You wanted Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. You didn't get it.
Instead, you got something better: Matt Ryan vs. Tom Brady.
In fact, by one measure, it's the greatest quarterback showdown in Super Bowl history. Yes, even better than Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino.
That measure is a modified version of yards per pass attempt. Adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) is similar to yards per attempt except that it rewards quarterbacks for touchdowns and penalizes them for interceptions and sacks.
Toss out counting statistics such as completions, yards and touchdowns; ANY/A is more highly correlated to wins than any other passing stat, including passer rating (and it's easier to calculate).
The formula: (pass yards – sack yards + 20*pass touchdowns – 45*interceptions)/ (pass attempts + sacks).
During the regular season, Ryan (9.03) and Brady (8.81) finished first and second in ANY/A, making this Super Bowl the third to feature the league's top two quarterbacks. Roger Staubach vs. Bob Griese in 1972 was the first, and Montana vs. Marino in 1985 was the second.
If we combine the adjusted yards of the Super Bowl's NFC and AFC representatives, Sunday's matchup features a greater total (17.84) than any other. Montana vs. Marino (16.87) is next, followed by Russell Wilson vs. Peyton Manning (15.97), Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning (15.82) and Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady (15.70).
Sports Illustrated declared this week that "Footballs will fly. Points will be scored. History will be made." Unfortunately, not every great quarterback showdown has lived up to the hype.
Here's how some of those games unfolded, as told by NFL Films (you'll have to imagine the orchestra):
Combined season ANY/A: 16.87 (second highest)
Score: 49ers 38, Dolphins 16
• In the rarified air of championship competition, a game rarely turns on a single play, but rather on the accumulated results of finesse, force and brains. In a record-setting scoring spree in the second quarter, the 49ers unleashed all of these elements in a hurricane of 21 points.
• The 49ers won in a performance that seemed more musical than physical. Every note was perfect. Montana orchestrated Walsh's symphonic offense and proved that football is still a team game, not a one-man aerial circus. Roll over, Montana. Tell Marino the news.
• • •
Super Bowl XLVIII (2014): Russell Wilson vs. Peyton Manning
Combined season ANY/A: 15.97 (third highest)
Score: Seahawks 43, Broncos 8
• Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman: "They think we're gonna get scared of 'em. We're gonna eat they heart."
• Super Bowl XLVIII was billed as a battle of between football's best. As the fourth quarter began, the confrontation had become a coronation.
• • •
Super Bowl XLIV (2010): Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning
Combined season ANY/A: 15.82 (fourth highest)
Score: Saints 31, Colts 17
• Before Super Bowl XLIV, Tracy Porter was a little-known second-year cornerback. But in one instant, the Louisiana native became forever remembered for the play that brought the Super Bowl title home to New Orleans.
• One of the all-time great quarterbacks had been beaten by one of the all-time great stories. After 43 mostly star-crossed seasons, the Saints, and their fans, had finally found heaven.
• • •
Super Bowl XLVI (2012): Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady
Combined season ANY/A: 15.70 (fifth highest)
Score: Giants 21, Patriots 17
• This time, there would be no miracle heave or helmet catch. Just a perfect pass. … Mario Manningham stayed in bounds, and the Giants found their footing, marching toward the end zone and running down the clock.
• 2011 began with a question: Was the youngest Manning elite, like his brother? Eli ended it with an answer. He was Super Bowl MVP for the second time. And the New York Giants were world champions … again.
• • •
Combined season ANY/A: 15.29 (sixth highest)
Score: Washington 37, Bills 24
• Desperate to gain a chokehold on this game, Kelly deserted Thomas and the running game, which produced only 8 yards in the first half, and decided victory would have to come from tom the air. But this strategy evolved into a frustrating series of missed opportunities. First downs slipped away, and touchdowns slid through their fingers.
• Hog heaven is not located in rarified air but rests on the ground floor and forms the sturdy base for victory. Knowing a frontal assault would be suicidal, the Bills' light but maneuverable front seven tried to outwit and outflank the massive (Washington) offensive line by shifting, stunting and exchanging assignments up to the snap of the ball. But these hogs were a moveable feast, and everywhere a Buffalo Bill went, these piggies were sure to follow.
• • •
Combined season ANY/A: 14.8 (eighth highest; featured the NFL's leader in ANY/A vs. the AFL's leader)
Score: Packers 35, Chiefs 10
• The Green Bay front four is relentless. Dawson learns the hard way what NFL quarterbacks have known for years. Kansas City discovers that, against Green Bay, success invites punishment.
• • •
Combined season ANY/A: 8.48 (lowest)
Score: Steelers 31, Rams 19
• Today, when their running game faltered, (the Rams) threw caution to the winds and decided to gamble on the raw passing skills of a young substitute quarterback named Vince Ferragamo. … Ferragamo faced the famous charge of the Steel Curtain with poise and resilience.
• Terry Bradshaw began the second half with the same curiously conservative approach he had used in the first half, nibbling at the Rams defense with short, safe passes to his running backs. But then like a pool hall hustler who has been trifling with his victim too long, Bradshaw suddenly showed his game.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.