The 35 Greatest Quarterback Single-Seasons in NFL History Ranked By Statistical Formula

Our "phcQBR" settles the debate moving forward... for now

Peyton Manning by Mike Morbeck / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) Image Cropped

Behold, the Top 15 quarterback Single-Seasons in NFL history:

How do these results compare to what you would have thought without use of this, or any, formula? Are the seasons you consider the “best ever” for a quarterback found below?

15. Bert Jones, 1976, Baltimore Colts: 48.44 phcQBR

This man, Bert Jones, is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in NFL history. In 1976 he beat out Ken Stabler as the best quarterback in the league. When people mention Colts quarterbacks they think of Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning. Jones deserves mention, too. Won AP MVP Award.

14. Matt Ryan, 2016, Atlanta Falcons: 49.15 phcQBR

Losing Super Bowl LI was so tragic because it would have capped off one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history. People give Matt Ryan a little for this season, but not nearly as much as he deserves. Not many realize how great his 2016 actually season was. Won AP MVP Award.

13. Bart Starr, 1966, Green Bay Packers: 49.68 phcQBR

Bart Starr comes in with quite an impressive score, and ranking of 13th all-time, for a “game manager” of a quarterback. His spot on this all-time list should further help kill that bull-crap narrative about his career. No wonder he was the considered the best in the league in 1966. Won AP MVP Award.

12. Kurt Warner, 1999, St. Louis Rams: 49.48 phcQBR

Everyone remembers this season when Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” took over the football world. In our minds this season is right up there with Marino’s ’84 season, not literally, but in our minds. Man, this team was fun to watch. Won AP MVP Award

11. Otto Graham, 1955, Cleveland Browns: 49.74 phcQBR

Just missing out on the top ten all-time is Otto Graham with a season from the mid-1950s. It’s incredible that his success is still so thoroughly modern. One of the best to ever play the position, also put up one of the best seasons in NFL history. Won UPI MVP Award (No AP MVP awarded at the time)

Onto the Top 10. Here are the 10 best quarterback single-seasons in NFL history. Let these names and years sink in. We’ve never seen anything better, folks.

10. Joe Montana, 1989, San Fransisco 49ers: 49.86 phcQBR

10. Kicking off the top ten all-time individual quarterback seasons is Joe Montana. One of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history was more than just a winner. The guy could put up some stats, too, obviously. Won AP MVP Award.

9. Steve Young, 1994, San Fransisco 49ers: 50.59 phcQBR

Steve Young ahead of Montana on this list? It’s incredible that Young had the mental toughness to step in and lead the 49ers to success, like his predecessor. At his peak, Young was right there with Montana. ‘Joe Cool’ just happened to sustain his success a bit longer of the course of his career. Won AP MVP Award.

8. Johnny Unitas, 1959, Baltimore Colts: 51.4 phcQBR

Johnny Unitas cracking the top ten of this all-time list just feels right, doesn’t it? The old-school quarterback was not only arguably the best of his era, he’s firmly in the “GOAT” discussion. This peak of a season, from the 1950s, still in the top ten all-time says everything you need to know about him. Won AP MVP Award.

7. Patrick Mahomes, 2018, Kansas City Chiefs: 51.66 phcQBR

We bet a lot of people would have though Patrick Mahome’s 2018 season would be ranked higher than seventh all-time, but man, seventh in NFL history at his age is still amazingly impressive. He’s the face of the league for the foreseeable future and we never miss a chance to watch him play. He’s a rare athlete and might have the best arm in NFL history. He reminds of a Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers hybrid, with all of the confidence in the world. His potential rivalry with the next quarterback on this list will be fun to watch in the coming years. Won AP MVP Award.

6. Lamar Jackson, 2019, Baltimore Ravens: 52.73 phcQBR

Lamar Jackson put together one of the best seasons in NFL history last year. It’s truly stunning, just look back at his stats. Has he received enough credit for what he did in 2019? Hell no. He had a better season than Mahomes in 2018 (barely, but still). Just about no one would believe that. Not bad for a running back, right? Truth be told, he’s a hell of a passer. He’s historically efficient. What’s more unbelievable is these two seasons coming back-to-back by second year superstars. However the two new phenoms, Jackson and Mahomes, couldn’t supplant perhaps the most famous quarterbacks seasons of all. Won AP MVP Award.

5. Dan Marino, 1984, Miami Dolphins: 54.99 phcQBR

The season you’ve been waiting for: Dan Marino’s 1984. We’re encouraged to see such a mythical season in the top five of our formula. It’s, perhaps, the most famous quarterbacking season in NFL history. He was transcendent and helped change the game of football with his aerial attack. For that season to still rank in the top five all-time, despite the amazing quarterback play of the last 30 years, is in its own way remarkable. This season was a watershed moment for the league, he deserves all of the credit for that. Won AP MVP Award.

4. Aaron Rodgers, 2011, Green Bay Packers: 55.04 phcQBR

Aaron Rodgers’ 2011 season, coming off a Super Bowl Victory in 2010, catapulted him into all-time greatest discussions. That year is somehow underrated though as not many people point to it as one of the best ever. This season is still the highest rated season in NFL history (122.5), so many people will think our formula isn’t fair to highest Packer on this list. But here we are. Is there an argument that Rodgers’ 2011 season is the best ever season? Hell yeah, however we’re happy to see it land in the top five. Thinking back, he was unstoppable. Won AP MVP Award.

3. Tom Brady, 2007, New England Patriots: 55.39 phcQBR

You can sure tell that Tom Brady loved throwing to Randy Moss… and why wouldn’t he? That season was as special as we all remember it being. They were that dominant of a duo. Two of the best ever at their positions came together to deliver one of the finest quarterback seasons in league history. Moss was such a talent that he helped three quarterbacks make this list. That said, even without Moss, Brady would have been ranked extremely high on this list. He’s the greatest quarterback of all-time, as much as we hate to admit it. Won AP MVP Award.

2. Y.A. Tittle, 1963, New York Giants: 56.04 phcQBR

Jaw-dropped. Y.A. Tittle is an incredibly underrated quarterback — wow. To put up that amazing of a season in the 1960s is stunning, especially when Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr get most of the love for that era of quarterbacking. Who would have thought? Believe me, we were more shocked than you to find Tittle’s 1963 season ranked this high. It must have been a mistake we thought, how have we not read books about this magical season? But we double-checked the numbers and looked back at his season and he really was this good. It’s stunning. It’s why we love to do this research; we learn new objective truths every time. Won AP MVP Award.

1. Peyton Manning, 2004, Indianapolis Colts: 58.15 phcQBR

Peyton Manning is who we thought he was. He really was as dominant as we all thought, people. The formula only helps back that up. And obviously he’d have a lot more seasons on this list, but just seeing his statistical “peak” being the best quarterbacking season in NFL history is rewarding to us. It lets us know the formula represents quarterbacking greatness. And we’re not even necessarily Peyton Manning fans, we just love NFL history.

Truly, no one has ever played the quarterback position quite like Manning. When he was the most locked-in, most on top of his game, it was in 2004. That’s the season that ranks above all other quarterbacking seasons in professional football history. Congrats, Manning… not that you needed another award. His 2004 season will never be forgotten. It’s hard to see any quarterback ever put up a better single-season, but we guess it’s possible and that’s what excites us. Won AP MVP Award.

Now, we want to make it clear again that we haven’t run every quarterback’s best season through this formula, so this isn’t necessarily the best 50+ individual seasons in NFL history, but the best individual seasons of the guys we’ve ran through the formula.

Honorable AFL Mention: Len Dawson, 1966, Kansas City Chiefs. He put up an era-adjusted score of 53.09 phcQBR which would land him sixth all-time on this list sandwiched between Jackson (2019) and Marino (1984). An impressive total, no doubt, but it was amassed in the AFL so we aren’t including it in this all-time NFL ranking. He deserves the mention though, as he was by far the best quarterback in that league’s history. That was his best ever single-season.

Observations:

If a quarterback has a season, when era-adjusted, hit around 44-45 points or more it definitely puts the quarterback in position to win the AP MVP Award (and most times comes true). If a season hits the 51-52 point plateau, it is then in consideration as one of the best seasons ever.

No quarterback has ever hit the 60 point plateau (era adjusted or raw numbers) and we doubt any quarterback ever will. But if one does, he’ll forever be a legend as having put together the best quarterback season in NFL history.

Every arguably “legendary” quarterback in NFL history has at least put up a season of 35+ points (era-adjusted). Thus, the formula obviously means something in terms of what certain totals mean.

Hall of Fame:

Every quarterback in the Top 13 on this all-time list that is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame is enshrined in Canton. Obviously Manning, Brady and Rodgers will first ballot inductees and Mahomes (after just three seasons, wow) seems to be on that trajectory. If Jackson keeps up this level of production he’ll also start to get into that conversation.

When Injuries Derail Seasons:

Carson Wentz would have been ranked very highly on this all-time list had he not been hurt in 2017, he was that good. However he just missed our cutoff for qualification. Similarly, for the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick’s 2010 season was amazing, but he didn’t play enough games to qualify. Vick’s top qualifying season was 2006 with the Atlanta Falcons (27.97 points). This has happened to other quarterbacks throughout league history, too.

Which Franchises are the Best at Quarterback in terms of Best Individual Seasons?

According to phcQBR, the Colts’ franchise is number one on this list all-time, by a wide margin for single-season quarterback success.

Of course, this includes Colts quarterbacks from when they were in Baltimore and now in Indianapolis. They have the top quarterback season of all-time, two in the top 10, three in the top 15, four in the top 25 and another in the honorable mentions.

It’s quite amazing.

The 49ers are doing very well with three quarterbacks in the top 20 and another in the honorable mentions.

The Packers are hanging out in that area, too, with three quarterbacks in the top 30 (with one in the top five) and three more in the honorable mentions.

The Vikings are well situated with two quarterbacks in the top 20 and another high honorable mention.

Next are the Browns with two passers in the top 35 and one high in the honorable mentions.

The same exact scenario goes for the Rams, split between Los Angeles and St. Louis.

The Cowboys also have two quarterbacks ranked in the top 35 and another in the honorable mention section.

The Chiefs history at the position is in good hands with Mahomes and Dawson. Both have seasons ranked in the top 10 all-time, when AFL success is factored in.

Multiple franchises have two quarterbacks on this top 35 countdown.

Which franchise do you think has the best collection of single-season success at quarterback according to phcQBR?

Packer Nation, lets talk…

Regarding Brett Favre being so low on this list:

The greatest of Favre cannot be contained by simple statistical analysis. Here’s a reminder that he was never the highest rated quarterback in his career for a single-season, so it would be weird if he was in this formula, right? As we alluded to, much of Favre’s aura and myth simply cannot be captured by numbers alone. Although this formula “fails” to honor his single-season statistical peak, it does not, and can not, understand that he sustained a Hall of Fame level of success longer than most quarterbacks in NFL history. In terms of career, we have Favre ranked as one of the best of all-time, which is reflected in our all-time quarterback rankings.

Although his single-season statistical peak (in terms of a formula which values efficiency and not turning the ball over) isn’t as high as some other quarterbacks, his career certainly is. However Favre continued a higher standard of player throughout his career than almost anyone ranked ahead of him with the exception of a few all-time great passers. This is the great contradiction of Favre and his career.

All of this said, Favre had an absolutely incredible “prime” or five-year stretch. Soon we will be publishing our formula-backed best quarterback primes of all-time; you’ll likely agree with where Favre lands on that list. So check back soon for that ranking.

We adore Favre, but many quarterbacks in league history have had at least one better statistical single-season, that’s just the way it is, folks. Favre’s 2009 season in Minnesota saw a 44.04 phcQBR score.

I mean, look at John Elway. Some people argue he’s a top five quarterback in NFL history. And while we don’t hold him quite that highly, we do understand he’s one of the best to play the game. And he’s ranked far outside the top 35 all-time for a single-season. It’s incredible and it helps you understand the difference between one great season and a great career. Some Hall of Famers just sustained their above average play without an eye-popping statistical peak.

However these simple facts, and this formula, do not lie.

Now here’s a list built specifically for you Packer Backers. Non-Cheeseheads, you probably won’t find this little bit interesting. If you’re leaving us now, thank you for checking out this piece!

Green Bay Packers Quarterbacks with Notable Seasons, Ranked:

With keeping in mind limiting one season per quarterback, here’s the six best individual quarterback seasons in Packers history.

6. Don Majkowski, 1989, Green Bay Packers: 36.46 phcQBR

5. Tobin Rote, 1956, Green Bay Packers: 37.14 phcQBR

4. Lynn Dickey, 1983, Green Bay Packers: 39.04 phcQBR

3. Brett Favre, 1995, Green Bay Packers: 44.59 phcQBR

2. Bart Starr, 1966, Green Bay Packers: 49.68 phcQBR

1. Aaron Rodgers, 2011, Green Bay Packers: 55.04 phcQBR

Looking at this list, it makes a certain amount of sense. And it goes to show that Green Bay’s quarterback history should be even more respected than it already is. And remember Arnie Herber wasn’t eligible for this formula or list, but his 1936 season would definitely have ranked impressively high for his era.

One thing we knew before we created this formula and ranking is that Rodgers’ 2011 season is the best statistical season in Green Bay Packers history. The phcQBR backs up that obvious truth, so that’s nice to see.

We hope you had as much fun reading this piece as we did creating it. God, NFL history is such a treasure isn’t it? ‘Til next time, football fans!

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