The quarterback is the most visible player in a football game. The camera focuses on them the most and is generally considered the most important player on each team. If a team wins the quarterback usually gets the praise, if they lose they usually get the blame. However fair or unfair it’s the easiest way to determine which team may have played better and deserved to win the game. With Super Bowl 47 on the horizon let’s take a look at the history of the Super Bowl to see how much a quarterback’s rating affects the outcome of the game.
We’ll be examining an official stat that the NFL uses called QB Rating. It’s a complex formula but it does give us a fairly accurate stat to compare players performance. A perfect rating is 158.3 while it is possible to have a rating as low as 0. The closest anyone has ever come to a perfect rating was Phil Simms of the New York Giants in Super Bowl 21 with an amazing 150.9. The worst performance came in Super Bowl XII as Craig Morton and Norris Weese combined for a 1.7 rating for the Denver Broncos.
If we just compare the performance of the quarterback in each Super Bowl it actually gives us a very good indication of who won the game. Only 4 times has the losing quarterback actually posted a better rating than the winning quarterback. All 4 times have happened in the last 15 years.
- Brett Favre over John Elway in Super Bowl 32
- Jake Delhomme over Tom Brady in Super Bowl 38
- Matt Hasselbeck over Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl 40
- Kurt Warner over Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl 42
Ben Roethlisberger seems to be an exception to the rule as he has played in 3 Super Bowls and was outperformed by the opposing quarterback each time, yet still won 2 of those games.
In the other 42 games the quarterback with the better rating has been on the winning side. On average the winning quarterback has had a better rating by 40.4. The top 3 differences in rating came in Super Bowl 24 (Joe Montana over John Elway by 128.2), Super Bowl 12 (Roger Staubach over Craig Morton/Norris Weese by 100.9) and Super Bowl 15 (Jim Plunkett over Ron Jaworski by 95.7). The 2 closest ratings came in Super Bowls 42 and 46 with Eli Manning outdueling Tom Brady each time by the slimmest of margins (1.8 and 4.8).
The Super Bowl with the poorest combined quarterback rating came in Super Bowl 5 as Earl Morrall, Johnny Unitas and Craig Morton combined for a 86 rating. Not far behind was Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins in Super Bowl 35 as they combined for only 88. Most of the blame goes to Collins in this one as he contributed only 7.1 of that total.
The Super Bowl with the highest caliber of quarterback play was the duel between Phil Simms and John Elway in Super Bowl 21 where they combined for a rating of 234.5.
Super Bowl 47 - 49ers vs Ravens
So what does this tell us about this year’s Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers? Well, in this instance it might not tell us enough. One thing that quarterback rating does not take into account is their rushing yards. Joe Flacco could deliver a higher rating but Colin Kaepernick could run wild on the Ravens defense as he did against the Packers in the divisional playoff game. We’ve seen running quarterbacks like John Elway and Steve Young in past Super Bowls but we’ve yet to see someone like Kaepernick in the big game. However, in order to win a Super Bowl the quarterback still has to play a solid passing game and avoid turning the ball over, well unless you’re Ben Roethlisberger.
Looking at the regular season stats it would appear that the 49ers would have the edge at quarterback as Kaepernick, with only 7 starts on the year, posted a rating of 98.3. Flacco compiled a mediocre 87.7 rating but has played extremely well in the playoffs so far with a rating of 114.7. Kaepernick has also improved his play in the postseason posting a 105.9 rating. What this really tells us is the both quarterbacks are peaking at the right time and we should be set for an entertaining game.