Brees posting MVP-worthy numbers
Rodgers' season is excellent, but assault on Marino's passing record may be better
There is no wrong answer, not now, not after the Green Bay Packers' perfect season ended with a subpar outing by the team and its quarterback against Kansas City. If the Packers had run the table and finished the regular season 16-0, Aaron Rodgers would have been the unanimous choice as the NFL's most valuable player. There would have been no debate.
As it stands, Rodgers probably will win the league's most prestigious individual award anyway. He has had a fantastic season. It is his award to lose.
But Drew Brees is equally deserving. If New Orleans wins its last two regular-season games, against Atlanta and Carolina, and -- as expected -- Brees obliterates Dan Marino's 27-year-old record for passing yards in a season, I will be hard-pressed to vote for Rodgers over Brees.
That record is football gold. Marino's 1984 season is the standard for quarterbacks. He was so dominant that year, against defenses that were not hamstrung the way they are today, that no one has surpassed it. Even with rules protecting quarterbacks and prohibiting contact to receivers after five yards, Peyton Manning never topped Marino. Neither has Tom Brady. Neither, so far, has Brees, who came within 15 yards of matching the record in 2008 and is the only other player in league history to throw for at least 5,000 yards in a season.
Marino threw for 5,084 yards the season he defined quarterback excellence. Brees is going to sail past that.
The numbers in Brees' favor are staggering. With two games to go, he has thrown for 4,780 yards -- the most in NFL history through 14 games -- and is on pace for 5,462 yards. In a season in which he is averaging 341.4 passing yards per game, Brees needs to average only 152.5 yards in the next two games to break the record. Only three teams have held Brees to fewer than 300 passing yards, and none did better than Tampa Bay, which gave up 258 yards in Week 9.
After completing 32 of 40 passes, a whopping 80 percent, against Minnesota on Sunday, Brees has completed a league-high 71.5 percent of his passes this season. He set the league record for completion percentage (70.6) in 2009.
Brees has a team-record and career-high 37 touchdown passes, including five each against the Vikings and Indianapolis, and four against the Giants in Week 12. He has thrown for a touchdown in 41 consecutive games and needs to do so in six more games to tie John Unitas for the most consecutive games with a touchdown pass in NFL history. (Brees also has a streak of 34 games with at least 20 completions, an NFL record.)
With 412 yards against Minnesota, Brees has 11 300-yard passing games, eclipsing the NFL record he (2008, 2011) and Oakland's Rich Gannon (2002) shared. He has thrown for at least 300 yards in the last five games, one shy of the record for consecutive 300-yard games held by Gannon (2002), St. Louis's Kurt Warner (2000) and San Francisco's Steve Young (1998).
Brees has gone five consecutive games without an interception -- he has thrown 11 all season. Since their embarrassing Week 8 loss to St. Louis, the Saints have won six straight games and have a chance to tie a franchise record, set in 2009 with Brees at the helm, with 13 wins this season.
"Drew's having, in my mind, an MVP season, there's no doubt about that," Atlanta coach Mike Smith told reporters in New Orleans on Thursday. "He's distributing the ball extremely well. They're a top-10 team in running the football, the No. 1 team in total yards, No. 2 in points. Just to watch him operate, he looks very comfortable back there running the offense. It's just amazing to watch him go out and run that offense. I hope he's at his highest level because if he plays any better I don't know if there's any way to stop him."
Smith should know. In Week 10, Brees carved up Smith's Falcons, completing 69.8 percent of his passes for 322 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But that was nothing compared to what he did at Minnesota last week. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brees became the first player ever with 400 passing yards, five passing touchdowns and an 80 percent completion rate in a game.
Like Brees, Rodgers has been outstanding, and he probably will be most voters' selection for MVP. The Packers are 13-1, and Rodgers has thrown 40 touchdown passes and just six interceptions and is on the brink of setting an NFL record for passer rating in a season. Rodgers has been efficient, accurate, relentless and consistently good. One bad game against the Chiefs doesn't change that.
On Thursday, Brees said that he hasn't given the MVP award much thought this season, "because turning on TV, watching Aaron Rodgers light it up, he seems like a pretty obvious choice," he said.
But the door is now open for Brees, who deserved to win it in 2006 but lost out to LaDainian Tomlinson, who set an NFL record for touchdowns (31) and points (186). Brees also deserved to win it in 2008 and 2009 but lost out to the Colts' Manning, who threw for 4,002 and then 4,500 yards.
Brees is as image-conscious as Manning and, though he would never admit it, being the league's MVP would mean something to him. Speaking about the award in general, he called winning it "significant" and "a tremendous honor."
Brees probably won't win the award this year, either, but he should. Marino's record is special. Brees' will be, too.
Ashley Fox is an NFL columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyMFox.