Patrick MahomesTom Brady

Will Patrick Mahomes ever catch Tom Brady?

Greatness is a funny word. I tried parsing through exactly what it meant earlier this week, when I ranked the top 10 point guards in NBA history. Since then, Tom Brady has retired and Patrick Mahomes has continued preparation for his third Super Bowl in five seasons as a starter. The former’s list of achievements would take me past any prescribed word count. The latter has begun his career playing at an unprecedented level, carving out his own tier above every single quarterback in the sport. Will Mahomes ever catch Brady to be the greatest of all time?

The case for Brady

If there were betting odds available on who the public would prefer in 20 years, Brady would be the favorite. The primary reason is Brady’s trump card: seven Super Bowl rings in 10 tries.

Winning the Super Bowl is incredibly difficult. Quarterbacks have gone down in history as superior to their peers, only to fall short when it matters most. It took Peyton Manning until his final season and a legendary defense to carry him to his second ring. Aaron Rodgers during his prime may have been the most talented passer ever–he has a single ring. Drew Brees only has one as well.

As things currently stand, Mahomes only has one Lombardi Trophy, too. It’ll be up to him to double that next week against the Philadelphia Eagles. A win sets him apart from his predecessors with a single ring, and he’d have a lot of time to rack up…five more. But beware, Mahomes wouldn’t be the first quarterback to have two rings by his 28th birthday. There’s still only one Brady.

A loss, however, returns him to the paths of Manning and Rodgers, autumn elites who weren’t quite good enough when winter came along. That isn’t to discredit Mahomes. He’s incredible and plays a team sport. It’s just hard to imagine a future where his Wikipedia bullet points cover more ground than Brady’s if this opportunity is squandered. 

Beyond winning it all, Mahomes will need to find himself in the top percentile of another category: longevity. Brady played for 23 seasons, generating over 89,000 passing yards and 649 regular season touchdowns. At his current pace, he’d need to play until at least 2036. He would be 41. 

Catching Brady means somehow finding the right cocktail of luck, coaching, and talent over an extended period of time. He’s been fortunate to have Andy Reid by his side and targets like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. But will he get every call for the next 15 years? Every bounce? Will his division’s incompetence give him a free path to the playoffs each year?

Mahomes can end up an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer, the greatest passer west of the Mississippi, and one of the most accomplished players ever. And it could all not be enough. There is only one greatest of all time, and there’s a much higher chance of him landing amongst the stars of every other quarterback ever.

The case for Mahomes

Maybe it’s overzealous to compare the mid-40s Brady to the mid-20s Mahomes. There’s a reason we’ve made the collective assumption for him to chase Brady into immortality. We’ve never seen anyone quite like him.

Sure, Rodgers was doing Mahomes things before Mahomes was, and a handful have flashed those same flashes. But no one has been as consistently dominant as early as Mahomes has.

Simply put, Mahomes is hands down the best quarterback in the sport in a generation with physical superheroes of which the league has never seen. Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, even Joe Burrow have had their 15 minutes of fame. Their heights don’t compare, much less their consistency.

I have never seen a passer separate himself from the pack as much as Mahomes has; and the stats back it up.

He has the most passing yards per game in NFL history. His 8.05 Average Net Yards per Attempt is as far away from second place (Rodgers, 7.35) as second is from 17th (Jackson, 6.65). Everybody ahead of him on the touchdown percentage leaderboard threw their last pass before Nixon’s resignation. 

From 2010 on, nobody has averaged more Expected Points Added per Play (.296). He also has the highest success rate and EPA+CPOE (Completion Percentage Over Expected) composite score. Mahomes is the greatest third-down passer in the history of the game, and nobody has been more efficient while sustaining multiple playoff runs.

Brady has the advantage in the Super Bowl department thanks to the three he won in his first four seasons as a starter. A win next week brings Mahomes closer, but there’s work to be done. Even still, the Kansas City Chiefs have hosted the AFC Conference Round every year Mahomes began the season under center. He has never lost an AFC playoff game in regulation.

So, what gives? Two things must be accomplished in order for Mahomes to take over as the GOAT. For one, he has to maintain similar levels of dominance for 10-ish more seasons. He’ll have to weather the storm that is Reid and Kelce’s eventual retirements. What do the Chiefs look like with lesser coaching and talent? They’ll still have the ultimate advantage at the sport’s most important position, but we cannot discount how difficult it is to win just one Lombardi Trophy.

Secondly, he must catch up in the rings department, at least enough to force the issue at the dinner table. Is that number four rings? Five? Seven? Wherever you set the bar, Mahomes still has work to do. That begins next Sunday. 

Kansas City currently has +105 odds to win the Super Bowl, meaning a $100 bet would win $105. Winning also means Mahomes is that much closer. A 2-1 record puts him on an incredibly short list of quarterbacks; 1-2 puts a sizable dent in his GOAT campaign, at least for now. It’s not hyperbolic to say that for this argument, no game has meant more.

Most importantly, however, isn’t whether or not Mahomes wins. It’s the fact that we get to watch him chase Brady, hopefully for many years to come. We can write argumentative pieces, debate our friends, and take to social media backing our favorite legends. We can also sit back and watch greatness do its thing.