has done his job. Sure, there are instances where it could be his fault, but that comes down to the talent of the longsnapper, not the players around him.

Longsnappers aren’t very involved in returns, either. Don Muhlbach has played 228 games, yet he has only recorded 9 tackles, which is around 1 tackle every 25 games. You might say that they depend on other players to funnel returners towards them, but that’s closer to mutualism, where both parties benefit by coexisting.

And that, folks, is why the one true stat to measure greatness is longsnapper wins.