[dropcap2 variation="slategrey" textColor="#000000"]N[/dropcap2]o one on the internet has dedicated more words to Drew Brees’ MVP chances than I have over the last three years.
In 2012, I wrote that he was entering his last, best chance at earning an MVP (that didn’t work out).
This preseason, I compared Drew Brees to a Stepford wife to illustrate why a Brees MVP candidacy is always dead on arrival.
I say all this to preface my announcement that I, the eternal skeptic, the overanalyzer, the nihilistic cheerleader of what will likely be the best Saints quarterback of my lifetime, am going all in.
Drew Brees is winning the damned MVP award. This year. And here’s why.
First, a caveat: if Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos finish far and away with the 1 seed in the AFC, the race is over. If Manning passes for 6,000 yards, the race is over. If the Broncos break the 2007 Pats’ scoring record, the race is over.
But none of that’s going to happen. Brees is going to be crowned the National Football League’s 2013 Most Valuable Player.[dropcap2 variation="slategrey" textColor="#000000"]T[/dropcap2]his has been a weird start for the 2013 Saints. Saints fans seem oddly disappointed with the season so far. Some wins have come ugly and one was snatched away by a Hall of Fame quarterback on the road, and the fans have spent more time focusing on the potential negatives than the actual positive outcomes. Grandmaster Wang does a great job breaking this down, so go read his post, lest you end up like those spoiled Boston fans, who whined that their success wasn’t successful enough up until the moment they won another title.
That being said, the on-the-field results have matched even the best Payton era teams. The Saints are a commanding 6-1, tied at the top of the NFC with the Seahawks. They’re in the top five of the most significant statistical categories in all of football.
- Scoring offense?1 5th
- Points allowed? 4th
- Time of Possession? 2nd
- Turnover Differential? 4th
- Quarterback Rating? 3rd
- Opposing Quarterback Rating? 5th
I’m going to ask you to look that over again before comparing them to two of our best teams of the era. Here are our totals in those same categories in both 2009 and 2011, respectively.
- Scoring offense? 1st, 2nd
- Points allowed? 20th, 13th
- Time of Possession? 11th, 3rd
- Turnover Differential? 3rd, 20th
- Quarterback Rating? 2nd, 1st
- Opposing Quarterback Rating? 3rd, 30th
Despite its flaws, and I know they sometimes seem overwhelming, this is the most balanced team the Saints have fielded since Drew Brees arrived in 2006. We have a defense that gives quarterbacks trouble, produces turnovers, and is only giving away a stingy 17.1 points per game. The only team that’s broken the 20 point mark against us so far this year is the Patriots.2 As another point of reference, the 2012 Saints didn’t allow less than 20 points until Week 9.
But that’s just background noise. It’s the platform upon which Brees will build his campaign: This is a great team, great teams win games, and great teams produce MVPs.
Brees So Far
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but typically Brees starts off a little slow and builds steam throughout November and December. We touched on this earlier in the week, but this chart is still relevant, so I’m recycling it. Through seven games, Brees has never been better:
While it’s great to have a quarterback who gets better as the year goes on, it’s not great for winning awards. The MVP isn’t as narratively-based as the Heisman, but voters are media members, and I’m sure if you did a study year to year you’d find that the contending player with the most ink dedicated to them generally wins the votes. Narratives are often built in the preseason and through the first weeks of the season, so by the time Brees generally catches fire, another player has already locked up votes.
Brees has also been unfortunate to peak in the middle of strong counter-narratives that swallowed his efforts. In 2009, Brees had the best quarterbacking season in the NFL by a significant margin, but the MVP trophy was stolen from him, with Peyton Manning still riding the OMGPEYTONMANNINGISTHEBESTPLAYERINTHEHISTORYOFALLTHESPORTS gravy train.3
Then, in 2011, Aaron Rodgers was replaced with a robot designed to play football for the first two months of the season. By the time Brees’ season peaked, he had caught Rodgers in most statistical categories, but the Saints were relegated to a 3 seed and you can’t win an MVP trophy if you’re not a quarterback of one of the top two seeds in your conference.
This season started out a lot like 2011 for the Saints: Manning looked like Superman for six weeks and that’s all anyone could talk about. But now? Manning has had three average games in a row; Denver, despite still being on pace for the all-time scoring title, looks mighty human; and it’s entirely possible Kansas City wins the NFC West, leaving Manning to play as a wild card.4
When I see that Denver team play, I see the 2011 Saints, which is both good and bad, but mostly bad. Their defense is going to lose them some games before this is all over. But most importantly, when they hit a really good defense in a spotlight situation, they’re going to fall apart. They already have. That’s a problem, considering they’re already one game behind Kansas City and still have to play the defensively-dominant Chiefs twice. Sorry, Peyton, you can’t win the MVP as a wild card quarterback.
So, just how good is Drew in the second half of the season?
If the trend continues, Drew Brees is going to have perhaps his best season ever around the same time that Peyton Manning looks mortal and 37 years old.
Most importantly, the stage is set for Drew. Let’s talk about all the factors breaking in his favor.
1. Drew Brees Is Best At Night
You know it and I know it. The media generally forgets about it, but it’s true. The Saints still have three primetime games this season (one at home), with two games left against Carolina. If Carolina continues winning, we’re going to get flexed into the Sunday night slot in one of those games, which means we’ll nearly half of our remaining games will take place in primetime. If we keep winning those games, the Brees supremacy will be impossible to ignore.
2. Drew Brees Isn’t Turning the Ball Over
It’s okay: it’s the gunslinger in him, and Saints fans have generally gilded this flaw in his game because everyone loves gunslingers. But this year Brees is on pace to finish with the fewest turnovers of his career as a Saint. If he finishes the year with under 14, there’s finally no way his giveaways or interceptions can be used against him.
3. The Saints’ Weaknesses Are Breesian Opportunities
As Sean Payton has demonstrated at times this season, he’s perfectly happy going entire halves substituting a weak rushing attack for swing passes to Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. This helps Brees’ big-play stats, like yards per pass attempt–he’s currently matched his career best in that number–and also reinforces the notion that Brees is carrying the offense on his back.
The surprisingly poor offensive line performance is a bit more worrisome, since it means Drew gets hit more, but it also provides him a chance to demonstrate his mobility and make highlight-reel plays like this:
If Brees is forced to run around and make hero plays, those are the plays the media will remember. Also, Brees’ passer rating when blitzed is a sterling 135.1; he’s completing 73% of passes with 8 touchdowns when under extra pressure. So keep blitzing, league.
4. The Week 13 MNF game vs Seattle Is the Marquee Game of the Year.
Seattle can crow all they like about their vaunted homefield advantage, but we’re in the middle of the Sean Payton revenge tour, and I guarantee you that Sean Payton and Drew Brees are still mighty pissed about their 2010 playoff loss to the Seahawks. We’re used to the noise, but they aren’t used to us. If we step in there and show them what a title contender really looks like, Drew Brees could effectively win the MVP trophy on the field that night.
Mark it down.
5. Stats, Stats, Stats.
Finally, it’s entirely possible that Brees will finish the season with a stat line that looks something like this: 480 for 670, a 71% completion percentage, 5300 yards, 48 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 13-14 wins.
That would be one of the best seasons by a quarterback — ever.
So to sum up why Drew Brees is going to be the 2013 NFL MVP:
- Drew plays better in the second half of the season
- Drew’s turnovers are down
- The Saints’ weaknesses force Brees to make highlight reel plays
- Three of the Saints final 9 games are in primetime, with flex opportunities
- Brees/Payton are still angry about the 2010 defeat in Seattle
- Drew’s final stat line will be even more absurdly good than usual
Photo via Derek Bridges