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10 Greatest Quarterback Seasons in NFL History

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan

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It seems that each new NFL season brings an epic performance by a quarterback. The great quarterback seasons boil down to two things: offensive output and wins, and even though Atlanta's Matt Ryan came up short in the last game of the season, he delivered in 2016-17.

We’ll get to the 10 best in a moment but before we do, I want to say au revoir to Bert Jones’ 1976 season. The Colts quarterback threw for 3,104 yards and 24 touchdowns in the era before the Mel Blount Rule and his performance should not be forgotten even if it has been bumped off this list.

Now, here are the top 10 quarterback seasons of all time.

10. Dan Fouts, 1981 San Diego Chargers

(14 games – 4,802 yards, 33 TDs, 17 INTs, 59.1 completion rate, 90.6 passer rating)

10-6, AFC West champs, lost to Cincinnati in AFC Championship Game

After the Chargers traded away their best defensive player in Fred Dean, Fouts and the offense picked up the slack as the M.F.I.C. became the first player to attempt 600 passes in a season (finished with 609). Along the way, he set the single-season passing yardage record with 4,802 (it has since been broken 17 times) and the Chargers went 10-6 and won the AFC West. The Chargers beat the Dolphins 41-38 in overtime in the famous Divisional playoff game and then lost to the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game. Most importantly, it showed pro football that you can throw 600 times in a season and still win.

9. Cam Newton, 2015 Carolina Panthers

(16 games – 3,837 yards, 35 TDs, 10 INTs, 59.7 completion rate, 99.2 passer rating; 636 yards rushing, 10 TDs)

15-1, NFC South champs, lost to Denver in Super Bowl 50

MVP, AP Offensive Player of the Year

Newton is the most gifted athlete to ever play quarterback and unlike other quarterbacks given this moniker, he has risen to the occasion. In 2015 he accounted for 45 of the Panthers 54 regular season touchdowns as the team went 15-1 and cruised through the playoffs to the Super Bowl. If he stays healthy, another season or two may end up on this list.

8. Kurt Warner, 1999 St. Louis Rams

(16 games – 4,353 yards, 41 TDs, 13 INTs, 65.1 completion rate, 109.2 passer rating; 92 yards rushing, TD)

13-3, NFC West champs, beat Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV


Rams’ head coach Dick Vermeil famously said at the start of the 1999 season, “We will rally around Kurt Warner and will play good football.” The Rams did just that and Warner responded with a season for the ages, throwing for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns as “The Greatest Show on Turf” overwhelmed opponents. In the playoffs, Warner averaged more than 350 yards a game and threw for a record 414 yards in the Super Bowl XXXIV win over the Tennessee Titans.

7. Y.A. Tittle, 1963 New York Giants

(13 games – 3,145 yards, 36 TDs, 14 INTs; 104.8 passer rating; 99 yards rushing, 2 TDs)

11-3, East champs, lost to Chicago in NFL Championship Game


The 37-year-old Tittle completed more than 60 percent of his passes and threw for 3,145 and a record 36 touchdown passes... in 1963. His touchdown pass record stood until Dan Marino broke it in 1984. Tittle’s amazing season propelled the Giants into the NFL Championship Game, where they lost to the Chicago Bears. It would be the last postseason appearance for the Giants until 1984.

6. Matt Ryan, 2016 Atlanta Falcons

(16 Games – 4,944 yards, 38 TDs, 7 INTs, 69.9 completion rate, 117.1 passer rating; 117 yards rushing)

11-5, NFC South champions, lost to New England in overtime in Super Bowl LI

MVP, AP Offensive Player of the Year
The Falcons had the 27th-ranked scoring defense in the NFL this season, but Ryan and the offense picked up the slack. Matty Ice threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. He was equally brilliant in the playoffs, completing 71.4 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns, no picks (he did have a costly fumble in the Super Bowl loss) and posting a 135.3 passer rating.

Dan Marino

5. Dan Marino, 1984 Miami Dolphins

(16 games – 5,084 yards, 48 TDs, 17 INTs, 64.2 completion rate, 108.9 passer rating)

14-2, AFC East champs, lost to San Francisco in Super Bowl XIX

MVP, AP Offensive Player of the Year

Although his stats have since been surpassed, Marino’s 1984 season remains legendary. He shattered the single-season record for touchdown passes with 48 – including 16 in the final four games — in only his second year in pro football. Marino also became the first quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. His 17 interceptions and Super Bowl loss to the 49ers prevent him from being higher on the list, but man, what a year.

4. Tom Brady, 2007 New England Patriots

(16 games – 4,806 yards, 50 TDs, 8 INTs, 68.9 completion rate, 117.2 passer rating; 98 yards rushing, 2 TDs)

16-0, AFC East champs, lost to New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII

MVP, AP Offensive Player of the Year

Take one of the two best quarterbacks in the NFL, give him the best receiver corps and sit back and watch the sparks fly. Brady threw for a then-record 50 touchdowns and 4,806 yards, earning a passer rating of 117.2. He also was the field general for the Patriots’ undefeated regular season.

3. Peyton Manning, 2013 Denver Broncos

(16 games – 5,477 yards, 55 TDs, 10 INTs, 68.3 completion rate, 115.1 passer rating; rushing TD)

13-3, AFC West champs, lost to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII

MVP, AP Offensive Player of the Year

Manning came back from a debilitating neck injury to put together an NFL season reserved for a Madden gamer constantly running the two-minute drill. He set the single-season records for both touchdown passes (55) and passing yardage (5,477) en route to a Super Bowl berth. If the Seahawks did not blow out the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, this season would be higher on the list.

2. Joe Montana, 1989 San Francisco 49ers

(13 games – 3,521 yards, 26 TDs, 8 INTs, 70.2 completion rate, 112.4 passer rating; 227 yards rushing, 3 TDs)

14-2, NFC West champs, beat Denver in Super Bowl XXIV

MVP, AP Offensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl XXIV MVP

Many areas of greatness stood out in this season, but the main one was Montana’s 112.4 quarterback rating. It was the first time in the modern passing era that a quarterback had cracked the 110 threshold. Along the way, he threw for 3,521 yards and completed 70.2 percent of his passes. Often forgotten is Montana’s running ability and in 1989, he tucked the ball and ran 49 times for 227 yards and three touchdowns. He also had arguably gutsiest performance of his career, shaking off eight sacks by the Philadelphia Eagles, to lead the 49ers to victory. In the playoffs, Montana’s passer rating was 146.4 and he threw five touchdown passes against the Denver Broncos in the largest blowout in Super Bowl history.

1. Steve Young, 1994 San Francisco 49ers

(16 games – 3,969 yards, 35 TDs, 10 INTs, 70.3 completion rate, 112.8 passer rating; 293 yards rushing, 7 TDs)

13-3, NFC West champs, beat San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX

MVP, Super Bowl XXIX MVP

After two straight losses to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, Young responded with the best season of his career, starting all 16 regular season games and winning 13 of them. He also threw for 3,969 yards and 35 touchdowns and his 70.3 percent completion rate is tied for fourth best of all time. His 112.8 passer rating was a record that stood for 10 years until Peyton Manning broke it in 2004. Young, of course, was also a threat on the ground, rushing 58 times for 293 yards and seven touchdowns. In the playoffs, he was brilliant, throwing for nine touchdowns — including a record six in Super Bowl XXIX — and running for two as he won his only championship as a starter. This would be the peak for Young and the last time he would start a full season, as injuries would plague him for the remainder of his career.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.