Mahomes breaks Marino’s 34-year-old record, but which is more impressive?

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Stefan Collins

In week nine of the 2020 NFL season, Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback, Patrick Mahomes made history yet again. The phenomenally gifted, former NFL MVP, and last year’s Super Bowl MVP has added his name to the record book. The record set was “Fastest Quarterback in NFL history to pass for 100 touchdown passes.” A feat which he accomplished in 40 career games. My friend Tanner Hoops, decided to pick this topic for the trivia question on his “I tell you what” podcast. Which was released shortly after the match-up between the Chiefs and the Carolina Panthers. The question was “Who’s record did Mahomes break?” I am a big fan of the player that previously held this record, so I knew the answer. It was Miami Dolphins legend, Dan Marino. I discussed this topic with Hoops and said, “Even though Mahomes broke the record, I still think that Marino passing for 100 Touchdowns in 44 games is more impressive considering the era he played in.” Hoops agreed and added that “Mahomes also has superior talent around him.” Which is also a good point.

This inspired me to do some research into statistical formulas that adjust for inflation in order to make an estimate as to how many games it would take Dan Marino to pass for 100 Touchdowns in the same seasons that Mahomes played in (2017-2020) and vice versa. I came up with the best formula to work this out. But before I get to that, here is some relevant background information.

Dan Marino:

Some of you that have been reading my content for a while may remember that I picked Dan Marino as the Quarterback for my “100th anniversary team.” I went into detail as to why Dan Marino’s 1984 season is still the greatest single season performance ever by a Quarterback, despite his records eventually being broken. In 1984, Marino became the first Quarterback to ever throw for over 5,000 yards in a single season and the first to pass for over 40 Touchdowns. Marino passed for a whopping 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in 1984. While he never again lived up to the lofty standards that he set that season, he continued to put up jaw dropping numbers. So, it came as no surprise that Marino set the record for “Fastest player to reach 100 touchdown passes.” He retired in 1999 with almost every meaningful all-time, and single season passing record, thanks to having arguably the fastest release of any Quarterback in the history of the game. The records Marino held were once considered to be unbreakable. That was until the league changed the rules of the game to make passing easier.

Inflation:

In the late 1990’s, the NFL started to put rules in place that made passing the ball easier. The biggest of the rule changes came in 2004, when the following rule was put in place:

“If a defender maintains contact with an eligible receiver five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, it is Illegal contact.” This results in a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the offense. It also made pass interference penalties more common. This essentially took away the Physical “Mel Blount” type Corner Back position, and paved way for small and speedy slot receivers, who likely would have been thrown around like a rag doll before 2004, to succeed. As I’m sure you can imagine, passing yards and touchdowns have gone through the roof since.

It is no coincidence that in 2004, in his seventh season, then Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning surpassed Dan Marino’s single season touchdown record by one. Manning passed for an impressive 49 touchdowns that year. His previous personal best was 33. Clearly, the 2004 “illegal contact” rule had an impact. It also led to Marino’s single season passing record eventually being broken. The record is now held by, again, Peyton Manning, who threw for 5,477 yards in 2013. There are currently nine single season totals that have eclipsed Dan Marino’s 1984 season. All of which came in the 2010’s. It is widely accepted amongst both NFL fans and analysts that this is not because the players from the past decade are better than their predecessors (I don’t think they are.) It is because the statistics are inflated. Large in part to the rule changes benefitting the passing game. Most notably of course, the 2004 “illegal contact rule.” The modern-day rules make passing the ball easier than ever. Therefore, modern stats are inflated.

There are multiple ways of calculating inflation rates. None are completely accurate because we have no way of proving with 100% certainty that current day players would struggle in previous eras and that players from the past would dominate today. I came up with a formula (based on other NFL inflation formulas) that best depicts how many Touchdown passes Dan Marino would throw for in the same era that Patrick Mahomes has played in and vice versa.

Formula and results:

Obviously, Patrick Mahomes and Dan Marino played in a very different era, with different team-mates, against different competition, in different systems. I certainly consider Mahomes’s team-mates and system to be superior to Marino’s. Most people would agree that Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, are deadlier weapons than Marino’s “Mark’s brothers.” Also, Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid is widely considered to be an offensive guru, whereas former Dolphins Head Coach, Don Shula admitted himself on several occasions that he was a “Defense first Head Coach.” The competition was also obviously different for both. The formula and statistics do-not take these variables into account.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I think Mahomes is an extraordinarily talented Quarterback. I have no doubt Mahomes would be successful playing for any team, in any system, in any era. But would he have been as good as Marino in the 80’s? Would he be the best if prime Marino was playing today? Let’s find out as best we can.

The formula I used consisted of the following steps:

  1. Record how many Touchdown passes Patrick Mahomes had in each of his games leading up to his 100thTouchdown pass.
  2. Record how many total passing Touchdowns were scored in the NFL, the week of those games.
  3. Record the total number of NFL games played per week for those games (Today there are 32 teams, in the 80’s there were 28. So, more games are played in today’s league)
  4. Repeat the first three streps for Dan Marino leading up to his 100th Touchdown pass.
  5. Take the total number of Touchdown passes for either player, multiply it by the calculated average number of games played, divided by the other player’s average. (15/14 for Marino. Or 14/15 for Mahomes.) Then divide this number by the total number of Touchdown passes in the NFL during the other player’s era. It equals a percentage.
  6. Take the percentage and multiply it by the number of touchdowns scored in the time-period for the other player. The answer will tell you how many Touchdown’s Mahomes would have in 44 games from 1983-86 and how many Marino would have in 40 games between 2017-20.

The results showed that Marino accounted for 6.151% of Touchdown passes in his first 44 games. But when the (15/14) part of the equation is accounted for to adjust for the era, it equals 5.741%. The total number of Touchdown passes between 2017-20 in the 40 weeks that Mahomes played was 1,927. 5.741% of 1,927 is 111. Therefore, we can conclude that theoretically Dan Marino would pass for 111 Touchdowns in the same time frame as Mahomes. This equates to 2.766 Touchdown passes per game, meaning it would take Marino a total of 36 games to reach the century mark for touchdown passes in today’s game.

As for the NFL’s super star Quarterback of the present, Patrick Mahomes has accounted for 5.241% of the Touchdown passes in the league in his first 40 games. When the total number of touchdown passes are multiplied by (14/15) to adjust for era, this equals 5.616% of the total Touchdown passes. Therefore, we can conclude that Patrick Mahomes would pass for 92 touchdowns in the same 44 weeks as it took Marino to pass for 100. This equates to 2.091 Touchdowns per game, meaning it would theoretically take Mahomes 48 games to reach the century mark for Touchdown passes if he was to play from 1983 onwards.

Conclusion:

If you are interested in looking at the spreadsheet that lead to my conclusion, there is a link to it below. These stats are hypothetical. But they are the closest estimation we have. It also demonstrates the inflation of passing numbers between the two eras. As great as Patrick Mahomes has been, and as much success as he has had. Marino passing for 100 Touchdowns in 44 games in the 80’s is more impressive than Mahomes achieving this in 40 games today.