Joe Burrow vs. Matthew Stafford: Tale of the tape as Bengals, Rams QBs square off in Super Bowl 2022

Super Bowl LVI is upon us. It’s Bengals versus Rams in a fight for history, with the Rams franchise looking for its first Lombardi Trophy since the 1999 season and Cincinnati looking for its first one ever. Both sides are chock-full of elite talent, from receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp to star defenders like Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Jessie Bates III. But no position warrants more attention ahead of the big game than, well, the most important position in the sport: quarterback.

Both sides have top-shelf signal-callers under center for the big game: the Bengals, Joe Burrow; and the Rams, Matthew Stafford. But how did these QBs get to this point? Who’s had the better career season? Which one is under more pressure to win it all? We’ve got it all covered in our QB breakdown below:

The basics

Joe Burrow

252nd6-3

230

LSU

2020 (1st round, 1st overall)

Matthew Stafford

3413th6-3

220

Georgia

2009 (1st round, 1st overall)

Physically speaking, Burrow and Stafford are built similarly, carrying prototypical frames for pocket passers. They’re both mobile without leaning all too much on their legs. Stylistically, however, they’re quite different. Whereas Burrow came out of LSU with most scouts fawning more over intangibles like confidence, poise, vision and general football IQ, Stafford exited Georgia hyped in large part due to his cannon of an arm. Both QBs were considered the clear-cut elites of their class, and both went No. 1 overall as a result. They’ve just taken wildly different paths to this point.

Whereas Stafford needed time to bring his decision-making up to speed with his arm talent (amid wildly inconsistent surroundings on a bad Lions team, no less), Burrow flashed immediate authority amid his own bad setup, only to have a promising start cut short due to injury. Stafford also suffered a severe injury early on (three games into his second year), and like Burrow, came out of it for the better. He just required an actual relocation in 2021 — from Detroit to Los Angeles, via trade — to spark a long-awaited hunt for a title.

Now, both QBs are arguably at the peak of their respective games. Burrow still leans a bit more on accurate point-guard-esque quick strikes, while Stafford’s best asset remains his rocket-like arm strength. But together, they make up two of the NFL‘s top big-play passers — a perfect duo for the league’s biggest stage.

Career numbers

There’s an obvious disparity here, only because Stafford has been playing for a decade longer. But there are a lot of similarities when you extrapolate Burrow’s numbers over the length of Stafford’s career. For instance, the QBs have nearly identical career marks in yards per game (274 for Stafford, 280 for Burrow) and touchdowns per game (1.78 for Stafford, 1.8 for Burrow). Burrow has been a little more careful with the ball to date (0.73 INTs per game compared to 0.89 for Stafford), but as you can see, both either have — or are on track for — Hall of Fame-caliber resumes (pending championship(s), of course).

Joe Burrow

2

26

12-13-1

7,299

47

19

100.2

Matthew Stafford

13

182

86-95-1

49,995

323

161

91.1

And the championship asterisk can’t be overstated. Just take a look at their career records, for example. Burrow is just getting started in Cincy, but 2020 proved, at least in part, that injuries and poor protection and iffy coaching can’t always be offset by elite passing production. Stafford, meanwhile, needed until his 13th year — with a much better supporting cast and staff — to align MVP numbers with actual regular-season and postseason success. In other words, a Lombardi Trophy or two for each of these guys would ensure their stellar numbers don’t get lost in the history books as empty stats.

Playoff numbers

This is quite a different story than, say, at the end of 2020, when Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes brought a combined 12 conference championships and seven Super Bowl rings to the season’s final QB matchup. Because, in essence, both Burrow and Stafford are making their first real playoff runs. The latter had gone to the postseason three other times before 2021, but each appearance was one-and-done with the Lions, and he got progressively worse in each playoff start up until his Rams debut.

Joe Burrow

3-0

1

842

4

2

96.2

Matthew Stafford

3-3

1

1,813

10

4

100.6

If you look at this year’s playoffs alone, Burrow and Stafford are a combined 6-0 with 10 touchdowns and just three picks. The pressure to close it out with a Super Bowl win is probably more on Stafford, considering he’s closer to the finish line and was literally acquired via blockbuster trade to put the Rams over the top. Then again, Super Bowl appearances don’t come by often, so if Burrow can’t close the deal to cap a historic playoff debut, there’s no telling when he and Cincy will get another shot.

Best season

Is it a coincidence that both guys had their best seasons the year their teams made it to the Super Bowl? Probably not:

  • Joe Burrow (2021): 4,611 yards (70.4%), 34 TDs, 14 INTs, 8.9 YPA, 108.3 rating, 10-6 record
  • Matthew Stafford (2021): 4,886 yards (67.2%), 41 TDs, 17 INTs, 8.1 YPA, 102.9 rating, 12-5 record

In Burrow’s case, of course, there were only two seasons to choose from, and his first — a promising rookie campaign — ended after just 10 games due to a knee injury. But he was MVP-caliber this year.

Ditto for Stafford, despite some late-year hiccups. He had a couple of legitimate gems in Detroit, most notably his 2011 Comeback Player of the Year breakout, when he led the Lions to a 10-6 finish and their first playoff appearance in 12 years by throwing a career-high 5,038 yards and 41 scores to 16 picks. But his transition to the Rams was both seamless and spectacular. His 17 picks led the NFL, so his gunslinging tendencies occasionally got the best of him, but he matched his career-high 41 TDs and was both more accurate and efficient, becoming a more automatic version of the big-armed Lions standout.

Worst season

This is where Burrow really benefits from having played just two seasons. And unlike Stafford, he didn’t really suffer through his rookie season, other than by taking a beating behind a porous line. Whereas Burrow’s first season wasn’t perfect, Stafford’s was actually overtly subpar, as he had twice as many interceptions as games played:

  • Joe Burrow (2020): 2,688 yards (65.3%), 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 6.7 YPA, 89.8 rating, 2-7-1 record
  • Matthew Stafford (2009): 2,267 yards (53.3%), 13 TDs, 20 INTs, 6.0 YPA, 61.0 rating, 2-8 record

To be fair, even though the Lions drafted Stafford to play sooner rather than later, he entered the NFL at a time when rookie QBs were often still given the benefit of the doubt through early-career struggles. He had a few other clunkers, though, throwing at least 16 picks for three straight years from 2011-2013.

Super Bowl history

To be decided! Neither QB has played in a Super Bowl before, so Sunday’s game will be the first on their respective resumes. As noted earlier, Stafford is probably under more pressure to claim the victory, not only because his team is favored (and was built to win now), but because, at 34, he’s seemingly much closer to the finish line than the 25-year-old Burrow.

Fun facts

Who are these QBs’ big-name friends? What are their actual names? Here are a few parting nuggets:

  • Full names: Joseph Lee Burrow, John Matthew Stafford
  • Celebrity BFFs: Nick Bosa (Burrow), Clayton Kershaw (Stafford)
  • Career earnings: $26.8 million (Burrow), $246.5 million (Stafford)
  • Birthplaces: Ames, Iowa (Burrow), Tampa, Florida (Stafford)
  • Childhood homes: The Plains, Ohio (Burrow), Dallas, Texas (Stafford)



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