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:
Cody Kessler: 18-24, 150 yards – 1 Win
Andrew Luck: 33-52, 248 yards, 1 INT – 1 Loss
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
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|
|Norm Van Brocklin||101||61||36||4||0.604|
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.