Typically, when you look at MVP candidates, the inclination is to lean toward the best players on the best teams. That’s just natural, and it usually makes sense. After all, few would argue against Cam Newton deserving the award last season.
But that can sometimes be an over-simplified way of looking at things, especially in a sport like the NFL, where so many players have an impact on games and – unlike in the NBA and Major League Baseball — almost nobody plays on both sides of the ball.
That’s why it’s easy to overlook Drew Brees’ candidacy for the award in 2016. He almost certainly won’t win the award, because they don’t give MVPs to guys on sub-.500 teams. But based on his performance to this point in the season, he almost certainly should win it.
This is not to take anything away from the Dallas Cowboys’ thrilling young duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, both worthy MVP candidates who should not be penalized for taking advantage of the juggernaut offensive line in front of them. Nor is it to diminish the candidacy of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who has Oakland atop the AFC West at 9-2, or the always-great Tom Brady. Even Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson should get some love despite the Seahawks’ bizarre five-point output in a loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday.
But it’s hard to imagine any player having a more valuable impact on his team than Brees has had on the Saints.
Looking at the Saints, the fact that they are 5-6 is itself a minor miracle. This team is bad. So bad, that if the NFL had relegation like they have in European soccer, the Arena Football League would be penciling the Saints in on their schedule for 2017.
The Saints’ defense? It’s more of a suggestion than an actual working unit. You can almost hear defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, sounding like Lumberg from “Office Space” as he pleads to his players:
Allen: “I’m gonna need you guys to come in on Sunday and try to tackle some people, alright? That would be greeaat.”
Saints defense: “Not now, Allen. We’re kinda busy.”
The only teams that have allowed more points than the Saints this season are the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers. That’s it. The Browns and 49ers have a combined record of 1-22, yet the Saints are sitting at 5-6. That’s all Brees.
Somehow, thanks primarily to their quarterback, the Saints have managed to split a pair with the Carolina Panthers. They somehow beat the Seahawks, and they lost to the Broncos, Raiders and Giants by a total of six points. On top of all of this, they just put up 555 yards and 49 points on a Rams team that was allowing just 18.7 points per game.
Without Brees, it’s easy to imagine the Saints swimming with the Browns and 49ers in the 0-11/1-10 range (perhaps pulling out a victory at San Francisco). With him, they’ve been a legitimate threat to win every week.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the numbers.
In his age 37 season, Brees is leading the NFL in passing yards (3,587), completion percentage (71.5) and passing touchdowns (30) and yards per game (326.1). He has thrown only eight interceptions despite also leading the NFL in pass attempts (456).
The next closest in pass attempts is Joe Flacco (450), and Flacco has 700 fewer yards (2,877) and 19 fewer touchdowns (11) on his resume.
And this was supposed to be the year Brees fell off the map, right?
Back in July, Saints coach Sean Payton was asked how long Brees could keep playing at a high level. His response was that he didn’t even want to get into that question until he saw a sign – any sign – of a decline in play.
“I have not seen – there’s not a rep, a play where I’ve noticed something different,” Payton said.
“I think it’s a credit to, look, we know how he trains, his diet, everything in his day to prepare to play well at that position. I think it’s really changed, we’ve seen a change and we’re talking about a Manning or a Brady, a number of these guys at that position can play longer. I don’t want to put a number on it because I have not seen the beginning or a tick down at all.”
Eleven games into the season, Brees has left us waiting for that “tick down,” and it just doesn’t seem to be coming. Eleven games into the season, Brees has looked better than ever.
Brees probably won’t win the MVP award – which would somehow be his first, by the way — but eleven games into the season, he has proven himself as worthy as anyone, and more worthy than most.