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Posted: Tuesday December 23, 2008 2:47PM; Updated: Tuesday December 23, 2008 4:18PM
Bucky Brooks Bucky Brooks >
INSIDE THE NFL

NFL Awards Watch, Week 17

Story Highlights

Brees looks to capture significant record this Sunday

With one week remaining, the MVP is Peyton's to lose

Rookie head coach Sparano has done the best job this season

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Drew Brees has thrown for 4,683 yards through 15 games.
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402.

That's all that separates Drew Brees from taking down one of the league's most hallowed records.

Dan Marino's single-season passing mark (5,084) has stood since 1984, but Brees has emerged as the latest challenger to threaten the seemingly unattainable achievement. He has passed for 4,683 yards through 15 games and is a scintillating performance away from eclipsing the Hall of Famer's single season record.

While surpassing Marino's mark would be an astonishing accomplishment, Brees' 2008 season is praiseworthy on its own merit. The Offensive Player of the Year candidate has a league-high nine 300-yard passing games, including two games with more than 400 passing yards, and has thrown at least three touchdowns in five games this season. In addition, Brees has compiled a lofty 95.5 passer rating while completing over 65 percent of his passes, with 30 passing touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Those numbers are even more remarkable when you consider that Brees leads the league with 59 completions of more than 20 yards and 16 passes of more than 40 yards.

In normal circumstances, Brees' outstanding play would make him a frontrunner for the league's MVP award, but the Saints' mediocre record (8-7) prevents that. Critics attempt to dismiss Brees' astonishing numbers as byproduct of a passer compiling gaudy statistics in a series of losses, but closer examination reveals that he led the Saints to a 6-3 record when passing for 300 or more yards in a game.

Furthermore, Brees' standout passing production was compiled while the Saints dealt with the midseason absences of their three top targets (Reggie Bush, Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston) due to an assortment of injuries. Thus, the fact that Brees is on the verge of joining Marino, Kurt Warner (4,830 in 2001), Tom Brady (4,807 in 2007), and Dan Fouts (4,802 in 1981) as the only quarterbacks in league history to pass for more than 4,800 yards in a season, despite playing with a cast of backups for the majority of the year, makes his 2008 season stand out as one of the greatest individual performances in league history.

MVP

1. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts (last week's ranking, 2): The league's hottest team is rolling into the playoffs, sparked by the scintillating play of Manning. The perennial Pro Bowl QB has completed more than 71 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions while guiding the Colts to eight straight wins.

2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (1): The Vikings are poised to win their first division title in eight years behind the efforts of the league's rushing leader. Peterson has rushed for 1,657 yards and topped the century mark a league-leading nine times. Although his eight fumbles lead the NFL, the miscues are partly the result of Peterson's "go-for-broke" running style that has produced an astonishing 22 runs of more than 20 yards.

3. James Harrison, LB, Steelers (4): The league's top stat stuffer continues to terrorize opponents with his versatile skills. Harrison has amassed 101 tackles, 16 sacks, seven forced fumbles, one interception and a safety for the league's best defense.

4. Chad Pennington, QB, Dolphins (NR): The Dolphins' plucky quarterback has the team on the cusp of winning its first division title since 2000. Although Pennington ranks in the top 10 in passing yards, passer rating and completion percentage, his leadership has been the real key to the team's dramatic turnaround.

5. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys (3): The sack master has been exceptional this season, getting a sack in all but one of the team's games. He's bearing down on Michael Strahan's single-season sack mark.

Offensive Player of the Year

1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (2)

2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (1)

3. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers (5): The league-leader in touchdowns (20) has enjoyed a coming out party in his third season. Williams has topped the century mark seven times this season and ranks as the league's fourth-best rusher (1,337 yards).

4. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (NR): Lost in the Chargers' up-and-down season has been the outstanding play of Rivers. The brash gunslinger has resurrected the team's improbable playoff hopes by sparking a three-game winning streak. He's the league-leader in passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (104.0).

5 Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (3): Atlanta's workhorse has carried the team into the postseason by rushing for more than 100 yards in seven games. Turner is the league's second-best rusher (1,491) and has 16 touchdowns on the ground.

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