Comparing Matthew Stafford to the NFL greats


If you ask football fans what they think about Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the answer is usually not a nice one. Stafford may be the most scrutinized quarterback in the NFL. The constant debate about Stafford’s abilities has been a never-ending one since 2009.

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The thoughts are always the same. Is Stafford Elite? or is he a good quarterback, not a great one? This all got me thinking about statistics and how similar Stafford may be to Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Let me say up front that this is NOT an article praising Matthew Stafford and I’m certainly not saying that Matthew Stafford is as good or better than either of these future hall of famers. However, in a statistical form, he is comparable.

So let’s have a little fun and look at the numbers. Matthew Stafford has played 77 games in his career to this point. With that in mind all of Brady and Manning’s stats are from their first 77 or 80 games respectively. All stats compiled are regular season stats. Saying Tom Brady has 3 rings after his first 5 seasons kills the entire article before it starts. Once again not trying to say Stafford is better than either of these guys.

Wins and losses

As you can see, Brady is the man in the win column. As far as overall wins and percentages, Stafford and Manning are pretty close to one another. The common between the two of them is that Jim Caldwell came along in both of their last years of this study. The effect on both of their careers and their team is seen almost immediately. Even their stat lines in their first year with Caldwell are similar.

Stafford and Manning’s major issue is and has always been games on the road. Stafford is 0-15 on the road against teams with winning records. This stat is constantly brought up whenever Stafford’s name is mentioned. It’s slightly skewed for effect as a lot of these games were earlier in the season, essentially saying that Matthew Stafford controlled the destiny of a team that beat him in week 2 and later made the playoffs.

Peyton Manning was 5-16 on the road vs teams with winning records at this point of his career. It’s better than zero but also shows that more quarterbacks have a losing record on the road against winning teams than quarterbacks that have winning records. Not everyone can be Tom Brady with his 11-8 record that he had at this time. Because Tom Brady is a freak and an exception to the rule.

The Stats

graph by Mike Payton

The stats are about the same. Nobody can say that Matthew Stafford doesn’t rack up stats. However stats tell different stories at times. While Manning and Brady hit the ground running, Stafford spent his early years on the injured list.

Also Stafford, like Manning, has spent early his career on middling teams. Is it fair to say that the Lions of 2010 or the Colts of 2001 would have won the Super Bowl with Tom Brady? absolutely not. While a good quarterback is necessary, I can’t understand how any quarterback could succeed with the leagues 21st or 29th ranked total defense.

Brady did win his first Super Bowl with the 24th ranked defense but this is a case of a team getting hot at the right time. Brady’s other two Super Bowl wins in this span came along with the leagues 7th and 9th ranked defense. When Manning finally got his ring he had one of the best defense in the league with the 2nd ranked pass defense. It’s all about the team.

As far as QBR go’s it’s a stat that rarely proves to lead to a championship. The last 5 Super Bowl wining quarterbacks ranked 4th, 12, 22nd, 11th and 3rd in QBR. Four quarterbacks in the top 10 in QBR this past season played on teams that missed the playoffs.


Coaching is everything. There’s a correlation between the Patriots success and the fact that they currently have the longest tenured coach in the league. It’s because he’s a good one.

A good mentor and teacher goes a long way. Peyton Manning led teams struggled to get over the 10-6 and a 1st round exit hump for years until Jim Caldwell came on board and turned Peyton Manning into the QB he is today. Don’t believe it? Look at the stat line Manning had with Caldwell in 5 years.

graph by Mike Payton

As you can see there are major improvements across the board. Just like Manning, Stafford’s numbers started of smaller. But the team that was previously 10-6 at best became 12-4, 12-4, 14-2, 13-3, and 12-4. The Colts would win the Super Bowl during this time as well.

Caldwell may not have been the head coach but his impact is felt. Caldwell also brought Joe Flacco from a career playoff Completion percentage of 52% to 57%. That may not seem like a lot, but it was difference between a playoff quarterback and a Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Jan 25, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Team Irvin quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions (9) after the 2015 Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The proof is in the putting for Matthew Stafford. At this point he’s got a lot against him. Peyton Manning did too for a while. Manning has put in the work and had some great seasons that’s made football fans forget about the kid from Tennessee that can’t get the job done when it counts.

Once again this article is not about saying that Matthew Stafford is as good or better than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Matthew Stafford could never be Tom Brady. We can all agree on that. Brady may be the best to quarterback to ever wing the pig. But with hard work and the right coach/mentor, there’s no reason to think Matthew Stafford can’t at least be like Peyton Manning.

What do you think? Will Matthew Stafford ascend to another level in his game? Or is this as good as will ever get? Leave your comments below or feel free to discuss with me on Twitter @Lionmike26

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