Making the Case For Saints QB Drew Brees as 2018 NFL League MVP

Credit: Derek E. Hingle

Fans of the New Orleans Saints are understandably upset over the prevailing notion expressed by the national media in recent days that the teams greatest player, 18-year veteran and future 1st ballot NFL Hall of Famer Drew Brees, will once again be passed over for the League’s annual Most Valuable Player award. This season Brees led New Orleans to a (13-3) record, their 2nd consecutive NFC South Division Championship, and the #1 overall Playoff seed in the NFC, and did so while compiling numbers that very few other NFL quarterbacks have ever been able to do at his age (soon-to-be age 40 on January 15th), if ever.

Unfortunately for Brees, his remarkable year just happened to occur in the same 2018 NFL regular season as 2nd-year Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and young 23-year old superstar sensation Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes has been projected in recent days by several national publications as the likely winner of the award, thanks mostly to his own stellar 2018 season. He led Kansas City to a (12-4) win-loss record, their 2nd straight AFC West Division Championship, and the #1 overall Playoff seed in the AFC.

Credit: Wikimedia

However, Mahomes also led the NFL in touchdown passes (50, only the third NFL quarterback to ever surpass that mark) and passing yardage (5,097), two statistics in particular which many observers — including the panel of 50 writers that will ultimately vote on the award itself — feel is more than enough to award the young Tyler, Texas native the League’s highest individual honor.

But are the final results of those two categories in particular, enough to say that Mahomes actually had the better season and provided more value (after all, this is the Most Valuable Player award) than Brees?

The alleged “value” of an NFL quarterback is shown by demonstrating the unwavering capability to operate a professional-level offense while keeping mistakes to a bare minimum, yet still earning victories in the win-loss column. Piling up huge numbers in categories such as touchdown passes or passing yardage is pretty impressive, but piling up wins while keeping mistakes or turnovers to the lowest amount possible, is even more impressive.

In that particular instance, one could argue that Brees was the far superior quarterback this season.

As a matter of fact, the reality is that there are an entire handful of statistics from the recently-completed season that Brees exceeded Mahomes in throughout the year which would justify giving the award to the long-time Saints signal-caller.

Brees arguably had the best passing season ever by an NFL quarterback in 2018, as he completed a whopping 74.4 percent of his passes, a mark that is now ranked as the best in NFL history. Brees actually surpassed his own completion percentage record, which he set last season (72.0%). For historical reference: in the 99-year history of the NFL, a quarterback has completed more than 70% of his passes only 11 different times — and Brees’ name is on that list for five of them, with this most recent season being the latest.

As an analogy, you could even think of a trial lawyer presenting a case before a judge and a seated jury in a courtroom. For a lack of a better term: we’ll refer to it as “making the case for Brees to be 2018 League MVP”.

The most egregious thing about the voters who are leaning towards giving the award to Mahomes based solely upon touchdown passes and passing yardage are being somewhat disingenuous.

Why is that, you ask?

Because the “rules” or standards that are applied to the award and how it’s presented, appear to keep shifting or changing every time that Brees has been in contention.

One has to look no further than the 2011 NFL season, a year in which Brees led the NFL in touchdown passes (46) and passing yardage (5,476, which at the time was an NFL record) while leading the Saints to a (13-3) win-loss record, an NFC South Division title, and the Divisional Round of the 2011 NFL Playoffs.

Credit: Derek E. Hingle

However, it was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers who was given the award, presumably because he was the best player on the League’s best team and ultimately led the Packers to a (14-2) record and a Super Bowl title that year. Additionally, Rodgers led Brees that year in several other categories which included passer rating and passing efficiency, which many of the voters felt made Rodgers the best choice.

Rodgers’ quarterback rating (which judges a quarterback using all relevant statistics) that year of 122.5 was the highest of all-time, breaking retired NFL quarterback living legend Peyton Manning’s mark of 121.1, which was set in his unforgettable 2004 League MVP season. Meanwhile, Brees led the NFL that year in almost every other passing category, which included pass attempts; and many of the voters on the panel that season apparently felt that those extra passes actually increased Brees’ numbers in every other possible way.

Now we fast forward just seven seasons later, and the rules or standards by which the award is based upon; seem to have changed once again — and now it appears that Brees once again is on the verge of being passed over for the honor.

Bottom line: the criteria used to give Rodgers the award back in 2011, is the exact same criteria that are now being dismissed for Brees over the stats (touchdown passes and passing yardage) put up by Mahomes this season (commonly referred to by the term “flip-flopping”).

Clearly, Mahomes had a phenomenal season, and by no means is anyone trying to diminish what the young star has managed to achieve in only his 2nd year at the professional level.

But if the voters are being completely honest with themselves and aren’t being swayed by the flashiness of the proverbial new kid on the block, then giving the award to Brees should be a no-brainer.

Before he sat out the season finale last week against Carolina, Brees had led New Orleans to 13 wins in their last 14 games, and also ended up having the better results against teams with a winning record, as he compiled a (6-1) overall record to only (3-4) for Mahomes. However, Brees also separated himself from the young Kansas City gunslinger against teams that are now headed for the NFL Playoffs.

Brees had six 4th-quarter comeback victories this season, the most in the NFL. That included victories over playoff-bound teams Baltimore and the L.A. Rams, the team that many feel that the Black and Gold potentially will end up facing in the NFC Championship Game later this month (January 20th).

Conversely, Mahomes only had two such wins to his own credit: but what could possibly hurt his chances at earning the award was that he lost in prime time to a total of three current playoff-bound teams: the very same L.A. Rams, the New England Patriots, and most recently the Los Angeles Chargers three weeks ago.

Yet it’s important to also note that it was the Chiefs defense that was responsible for two of those losses; since Mahomes had actually led the Chiefs back to retake the lead late in the 4th quarter in games against New England and the Rams, only for Kansas City’s secondary to essentially give away both of those games at the end.

Nevertheless, Brees still ended up leading Mahomes in several other notable categories, which included interceptions (Brees threw only five, while Mahomes had 11), and Passer Rating (Brees had a rating of 115.7, while Mahomes finished at 114.0).

That’s not even counting other notable stats that Brees achieved this past season which established brand new NFL records; including three games with a passer rating at over 150.0 (158,3 is the highest rating possible) and incredibly throwing a touchdown pass to 13 different receivers.

Why is Passer Rating important to this process? It’s mainly because as people want to pick apart this wide variety of stats, the one stat that takes into consideration several key quarterbacking categories (touchdown passes, interceptions, pass completion etc) is in fact, passer rating — and Brees came out on top at that definitive statistic which accurately gauges overall QB performance.

Mahomes did lead Brees in one key category, though:  “Big Plays” — a category that’s literally defined as completed pass attempts greater than 25 yards or more downfield — a statistic in which Mahomes finished with 52 of them, compared to only 35 for Brees.

But despite all of these stats, numbers, and notable achievements by both quarterbacks, here is THE one main thing that every Saints fan needs to take into serious consideration: the award will ultimately come down to the personal preference of each one of the 50 different writers that have already voted on the actual winner a few short days ago.

The award itself is presented by the Associated Press, which has presented an MVP award since 1957. The MVP winner is determined by a panel of 50 sports writers at the end of the regular season but right before the playoffs. The results aren’t revealed to the public until the night before the Super Bowl, during what is known as the annual “NFL Honors” ceremony.

As of this moment, the prevailing narrative among many of these writers, and especially among those who come from a younger generation, is that Mahomes is the more exciting, new, sensational young superstar now on the NFL scene.

That’s directly opposite of the way that some of them most likely feel about the “Old Man” (Brees) — a player that a handful of writers view as someone who’s already had his feel-good story told back when New Orleans won its one and only Super Bowl title in 2009.

Credit: Derek E. Hingle

Now to be completely fair to the distinguished panel as a whole, that’s probably not how all 50 of them personally view it of course. But rest assured, it’s a narrative that is being espoused behind closed doors, simply because Mahomes is viewed as the “sexier” player, and therefore can generate more clicks to their website.

In other words, Mahomes is the story they’d prefer to tell their readers about over Brees, whose story (saving the Saints franchise and helping to rebuild NOLA after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and then leading the Saints to a Super Bowl win nine years ago) has been well-documented already.

That, more than anything, will likely determine who the NFL MVP Award winner ultimately will be on Saturday, February 2nd at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta.

Unfortunately, it’s also the main reason why making the case for Drew Brees to finally win his first-ever NFL League MVP award, is a task that might just be too difficult to overcome.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. You can view the rest of his Saints coverage and several feature articles here.

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