- Founder and Editor-in-chief of Footballoutsiders.com
- NFL analyst for ESPN Insider
Tom Brady retires from the NFL having started a record 381 games at quarterback, including the playoffs. His teams won 286 of those games, and Brady played well in almost all of those wins. There were a lot of memorable games throughout his 23-year career in the NFL, but which were his best performances?
To figure out Brady’s most valuable games, we need a stat that balances efficiency and volume. We’ll want to consider how well Brady played against the best pass defenses and the changing standards for offense in the NFL, as passing the ball was a lot easier in Brady’s three Tampa Bay seasons compared to his early years with the New England Patriots 20 years ago.
Football Outsiders’ DYAR (Defense-adjusted Value Above Replacement) takes care of all these considerations. It’s based on DVOA ratings that rate the success on every play compared to a league-average baseline and then adjust based on situation and opponent.
But DYAR is a total value stat that compares quarterbacks to the expected level of a replacement-level (typical backup) and gives more value for throwing more passes as long as those passes are efficient. We’ve also added in rushing value, although that’s not frequently a big part of Brady’s game.
Below, we’ve ranked Tom Brady’s top 50 games based on DYAR, from his second season as a starter in New England to this last season in Tampa Bay. There are a lot of memories here and a lot of great receivers catching a lot of great passes. You’ll also notice a few trends. Eleven of the 50 games are against New England’s division rivals in the AFC East (comprising 22% of this list) and six are against the Pittsburgh Steelers (12%). Eight of the 45-year-old’s best 50 games (16%) came in the past two seasons with the Buccaneers.
Almost every game here is a win for Brady’s team, because Brady didn’t lose a lot of games and didn’t have a history of great performances when his team did lose. Only two games in our top 50 were losses. One will surprise you at No. 40. The other one will not surprise you at No. 4. I also included Brady’s five worst games according to DYAR for old times’ sake.
Let’s start the countdown to No. 1 with a Super Bowl win, shall we? (This piece was originally published on Feb. 9, 2022, and updated on Feb. 1, 2023.)
50. 2003 Super Bowl XXXVIII: NE 32, CAR 29
Stats: 32-48, 354 Yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Brady’s Super Bowl appearances were legendary for their late comebacks, but not for his total performances. Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons, for example, does not appear here because Brady’s terrible first half cancels out his great second half.
Only two Super Bowls make our top 50 list, starting with this Super Bowl after the 2003 season. Brady threw touchdown passes to Deion Branch, David Givens and Mike Vrabel, but Jake Delhomme matched him throw-for-throw until a final drive put the Patriots in field goal range and Adam Vinatieri delivered the win with nine seconds left.
49. 2017 Week 8: NE 21, LAC 13
Stats: 32-47, 333 Yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
The Patriots had 30 more plays than the Chargers but just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 2-yard touchdown at the start of the second quarter, but the rest of the scoring came on four field goals and a safety. Still, Brady put up over 300 yards against a top-10 passing defense, so this game makes our list.
48. 2007 Week 12: NE 31, PHI 28
Stats: 34-54, 380 Yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Here’s the first of 11 different games from Brady’s incredible 2007 season to make our top 50. Brady kept the Patriots in a surprisingly close game against A.J. Feeley (!) and the Philadelphia Eagles, throwing the ball a ton to move the ball because the Eagles completely shut down the Patriots’ run game.
Patriots running backs had 13 carries for just 32 yards, although they did have two touchdowns on the ground and only one in the air (to Jabar Gaffney). Brady completed 10 of 13 passes on third downs for 156 yards and nine conversions.
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