Brees has been exceptional, but he’s not the NFL MVP

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Drew Brees
(Photo: William E. Anthony)

Drew Brees is not the Most Valuable Player in the NFL this season.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback is having an outstanding season, one of the most efficient in his 18-year career that will eventually land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame without debate.

But he’s not the 2018 MVP.

Brees has been the best player on the team that appears most likely to win the Super Bowl.

But that doesn’t make him the NFL MVP.

Brees had the least productive of his 13 seasons in New Orleans, failing to throw for 4,000 yards for the first time in his tenure.

(It’s worth noting that he fell just eight yards short of extending his NFL record for consecutive 4,000-yard seasons and would have zipped past the total if he had played in Sunday’s regular-season finale against Carolina. But he was inactive because the Saints already had secured the No. 1 seed.)

But even if he had played, it’s unlikely that Brees would have surpassed his previous low-yardage total, which is the 4,388 yards from the 2009 season when New Orleans won the Super Bowl.

It’s no coincidence that Brees’ two lowest yardage totals came in two of the three seasons in which the Saints won a franchise-record 13 games. Incidentally his next two lowest totals came last season – when New Orleans fell one missed tackle short of a trip to the NFC Championship Game – and in 2006 – when New Orleans went to the NFC Championship for the first time.

The point is, generally the Saints have been more successful when they have been least dependent on Brees to pass for exceptional yardage totals. The same holds true, generally, for quarterbacks at large.

The best teams tend to have offensive balance between the run and pass and overall balance between offense, defense and special teams even though MVP voters have a tendency to zero in on the quarterback on the best team as a jerking of the knee.

New Orleans is where it is because Brees didn’t have to throw for 5,000 yards, which he has done five times. In three of those seasons the Saints didn’t have a winning record. In the other two seasons they went 11-5 in 2013 and 13-3 in 2011, falling a win short of the NFC title game in both seasons.

 

Speaking of 2011, that was the season in which Brees and the Saints best married eye-popping passing success and eye-popping won-lost success – the season in which Brees authored his best case for MVP as he broke Dan Marino’s single-season record for passing yards, set the single-season completion percentage record and led the Saints to a 13-3 record.

But the MVP award that season went to Aaron Rodgers, who had fewer yards but also fewer interceptions and led Green Bay to a 15-1 record.

Certainly you can quibble with Brees not winning the MVP award in 2011 just as you can scratch your head at him having never won it.

But none of that makes him the MVP this season even though he again set the single-season standard for completion percentage (74.4) and had the best touchdown-interception ratio (32-5) of his career.

There’s no question Brees has had an MVP-caliber season. He belongs in the conversation and deserves strong consideration, both of which he has gotten.

In fact Brees said last week that even though the MVP award is “something that’s never really been on my radar” it has been more so this season because “it was more talked about and I got more questions about it.”

In the end the Saints are where they are because Brees has continued to be Brees while a superb offensive line blocking for Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II has produced an outstanding running game at the same time that the defense and special teams have gone from ordinary to exceptional.

In short New Orleans has been less dependent on Brees this season than it has been in any other season. That weakens the case for choosing Brees as the most valuable player in the NFL.

The MVP talk has centered primarily on Brees and Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and right fully so.

Mahomes, like Brees, has been the best player and an exceptionally productive and efficient leader on the No. 1 seed in his team’s conference. He has throw for nearly 1,400 more yards than Brees has but his completion percentage in nearly nine points lower than Brees’.

In addition to passing for more than 5.000 yards, he leads the NFL with 50 touchdown passes, though with 12 interceptions, his touchdown-interception ratio is not as exceptional as Brees’ though it’s very good.

The Chiefs, however, unlike the Saints, have a poor defense, ranking second-to-last in yards allowed and having given up more than four points per game more than the Saints. Additionally, a month ago they released Kareem Hunt, the leading rusher in the NFL as a rookie last season who was on pace to exceed 1,300 rushing yards this season.

To demonstrate the disparity in defensive play between the two teams, consider the following.

In the Chiefs’ four losses they scored an average of 37.5 points and lost by an average margin of 2.5 points. In other words, Mahomes and the offense put up plenty of points but came up just short because the defense allowed an average of 41 points.

Throw out the Saints’ anomaly of a 33-14 loss to the Panthers on Sunday and in the Saints’ two losses in which Brees played, New Orleans averaged 25 points and lost by an average of 5.5 points.

The opening 48-40 loss to TampaBay resembled the Chiefs’ shootout losses, but the 12-9 loss to Dallas – as well as late-season wins against Tampa Bay (28-14) and Carolina (12-9) – were due far more to the defense than Brees and the offense, which struggled down the stretch.

The point of this is not to diminish in any way what Brees has done this season.

It’s merely to say that during the 2018 season, Brees’ considerable value to the Saints has been slightly less than Mahomes’ value to the Chiefs.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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