We have been talking about Brady vs. Mahomes from the moment the Chiefs finished off the Bills in the AFC championship game, though we know these two gentlemen will not meet on the field while the ball is in play during the Super Bowl. It’ll be Brady, then Mahomes. Or Mahomes, then Brady. And when it’s over, they’ll meet at midfield and exchange pleasantries, because this is what is expected from the kings of pro football.
It is still a competition, though, the way Tiger vs. Phil was so many times when they were in different groups trying to destroy par and one another in a major golf tournament. The quarterbacks do not have to directly oppose each other to be measured against each other.
MORE: Super Bowl 55 odds, picks, predictionsWhich is why we endeavored to rate the greatest quarterback duels of the 55 Super Bowls.We attempted not to do this by simply looking at the names and measuring one’s legend against the other’s, but by examining what that specific player’s value was in that particular season and how the two stacked up against one other. Of course, each quarterback’s career achievements are going to play a part in how he is viewed, but it would be disingenuous to make that the only qualifier.So here is the list, every Super Bowl quarterback matchup, ranked, with the years noted accounting for the regular season and not the calendar year in which the game was played.1. Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino, 1984Preamble : Montana already had one Super Bowl victory on his resume when Marino entered the league in 1983, and Marino’s sophomore season was so statistically outrageous that perhaps only Patrick Mahomes has matched it since. Marino led the Dolphins to a 14-2 record and led the NFL in completions, attempts, yards, passer rating and touchdowns; his 48 TDs set a record that stood for 20 years. Marino was first-team All-Pro. Montana was second-team with a season that featured 64 percent completions, 28 touchdowns and a 14-1 record in 15 starts.The Game: The Dolphins’ dynamic passing attack never materialized, with Marino finishing 29-of-50 for 318 yards and two interceptions. Montana outgained him, completing 24-of-35 for 331 yards and three TDs.Final score: 49ers 38, Dolphins 16Hall of Fame: Montana inducted in 2000; Marino inducted in 20052. Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach, 1978Preamble: Bradshaw was a two-time Super Bowl winner by this time, but this was the first season in which he was the principal agent of the Steelers’ success. He became NFL MVP with a league-leading 28 touchdown passes and 7.9 yards per pass attempt, and he completed 56.3 percent of his attempts, the second-best figure of his career and good enough for seventh in the league. Staubach was near the end of his career but still a Pro Bowl player with a league-leading passer rating of 84.9, plus 3,190 yards and 25 touchdowns.The Game: The 13th Super Bowl ever played was considered, for years, the best ever and remains in the conversation. Bradshaw completed only 17 of his 30 passes, but four of them were touchdowns. Staubach threw three touchdowns, but the one that wasn’t — a drop by tight end Jackie Smith that could have tied the score at 21-all in the third quarter — is the throw most remembered.Final score: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31Hall of Fame: Bradshaw in 1989; Staubach in 1985
3. John Elway vs. Brett Favre, 1997Preamble: At the end of a run of three consecutive All-Pro selections, Favre brought the defending champion Packers back to the Super Bowl with a chance for a rare repeat. Only five franchises had done it at least once, and this was Green Bay’s chance to join the Steelers with two. Favre had thrown for a league-leading 35 touchdowns and accumulated 3,867 passing yards. Elway was appearing in his fourth Super Bowl but had dropped the first three. His late-career renaissance was fueled by a power running game featuring Terrell Davis, but he was still able to deliver one of his patented late-game drives and threw for 27 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl.The Game: The Broncos and Packers engaged in one of the great Super Bowls, with Favre throwing for 256 yards and three touchdowns and the Broncos not gaining the winning score until 1:45 remained. Although Elway’s contribution statistically was meager — 12-of-23, 123 yards — he ran for a touchdown and set up another by scrambling on third-and-6 late in the third quarter. Because of how he was hit as he dived forward, Elway spun like the blade of a helicopter before landing on the field for a first down.Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24.Hall of Fame: Elway in 2004; Favre in 20164. Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning, 2009Preamble: Brees had led the league in completions twice, attempts twice and yards twice, and the 2009 season became his second straight leading the league in touchdowns. But in seven prior seasons as a starter, his teams only had made the playoffs twice. This 13-3 season was his chance. Manning’s Colts had been Super Bowl champs in the 2007 season, but the subsequent year brought a surprising first-game exit from the playoffs. This was Manning’s chance to imprint himself among the all-time great winners. His 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns earned him All-Pro honors.The Game: After the Colts jumped to a 10-0 first-quarter lead, the Saints managed two second-quarter field goals and then turned around by sneaking in an onside kick to start the second half, which led to Pierre Thomas’ 16-yard touchdown catch from Brees. The Colts responded with a score, but the Saints clinched the game in the fourth quarter when Tracy Porter picked off a pass to stop a Colts drive and returned the interception 76 yards for a touchdown. Brees finished 32-of-39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns.Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17.Hall of Fame: Manning nominated in 2021, Brees still active5. Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes, 2020Preamble: As we wrote upon the establishment of the matchup, there has never been a QB duel like this one: the established best in the history of the position with a young superstar who might have the ability to surpass him. Mahomes’ victory in his second season as a starter was a rarity, as is getting back a second consecutive time so soon into his career. He would have led the NFL in passing yards had he not taken off Week 16 because the Chiefs had locked up the AFC No. 1 seed, and he threw for 38 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Brady started over with a new team in his 21st season and immediately carried the Buccaneers where he so often did the Patriots: to the Super Bowl.The game: Sunday, Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m.Final score: TBDHall of Fame: Both still activeMORE: Brady vs. Mahomes: Who has better weapons in Super Bowl 55?
6. Aaron Rodgers vs. Ben Roethlisberger, 2010Preamble: Rodgers waited through three seasons as a backup, all but unparalleled in the modern game, before getting his first shot to start in 2008. By 2010, he had a Pro Bowl on his resume and had thrown for 3,922 yards and 28 touchdowns despite missing a game. Roethlisberger missed four games that year, suspended for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. But he’d already won two Super Bowls and was back in the game for the third time in his seventh season. He threw for 17 touchdowns in 12 games but was picked off only five times and led the league in yards per completion.The Game: An early offensive drive directed by Rodgers presented the Packers with a 7-0 lead. Then a missed block by a Steelers lineman led to Roethlisberger being hit as he attempted to throw from deep in his territory, the result being an interception returned for a touchdown. The Steelers recovered well enough to cut their deficit to 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, but a fumble by Steelers back Rashard Mendenhall presented Rodgers with a short field that he consumed in eight plays, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. The Steelers had one last chance on their final possession with 2:07 left — but had to start from their own 13 because of a special-teams personal foul. Roethlisberger had no miracle in him this time. Rodgers finished 24-of-39 for 304 yards and three touchdowns and a passer rating of 111.5.Final score: Packers 31, Steelers 25Hall of Fame: Both still active7. Tom Brady vs. Russell Wilson, 2014Preamble: So much of the enthusiasm around the Seahawks involved their “Legion of Boom” defense, allowing Wilson’s development into a Hall-of-Fame-level quarterback to be mostly overlooked. Wilson already had a Super Bowl ring and two Pro Bowls on his resume by the time he began his third season as starter. He finished it with 3,475 passing yards, a career-best 849 rushing yards and a combined 26 touchdowns. Brady was 37 in 2014, having won three Super Bowls and been voted to nine Pro Bowls. He hadn’t won a Super Bowl in nearly a decade, despite reaching the game twice between 2005 and 2013. The Patriots were coming off a 12-4 season in which they reached the AFC championship game, so one last push at winning a fourth Super Bowl ring to tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana seemed plausible.The Game: It will always be remembered as much for what did not happen as anything the two quarterbacks did. Brady attempted 50 passes and threw for 328 yards, but he also had two passes intercepted. Wilson was only 12-of-21 passing, but his completions gained 247 yards, and three runs produced another 39. Seattle built a 24-14 lead by the end of the third quarter, but Brady led fourth-quarter drives of 68 yards and 64 yards to put the Patriots ahead with 2:02 left in the game. Three completions by Russell totaling 75 yards, including a remarkable catch by Jermaine Kearse, got the Seahawks all the way to the NE 5 with 1:05 left. From there, power-back Marshawn Lynch ran the ball to the 1-yard-line on first down, then plowed over the goal line on the next play to clinch a second straight Seahawks title. Wait, that’s not what happened, is it? Seattle got cute and had Wilson attempt a pass on second-and-goal from the 1, and his throw into traffic was picked off by Malcolm Butler. Game over. Dynasty renewed.Final score: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24Hall of Fame: Both still active
8. Troy Aikman vs. Jim Kelly, 1993Preamble: Aikman entered the season as Super Bowl champion, having led the Cowboys to a 52-17 blowout over the Bills the previous season. He completed a league-best 69.1 percent of his passes and only threw six interceptions in 392 attempts. He was selected to a third consecutive Pro Bowl. Kelly’s 1993 season was not his best statistically — he threw as many interceptions as touchdowns, and his passer rating of 79.9 was one of his lowest — but he led the Bills to a 12-4 record and to a fourth consecutive Super Bowl. No other quarterback ever achieved that distinction.The Game: As dominant as they were in the AFC, and as well as they started in this one, the Bills again could not find a way to hold off the Cowboys. They built a 13-6 halftime lead, but it could have been more had they not settled for three Steve Christie field goals. Kelly threw for 260 yards on 50 pass attempts but could not produce a single TD pass. With the Cowboys’ ground game doing much of the damage, Aikman had to throw only 27 times for 207 yards.Final score: Cowboys 30, Bills 13Hall of Fame: Aikman in 2006, Kelly in 20029. Joe Montana vs. John Elway, 1989Preamble: The names involved would suggest this confrontation should be higher the list. But that’s how it’s viewed three decades later because the two quarterbacks are legends. In its time, it seemed somewhat of a mismatch: a three-time Super Bowl champion in Montana who was beginning to be regarded as the greatest ever to play his position against a player with unmatched physical gifts who couldn’t seem to deliver when it counted most. Elway, as well, was coming off one of his poorest seasons, in which he threw as many interceptions (18) as touchdown passes. Montana had brought Super Bowls to the 49ers in 1981, 1984 and 1988. Elway had thrown a combined nine interceptions in two Broncos postseasons that ended with Super Bowl losses. And there were few who gave him much of a chance in this one.The Game: It was not one, as expected. The 49ers entered as 12-point favorites and had that covered by halftime, building a 27-3 lead that included three Montana touchdown passes. Montana finished 22-of-29 for 297 yards and five touchdowns. Elway passed for only 108 yards and was picked off twice.Final score: 49ers 55, Broncos 10Hall of Fame: Montana in 2000, Elway in 200410. Ken Stabler vs. Fran Tarkenton, 1976Preamble: How many Super Bowls might Stabler have played (and won) had there been no Steel Curtain? The Raiders lost to the Steelers three times in the previous four seasons and he had yet to make a Super Bowl appearance — despite two Pro Bowl selections and leading the league in completion percentage (1973) and touchdown passes (1974) — by the time the 1976 season dawned. That season was Stabler’s magnum opus, though: an 11-1 record in 12 starts, NFL-best numbers in completion percentage, touchdowns, yards per attempt and passer rating. The Raiders still had to get past Pittsburgh, but they dominated the AFC title game. Tarkenton made the last of eight Pro Bowls with a league-best 255 completions along with 17 touchdowns against only eight interceptions and a career-low interception percentage. This became his last chance to, at last, win a Super Bowl.The Game: The Vikings blew an early chance to take a lead, recovering a blocked punt at the Raiders’ 3 but then fumbled away a possible touchdown on the second play after the turnover. They never really recovered from that blunder. The Raiders built a 16-0 lead by halftime that included a 1-yard TD pass by Stabler. He finished 12-of-19 for 180 yards. In an effort to catch up, Tarkenton managed 205 yards while breaking a Super Bowl record with 35 pass attempts, but two interceptions did not help the Vikings’ cause.Final Score: Raiders 32, Vikings 14Hall of Fame: Tarkenton in 1986, Stabler in 201611. Bart Starr vs. Len Dawson, 1966Final Score: Packers 35, Chiefs 10Hall of Fame: Starr in 1977, Dawson in 198712. Roger Staubach vs. Bob Griese, 1971Final score: Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3Hall of Fame: Staubach in 1985, Griese in 199013. Joe Montana vs. Ken Anderson, 1981Final score: 49ers 26, Bengals 21Hall of Fame: Montana in 2000, Anderson eligible since 199114. Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach, 1975Final score: Steelers 21, Cowboys 17Hall of Fame: Bradshaw in 1989; Staubach in 1985
15. Tom Brady vs. Matt Ryan, 2016Final score: Patriots 34, Falcons 28Hall of Fame: Both still active16. Russell Wilson vs. Peyton Manning, 2013Final score: Seahawks 48, Broncos 8Hall of Fame: Manning nominated in 2021, Wilson still active17. Tom Brady vs. Donovan McNabb, 2004Final score: Patriots 24, Eagles 21Hall of Fame: Brady still active, McNabb eligible since 201618. Troy Aikman vs. Jim Kelly, 1992Final score: Cowboys 52, Bills 17Hall of Fame: Aikman in 2006, Kelly in 200219. Tom Brady vs. Kurt Warner, 2001Final score: Patriots 2017, Rams 17Hall of Fame: Brady still active, Warner in 201720. Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady, 2011Final score: Giants 21, Patriots 17Hall of Fame: Manning eligible in 2024, Brady still active21. Kurt Warner vs. Steve McNair, 1999Final score: Rams 23, Titans 16Hall of Fame: Warner in 2017, McNair eligible since 201222. Bob Griese vs. Fran Tarkenton, 1973Final score: Dolphins 24, Vikings 7Hall of Fame: Griese in 1990, Tarkenton in 198623. Bart Starr vs. Daryle Lamonica, 1967Final score: Packers 33, Raiders 14Hall of Fame: Starr in 1977, Lamonica eligible since 198024. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Kurt Warner, 2008Final score: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23Hall of Fame: Warner in 2017, Roethlisberger still active25. Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady, 2007Final score: Giants 17, Patriots 14Hall of Fame: Brady still active, Manning eligible in 202426. Joe Montana vs. Boomer Esiason, 1988Final score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16Hall of Fame: Montana in 2000, Esiason eligible since 200327. Brett Favre vs. Drew Bledsoe, 1996Final score: Packers 35, Patriots 21Hall of Fame: Favre in 2016, Bledsoe eligible since 201128. Steve Young vs. Stan Humphries, 1994Final score: 49ers 49, Chargers 26Hall of Fame: Young in 200529. Peyton Manning vs. Rex Grossman, 2006Final score: Colts 29, Bears 17Hall of Fame: Manning nominated in 2021MORE: Do Bucs really have home-field advantage vs. Chiefs?30. Patrick Mahomes vs. Jimmy Garoppolo, 2020Final score: Chiefs 31, 49ers 20Hall of Fame: Both still active
31. Peyton Manning vs. Cam NewtonFinal score: Broncos 24, Panthers 10Hall of Fame: Manning nominated in 2021, Newton still active32. Tom Brady vs. Jared Goff, 2018Final score: Patriots 13, Rams 3Hall of Fame: Both still active33. Bob Griese vs. Billy Kilmer, 1972Final score: Dolphins 14, Washington 7Hall of Fame: Griese in 199034. Joe Namath vs. Earl Morrall, 1968Final score: Jets 16, Colts 7Hall of Fame: Namath in 198535. Len Dawson vs. Joe Kapp, 1969Final score: Chiefs 23, Vikings 7Hall of Fame: Dawson in 198736. Johnny Unitas vs. Craig Morton, 1970Final score: Colts 16, Cowboys 13Hall of Fame: Unitas in 197937. Terry Bradshaw vs. Fran Tarkenton, 1974Final score: Steelers 16, Vikings 6Hall of Fame: Bradshaw in 1989, Tarkenton in 198638. Roger Staubach vs. Craig Morton, 1977Final score: Cowboys 27, Broncos 10Hall of Fame: Staubach in 198539. Tom Brady vs. Jake Delhomme, 2003Final score: Patriots 32, Panthers 29Hall of Fame: Brady still active40. John Elway vs. Chris Chandler, 1998Final score: Broncos 34, Falcons 19Hall of Fame: Elway in 200441. Phil Simms vs. John Elway, 1986Final score: Giants 39, Broncos 20Hall of Fame: Elway in 200442. Doug Williams vs. John Elway, 1987Final score: Washington 42, Broncos 10Hall of Fame: Elway in 200443. Terry Bradshaw vs. Vince Ferragamo, 1979Final score: Steelers 31, Rams 19Hall of Fame: Bradshaw in 198944. Troy Aikman vs. Neil O’Donnell, 1995Final score: Cowboys 27, Steelers 17Hall of Fame: Aikman in 200645. Nick Foles vs. Tom Brady, 2017Final score: Eagles 41, Patriots 33Hall of Fame: Both still active46. Mark Rypien vs. Jim Kelly, 1991Final score: Washington 37, Bills 24Hall of Fame: Kelly in 200247. Jeff Hostetler vs. Jim Kelly, 1990Final score: Giants 20, Bills 19Hall of Fame: Kelly in 200248. Jim Plunkett vs. Joe Theismann, 1983Final score: Raiders 38, Washington 9Hall of Fame: Plunkett eligible since 1992, Theismann eligible since 199149. Jim Plunkett vs. Ron Jaworski, 1980Final score: Raiders 27, Eagles 10Hall of Fame: Plunkett eligible since 199250. Joe Theismann vs. David Woodley, 1982Final score: Washington 27, Dolphins 17Hall of Fame: Theismann eligible since 199151. Jim McMahon vs. Tony Eason, 1985Final score: Bears 46, Patriots 1052. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Matt Hasselbeck, 2005Final score: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10Hall of Fame: Roethlisberger still active
53. Joe Flacco v. Colin Kaepernick, 2012Final score: Ravens 34, 49ers 3154. Brad Johnson vs. Rich Gannon, 2002Final score: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 2155. Trent Dilfer vs. Kerry Collins, 2000Final score: Ravens 34, Giants 7