The Best Postseason Quarterbacks in NFL History

Jeremy Sickel@ IIIJanuary 14, 2013

The Best Postseason Quarterbacks in NFL History

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    The divisional round of the NFL playoffs wrapped up this weekend with a very engaging slate of games.

    The New England Patriots took care of the Houston Texans pretty handily, while the San Francisco 49ers won their second game against the Green Bay Packers.

    The Atlanta Falcons kicked a game-winning field goal in the last few seconds of regulation against the Seattle Seahawks, and the Baltimore Ravens extinguished the red-hot Denver Broncos in double overtime.

    Looking deeper into the results, it is hard not to notice the performances from each of the winning quarterbacks.

    Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco each threw for at least 250 yards and three touchdowns, while second-year signal-caller Colin Kaepernick made head coach Jim Harbaugh look like a genius after tallying 444 total yards and four scores.

    While some from this group still have a long way to go, Brady is further cementing himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play.

    Largely the face of the franchise, the quarterback is the single most important figure on the football field—possibly in sports, period—and the NFL has thrived because of this throughout its storied history.

    The postseason oftentimes separates the elite quarterbacks from the group.

    Looking at number of titles, title appearances, playoff victories and playoff winning percentage, here are the top 15 quarterbacks in NFL postseason history.

15. Jim Plunkett (1971-1986)

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    Titles: 2

    Title Appearances: 2

    Postseason Victories: 8

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .800

    Jim Plunkett's .800 winning percentage is second only to Bart Starr for quarterbacks with at least 10 postseason starts.

    The MVP of Super Bowl XV, Plunkett is the only two-time Super Bowl champion not in the Hall of Fame—largely due to an unspectacular regular-season record.

    Plunkett is also one of only four players to win the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP in their career (Roger Staubach, Marcus Allen and Desmond Howard).

14. Jim Kelly (1986-1996)

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    Titles: 0

    Title Appearances: 4

    Postseason Victories: 9

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .529

    One of the quarterbacks taken in the 1983 NFL draft—largely considered the greatest quarterback class of all time, which also included John Elway and Dan Marino—Jim Kelly went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Buffalo Bills.

    Though very successful, Kelly will be best known throughout his NFL career for coming up short in four consecutive Super Bowls back in the early 1990s.

    Had Kelly been on the positive side of even one of those, he would have wound up much higher on this list.

13. Kurt Warner (1998-2009)

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    Titles: 1

    Title Appearances: 3

    Postseason Victories: 9

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .692

    The St. Louis Rams signed Trent Green to be the team's starting quarterback prior to the 1999 season. Little did they know what they had in backup Kurt Warner, however.

    After tearing his ACL in the preseason that year, Green was replaced in the starting lineup by Warner.

    The rest is history.

    Puppet master of the Greatest Show on Turf, Warner went on to have a very respectable career in the NFL, spanning 12 seasons and three different teams—including three Super Bowl appearances (MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV) and two league MVP Awards.

12. Ben Roethlisberger (2004-Present)

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    Titles: 2

    Title Appearances: 3

    Postseason Victories: 10

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .714

    If not for the 31-25 Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers, Ben Roethlisberger would be joined by only Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady and Troy Aikman as quarterbacks with at least three titles.

    Playing in an era with other great quarterbacks—Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees—what Roethlisberger has been able to accomplish is incredibly impressive.

11. Eli Manning (2004-Present)

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    Titles: 2

    Title Appearances: 2

    Postseason Victories: 8

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .727

    Though Eli Manning can still add to his impressive resume, his postseason record is hard to top by most in this league.

    While brother Peyton could go down as the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time when all is said and done, twice in the Super Bowl Eli was able to do what Peyton has had trouble doing his entire career: beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

    Although the New York Giants have struggled recently to string together multiple playoff appearances, Manning has made his mark in short order—winning two Super Bowl MVP Awards along the way.

10. Brett Favre (1991-2010)

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    Titles: 1

    Title Appearances: 2

    Postseason Victories: 13

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .542

    Though Brett Favre was only able to win one Super Bowl, his 13 playoff victories are the fifth-best total in league history. His 11 losses are tied with Peyton Manning for the league's worst total as well.

    What stands out with Favre, however, are his statistics.

    He is No. 2 in postseason touchdown passes, pass completions and attempts and No. 1 in passing yards.

9. Roger Staubach (1969-1979)

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    Titles: 2

    Title Appearances: 5

    Postseason Victories: 11

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .647

    One of only six quarterbacks with at least four Super Bowl starts, Roger Staubach is a two-time winner and came away with the game's MVP honor in Super Bowl VI—becoming one of just four players to win both this MVP and the Heisman Trophy (as listed on the Jim Plunkett slide).

    Staubach lost two Super Bowl starts by a combined total of only eight points.

    Had the Dallas Cowboys been on the winning end of those games, we may be looking at the greatest postseason quarterback in NFL history with Staubach.

8. Johnny Unitas (1956-1973)

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    Titles: 3

    Title Appearances: 6 (came off the bench in Super Bowl III)

    Postseason Victories: 6

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .750

    The first of the quarterbacks on the list that played prior to the merger, Johnny Unitas was arguably the most decorated signal-caller of his era.

    Unitas' six title-game appearances are surpassed only by fellow pre-merger quarterback Otto Graham.

7. Troy Aikman (1989-2000)

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    Titles: 3

    Title Appearances: 3

    Postseason Victories: 11

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .733

    Though Troy Aikman's regular-season statistics don't necessarily scream off the page, his postseason resume is one to marvel over.

    Leading the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span in the early and mid 1990s, Aikman was the leader of one of the greatest runs in NFL history.

    Aikman was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXVII after throwing for 273 yards and four touchdowns in the Cowboys' 52-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

6. John Elway (1983-1998)

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    Titles: 2

    Title Appearances: 5

    Postseason Victories: 14

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .667

    It took John Elway and the Denver Broncos four tries, but they finally came through in 1997 and 1998 with two Super Bowl titles.

    Tied with Tom Brady with five Super Bowl appearances, Elway is considered the greatest quarterback of all time in some circles. While the topic is subjective, his statistics would back up that claim—especially with his postseason totals included.

    Elway ranks in the top 10 in the postseason in all the major passing categories, and his 14 wins are tied with Terry Bradshaw for No. 3 all-time.

5. Terry Bradshaw (1970-1983)

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    Titles: 4

    Title Appearances: 4

    Postseason Victories: 14

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .737

    Tied with Joe Montana for the most Super Bowl titles, Terry Bradshaw led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four championships in a six-year span from 1975 to 1980—being named the game's MVP twice.

    Bradshaw's 14 postseason victories are tied with Elway for third all-time, and his .737 playoff winning percentage is only surpassed by Tom Brady for quarterbacks with double-digit playoff wins.

4. Otto Graham (1946-1955)

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    Titles: 7

    Title Appearances: 10

    Postseason Victories: 9

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .750

    While Otto Graham's raw statistics stand no chance against others on this list, his postseason record speaks for itself.

    Graham's seven titles and 10 title appearances are tops in the NFL and are sure to stand for a very long time—if not forever.

    The Cleveland Browns were actually once a formidable franchise because of Graham.

3. Tom Brady (2000-Present)

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    Titles: 3

    Title Appearances: 5

    Postseason Victories: 17

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .739

    The greatest quarterback of this era, Tom Brady is on his way to becoming the best signal-caller of all time—regular season or postseason.

    If not for the heroics of the New York Giants recently, Brady and the New England Patriots would be winners of five titles in a 10-year span.

    Not only does Brady have the rings, he is top-five in all major postseason passing categories and has led the Patriots on six game-winning drives in the playoffs. He is also a two-time Super Bowl MVP.

2. Bart Starr (1956-1971)

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    Titles: 5

    Title Appearances: 6

    Postseason Victories: 9

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .900

    Winner of the first two Super Bowls, Bart Starr had already tallied three other NFL titles prior to the merger.

    Named MVP in both Super Bowls, Starr helped pave the way for the current NFL that we all see today. His career .900 winning percentage is the best total of anyone with more than two career postseason starts.

1. Joe Montana (1979-1994)

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    Titles: 4

    Title Appearances: 4

    Postseason Victories: 16

    Postseason Winning Percentage: .696

    Joe Montana put the San Francisco 49ers on the map by leading the franchise to four Super Bowl titles in a nine-year span from 1982 to 1990.

    Montana's 16 playoff victories rank behind only Tom Brady, and his 45 postseason touchdown passes are the highest total in league history.

    Montana also ranks in the top three in all of the other major passing categories and was named Super Bowl MVP three times in his career, which is an NFL record.