Don't forget Brees in race for MVP
Drew Brees is a better MVP candidate than Kurt Warner
Loss to Saints wasn't death knell for Packers' playoff hopes
Win over Broncos may have bought Tom Cable another season in Oakland
For at least three or four weeks now, there has been a building consensus throughout the NFL that 37-year-old Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner is the leader in the clubhouse in terms of the league's MVP race.
His is one of the feel-good stories of the year in the NFL, and there's no doubt he's having a remarkable renaissance season in Arizona, which is poised to win the franchise's first division title since Jim Hart quarterbacked the 1975 St. Louis Cardinals to a second-consecutive NFC East title.
But I would like to point out the following: Warner isn't even having the best or most valuable season among NFC quarterbacks, let alone every other player in the NFL. So here today I'm officially starting the don't forget about Drew Brees drumbeat, which is prompted but not entirely based on the boffo performance the Saints' quarterback turned in during New Orleans' 51-29 shellacking of Green Bay on Monday.
Brees is having one of the best passing seasons in NFL history, and it's going by largely unnoticed. He played an almost flawless game against the Packers, whose well-respected secondary entered the night featuring the league's No. 3-ranked pass defense. Brees was 20-of-26 for 323 yards and four touchdowns, without an interception, but even that doesn't tell the whole story.
New Orleans averaged a gaudy 11.7 yards per pass play, scored seven touchdowns, and its 51 points tied a team record and set a new mark for points scored by the Saints at home. It was the first time Green Bay had allowed 50 points or more in a game since December 1986, and Brees posted the highest passer rating of his career at 157.5, just .8 shy of perfection in the NFL's arcane QB rating system.
While we in the media have been embracing Warner's return to prominence this season, racing to bestow the MVP front-runner status on him, we've kind of lost track of the fact Brees remains on pace to comfortably erase Dan Marino's 1984 single-season passing record of 5,084 yards, which, for my money, is one of the more meaningful marks in NFL annals.
Through 11 games, Brees has 3,574 yards, an average of 324.9 per game. If he averages at least 302.2 yards per game over the season's final five weeks, the record is his. If he continues his current per-game average, Brees beats Marino by more than 100 yards, with 5,198.
OK, so you're not impressed by mere statistics, because the MVP is all about helping your team win, right? Got it. Brees and the Saints are 6-5 in the ridiculously deep NFC South, earning them last place in a division with four winning teams. Warner and his Cardinals are 7-4, all of one game better, despite playing in the weak, weak NFC West, which should almost have its statistics weighted to reflect how truly horrible the division has been this season. San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis are a combined 7-26 (.212).
So for that measly one game of separation between Brees and Warner in the "helps his team win'' department, try to ignore the following:
-- Brees leads Warner in passing yardage, 3,574 to 3,506. (Note: Warner, too, is on pace to beat Marino's mark, with 5,099 passing yards. But Brees figures to get there first and throw for more.)
-- Brees has thrown more touchdown passes, 22-21.
-- Brees has out-paced Warner in the important yards per pass attempt stat, 8.4 to 8.1.
-- Brees has more interceptions, 11 to Warner's 8. But when you factor in that Warner has fumbled nine times, losing six, and Brees has lost just one of his six fumbles, Warner leads in total turnovers, 14-12.
-- Brees has more completions of 20-yards-plus (45-35), and almost twice as many passes of at least 40 yards (15-8).
-- Brees has been sacked just nine times for minus-59 yards, while Warner has been dropped 19 times for minus-143.
-- Brees has five games with three or more touchdown passes to Warner's two.
-- Brees has six 300-yard passing games and two of 400 or more, with no games fewer than 216 yards passing. Warner has six 300-yard games, one 400-yard game, and two games in which he didn't reach 200 yards.
-- Lastly, the Saints rank first-overall in offense (411.9 yards per game), first in passing (319.5) and fourth in points (28.8). The Cardinals are second in offense (390.7), second in passing (309.6), and third in points (28.9). Sense any trend in all of this?
Maybe the final five weeks of the regular season will sort this out for us. Maybe the Cardinals and Warner leave Brees and his Saints in the statistical dust, and the true MVP of the league will be painfully obvious, whether it's Warner or some other candidate.
But today, based on the preponderance of evidence I just detailed, I'd be writing Brees' name on my league MVP ballot. Without a moment's hesitation. I realize the MVP debate is not just a numbers game, but the numbers do matter, and at the moment, most of the key ones favor Brees.
The irony of the huge New Orleans win Monday night is that while both teams came in at 5-5, it's the 5-6 Packers who still have a better shot of making the playoffs than the 6-5 Saints.
New Orleans still trails Carolina (8-3), Tampa Bay (8-3) and Atlanta (7-4) in its division, with Washington and Dallas (both 7-4) also ahead of the Saints in the NFC wild-card chase. In addition, the 6-5 Vikings hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with New Orleans, having won at the Superdome in October.
Juxtapose that with the Packers' situation. Yes, they trail the Bears and Vikings (both 6-5) by a game in the NFC North with five games remaining. But Chicago plays at Minnesota this week, so one of those teams is going to suffer a sixth loss in Week 13 (unless there's a tie. Do they even have those in the NFL?)
Green Bay doesn't have to worry about any wild-card scenarios. The NFC North is likely to send only its champion to the playoffs, so the Packers' task narrows to just beating out the Bears and Vikings. They're 1-0 against Chicago, with a rematch slated for Solider Field in Week 16. Green Bay is 1-1 and done with Minnesota, but the Packers hold the advantage over the Vikings via a better division record (3-1 to 2-2), which is the second division tiebreaker after head-to-head games.
And if Green Bay can stay at least close enough to match the Bears record with a win at Chicago in Week 16, it would hold the potential tiebreaker in that scenario too. (And don't forget, the Packers just embarrassed the Bears 37-3 nine days ago). That's why if there's a 5-6 team out there that's still going to make the playoffs -- a la Philadelphia in 2006 -- my bet would be on Green Bay.
If the Packers are 37-3 better than the Bears, and the Saints are 51-29 better than the Packers, does Chicago have much of a chance when it plays host to New Orleans in Week 15?
Look, I get that sometimes we NFL pundits all have to take opposing views for the sake of keeping a good level of debate going. I do it myself on a weekly basis. But I don't get the rush in some quarters to declare Donovan McNabb doesn't deserve all the blame in Philadelphia.
Well, no kidding. But McNabb, a 10-year veteran, knows how the NFL game works by now. Quarterbacks don't deserve all the credit they get when the times are good either, but nobody mentions that when the wins keep piling up.
Of course McNabb isn't the whole problem in Philadelphia. He's getting no help from the running game to speak of, and the defense has given more than its share of real estate of late. But McNabb isn't playing well. In fact, he has been downright horrible his last two games.
And guess what happens in the NFL when a quarterback struggles mightily and his team starts losing regularly? Yep, the quarterback starts taking some bullets. That's the way this game goes. No breaking news there. So now it's McNabb's turn to face the music, and by and large, he handled his benching like he understood that blame was the flipside of all the praise and credit that has come his way over the years.
The NFL set a record in Week 12 with its first 800-point weekend, amassing 837 points to break its previous mark of 788 points, done three times.
I'm guessing that doesn't make the tortured fans in St. Louis and Cleveland feel much better today. The Rams lost 27-3 at home to the Bears on Sunday, making them the lowest scoring team of the week. The Browns lost 16-6 at home to Houston, rendering them the NFL's only other touchdown-less team in Week 12.
Something tells me not to sentence Oakland interim head coach Tom Cable to dead-man-walking status just yet. Raiders owner Al Davis likes Cable, and sees a bit of an echo of a young John Madden in the beefy former offensive line coach.
And let's be real: A 31-10 upset win at Denver is worth at least three routine victories to Davis, given the level of antipathy that exists between him and Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. That beatdown of the Broncos might just have earned Cable another year on the Oakland sideline.
OK, Pacman, your move. One more lapse in judgment and you're headed for Lawrence Phillips-ville. If you don't know who I'm talking about, ask someone to explain the cautionary tale that the once-talented Phillips became. Before it's too late.
From an NFL standpoint, it really doesn't pay to win the Heisman Trophy. Troy Smith, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer are all not having the 2008 season they'd prefer. The most productive ex-Heisman winners at the moment would be 1997's Charles Woodson (Green Bay) and 1998's Ricky Williams (Miami).