Which quarterback has more to gain with a win on Sunday?

Following Sunday, either a five-time champion will arise, or a first-time champ will be crowned. Which quarterback will benefit more from a win on the game’s biggest stage?

Photo courtesy of Creativecommons.org. No changes made.

Followers of sports share an obsession with the amount of Super Bowl rings a quarterback has accumulated over their careers, as winning championships often cements legacies and shows how a quarterback’s legacy falls in line amongst the rest of his competition. For instance, signal callers such as Phillip Rivers and Tony Romo have put together impressive statistics year after year, but both lack playoff success and have yet to appear in a Super Bowl, which has ultimately resulted into under-appreciation shown toward both players.

Likewise, the numbers may suggest Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all time since he sits atop the record book in several categories, but Tom Brady’s four Super Bowl rings, and soon to be seventh Super Bowl appearance, gives him the edge in the legacy department. Due to winning outweighing statistics in the eyes of many, Brady is, deservedly, the G.O.A.T. (until Aaron Rodgers pulls a three-peat).

This year’s Super Bowl offers an intriguing matchup at quarterback, as a four-time champion squares off against a quarterback making his Super Bowl debut. Despite his already impressive track record, Brady still has plenty to gain with a victory on Sunday. One could argue the stakes have never been higher for him or the Patriots.

On the other hand, Matt Ryan has responded from a disastrous 2015 campaign with an MVP-caliber season while leading the Falcons to their first Super Bowl appearance in nearly 20 years. While he’s managed to ease back into the conversation of elite quarterbacks, would a loss on Sunday tarnish those efforts?

Tom Brady’s Case

Enough can’t be said about the 16-year vet. At this point, an appearance on the game’s biggest stage has become an expectation. Going strong at 39, Brady’s 2016 tour of vengeance, which began with a four-game suspension handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell, has seen the future first-ballot Hall of Famer raise his level of play to new heights, as he’s thrown 28 touchdowns to only two interceptions.

Despite their star quarterback’s absence, the Patriots finished an NFL-best 14-2 on the season, including an 11-1 finish upon Brady’s return. To no one’s surprise, the two-time MVP performed at a near flawless level on a week-to-week basis, even doing so in the week’s following superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending back surgery. If Brady can capture his fifth ring without his prized weapon, it’ll be up for consideration as his most impressive career accomplishment.

But one has to wonder which would be sweeter for Brady: Sizing his pinky for a ring, or accepting the Lombardi Trophy from Goodell, or as James Harrison would call him, “The Devil.” It feels as if Brady can do no more given his track record, but a fifth Super Bowl would place him and New England’s dynasty in unprecedented waters. Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls in six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers back in the 1970s. Joe Montana won three of his four Super Bowls with the legendary Bill Walsh during the San Francisco 49er’s run in the 1980s. Not only would a win Sunday make Brady the lone five-time champion quarterback, but the Brady-Belichick duo would become the only to win five rings together.

While a victory on Sunday would officially end any remaining dispute from trolls regarding Brady’s legacy, a loss could lead to some well-deserved criticism. A defeat Sunday would leave Brady with only one championship since 2005 and would drop his Super Bowl record in that span to 1-3 (0-4 if a certain team runs it at the one-yard line).

Matt Ryan’s Case

There weren’t many, if any, who had Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons as Super Bowl contenders before the season started, especially when considering their 2015 meltdown. After a 5-0 start, the Falcons lost eight of their final 11 games, which included a six-game skid. Following an offseason dedicated to revamping the roster, Atlanta entered 2016 as a resurged offense led by the best version of Matt Ryan the NFL has seen. Granted, it’s a bit easier to play quarterback given the rich selection of weapons while sitting comfortably in a pocket due to outstanding pass protection.

However, nothing should be taken away from Ryan’s performance this season. The league was late to notice, but Atlanta put together one of the most impressive offensive seasons in league history, scoring 540 points (33.8 PPG), making it one of only seven teams in NFL history to score at least 500 points in a season.

The Boston College product earned a First-Team All-Pro nod this season following the worst year of his career and will more than likely capture the MVP award. Nevertheless, the outcome of Sunday’s game holds plenty of weight when considering Ryan’s legacy.

After postseason struggles plagued the first chunk of his career, which included an 0-3 start, Ryan has performed significantly better over the last few seasons. Since his 0-3 start, Ryan has led Atlanta to a 3-1 postseason record and has recorded 13 touchdowns to three interceptions. If this trend continues on Sunday and Ryan were to claim a championship over the Patriots dynasty, where is Ryan placed in the hierarchy of quarterbacks at an all-time level?

At this moment, the 31-year-old already sits 25th all-time in passing touchdowns with 240 and may find himself in the top 15 by the end of next season. In addition, Ryan’s in the top 5 in passing yards per game (265.5 yards) and will more than likely be flirting with a top 5-10 status in total passing yards as his career progresses.

This would certainly make his Hall of Fame case more credible, but given the direction the Falcons appeared to be headed in, another Super Bowl appearance seems plausible.

However, a loss would give doubters a reason to believe this season was a fluke. For Ryan to fully reel in the doubters who arose from past failures, only a win can keep his reputation moving in the right direction. A loss would force Ryan to prove he can do it again next season, which given the reality of the NFL, who knows if things will ever be this good in Atlanta again.

The former top-5 pick is in dire need of a ring Sunday, ultimately to prove to everyone in football that he is capable of being a top quarterback in this era.

Verdict: Matt Ryan

Although both quarterbacks offer compelling arguments, and going against Brady and the variety of stakes on the line was rather difficult, the correct answer to this question has to be Matt Ryan. Although Brady will enjoy the sweetest moment with the exchange of the trophy, followed by the realization he is the lone quarterback to be a five-time champion, what will he really gain in the eyes of the public and to the league? Brady, and the Patriots organization as a whole, is already well-respected enough to the point that most regard Brady and Belichick’s tenure with New England as arguably the best organization in the history of the league. That won’t change with the fifth ring, as remarkable of a feat as that is.

When it comes down to it, for Ryan to come back from his abysmal 2015 season that was bad enough to turn the quarterback and the Falcons into an afterthought, a Super Bowl victory paired with a MVP award would turn Ryan into one of the game’s upper-echelon quarterbacks. Back-to-back victories over the game’s greatest quarterbacks over the last decade would send Atlanta’s frenzy for Ryan past Michael Vick levels, all while adding a crucial credential to his Hall of Fame body of work.

Edited by David Bradford

Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creativescommons.org.

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