Mahomes vs Brady: how the Chiefs QB can narrow the gap
Patrick Mahomes is a long way off matching Tom Brady's achievements, but his deep ball prowess can help him narrow the gap on Sunday.
It's Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes on Sunday in Super Bowl LV. The man who has defined the last two decades in the NFL versus the man most likely to cast a considerable shadow over the 2020s. Brady will look to add to his remarkable legacy against a quarterback well placed to live up to it in Mahomes.
So many narratives at Super Bowl LV, but top of the bill is Brady v Mahomes
There are, of course, several other subplots to consider in the first Super Bowl to see a team play in its home stadium. Yet the overriding narrative in Sunday's matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium surrounds the two men under center and the significant contrast between them.
At 43, Brady is the man who continues to defy the odds, casting himself free from the shackles of the Patriots' talent-starved offense to find new life with Tampa, proving he can still methodically dissect defenses and, when necessary, hit members of his star-studded cast of receivers with the deep pass.
It is Mahomes, however, who will be expected to provide the explosiveness in this battle of old versus still relatively new. Like Brady, Mahomes can carve teams up from the pocket, but what makes him so difficult to defend is his ability to connect on otherworldly passes when throwing off-platform and when on the run, taking a flair for improvisation to levels never before seen in the NFL.
The stage is set for a fascinating battle between two players who have each left indelible marks on the game, but how do their numbers stack up? Ahead of a potentially captivating end to a season like no other, we compared the data on the two men who will be centre stage as the destination of the Lombardi Trophy is decided.
Brady's wide lead
Given his significantly greater experience, his scarcely believable longevity and unparalleled success, it is no surprise that the counting stats overwhelmingly favour Brady.
Brady has 47 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter in the regular season compared to seven for Mahomes. In the postseason, Brady's advantage in that area is 14-1.
The New England Patriots legend has 33 playoff wins to seven for Mahomes, who should rapidly improve on that tally if his early career success continues.
Brady has racked up 44 touchdown throws of 50 yards or more, with Mahomes having put up 12 across his three regular seasons as a starter.
However, Mahomes already has half as many 400-yard regular-season games as the 10 Brady has in his career. He is a third of the way there in terms of drawing level in games with at least four touchdown passes, Mahomes having produced 11 such performances with Brady on 33.
And there are several other areas in which Mahomes has already closed the gap.
Mahomes' early-career magic
Illustrative of the incredibly high level of play Mahomes has reached and maintained during his time as a starter is his passer rating, which has never dipped below 105 in those three seasons. To put that into context, Brady has had a passer rating of 105 or above just four times in his career (2007, 2010, 2011, 2016).
Similarly, Mahomes has averaged at least eight yards per attempt in each of his years as a starter while Brady has achieved that feat only three occasions (2007, 2011, 2016).
Mahomes is level with Brady with two games of at least 450 passing yards and they also each have a pair of games with six touchdown passes.
Owing to his superior athleticism, Mahomes has surpassed Brady for playoff rushing yards. Brady has rushed for 135 yards in the postseason – his lack of a playoff touchdown on the ground perhaps surprising for arguably the greatest exponent of the quarterback sneak.
Mahomes has 173 yards on the ground in the playoffs and four touchdowns, including one in last year's Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers. He will undoubtedly be expected to have an impact as a runner on Sunday and it is clear where he has the advantage as a thrower.
Deep ball to close the gap?
It speaks to Mahomes' astonishing skill set that he is already established as one of the best downfield throwers in NFL history.
Looking at their respective air yards per attempt averages, there doesn't appear to be much to choose between Brady and Mahomes in aggressiveness in pushing the ball deep. Brady averages 8.25 air yards for his career, with Mahomes slightly ahead on 8.44.
The divide comes in a comparison of their success in going downfield.
Indeed, on passes of 20 air yards or more, Brady has a completion percentage of 32.6 per cent, those completions resulting in 14,206 yards, 116 touchdowns, 62 interceptions and a passer rating of 86.
In his short time in the league, Mahomes has connected on 41.6 per cent of such throws for 3,258 yards, 40 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 109.6 passer rating.
Mahomes' superiority as a deep passer is further reflected by his and Brady's performance in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A), which is better used as a measure of overall team effectiveness in the passing game but is inflated by the long gains that have become a staple for the Chiefs with Mahomes under center.
Astoundingly, in his relatively short time as a starting quarterback, Mahomes has claimed the all-time lead in adjusted net yards per attempt among signal-callers with at least 1,500 throws. He has averaged 8.49 ANY/A in his career, with Aaron Rodgers (7.42) a distant second and Brady even further back on 7.10.
Mahomes' best season in the context of ANY/A was his MVP campaign of 2018 when he averaged 8.89 yards. In his decorated career, Brady only came close to matching that in 2007, when he put up 8.88 ANY/A as a record-breaking Patriots offense steamrolled its way to an unbeaten regular season.
Beyond that, Brady has only one other regular season that was superior to Mahomes' efforts in 2019 (8.38) and 2020 (8.33), which came in 2016 when he finished with 8.81 ANY/A en route to a fifth Super Bowl title.
Mahomes has yet to deliver a repeat effort as impressive as his 2018 campaign, but rarely has Brady succeeded in matching the downfield exploits of his counterpart.
A win away from becoming the first quarterback to claim back-to-back Super Bowls since Brady did so at the end of the 2004 season, Mahomes has a long way to go to replicate the achievements of the player whose six rings are the most in NFL history.
However, his evident advantage as a deep-ball thrower could be what makes the difference in Mahomes and Kansas City defeating the Bucs on their own turf and narrowing the gap for the quarterback viewed as the best bet to eventually knock Brady off the top of the mountain.