Drew Brees has come up with one of his finest seasons at age 39 (he will turn 40 during the playoffs in January). He has been a beautiful bridesmaid on several occasions in the past. In 2006, he was selected first team all-pro quarterback in his first season in New Orleans, but league MVP went to his former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson, who broke the TD record. In 2009, he arguably could have won the award, leading the Saints to a #1 seed in the NFC. The award, though, went to Peyton Manning even though Brees’ stats were arguably better, and New Orleans got revenge in the Super Bowl. In 2011, Brees had a season that would have resulted in a MVP selection more often than not. It just happened to come in a year where Aaron Rodgers was incredible and had one of the most efficient seasons of all-time.
The question is whether Brees will now come up second again to another historic season. It’s easy to forget just how crazy Patrick Mahomes’ season, in his first year as a starter, is. He’s already third all-time in total touchdowns scored in a season (passing plus rushing), behind only Peyton Manning in 2013 and Tom Brady in 2007. He’ll likely be second by the end of Sunday, and also be second in single-season passing touchdowns if he throws three or more to pass Brady from 2007. This last week, he matched Dan Marino in 1984, also at age 23, in touchdown passes. Those are all historic seasons that ended in a MVP selection.
Mahomes’ ability to play within his offense, and then supersede it with jaw-dropping plays, has led to those ridiculous numbers. Even in defeat, the Chiefs’ offense has scored points. If you pro-rated Mahomes’ numbers from just the four defeats, he would have 60 passing touchdowns over a full season. And he would still have more passing touchdowns than Drew Brees if you removed those four games, which is how large the lead in passing touchdowns is.
I went through the last thirty quarterbacks to be selected as first team all-pro. Here was how frequently they finished in various categories.
Team Wins and Points matter, as do efficiency stats like Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANYA), Passer Rating, and Touchdown Percentage.
Yards per Attempt and Completion Percentage have a correlation to winners, but tend to not be as important as the other categories (and co-existing with the good stats of other categories). The number of game-winning drives may matter in a few cases, but is largely a non-factor, as are interception rate, sack rate, and the total number of passes thrown.
Let’s break down the candidates in the top 6 categories that have been most important to past MVP selections:
The Saints have won 13 games heading into the final week and have sealed the #1 seed. The Chiefs are 11-4 and can become the AFC #1 seed with a win, so while this factor favors Brees, Mahomes’ team results are well within acceptable range, where almost all MVPs come from teams earning byes.
ADJUSTED NET YARDS PER ATTEMPT
Mahomes leads the NFL in adjusted net yards per attempt, though it is a slight lead over Brees, who is second.
The Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring with a whopping 530 points with one game to play. The Saints are second, but 40 points behind, with that lead widening in recent weeks.
Mahomes again leads the NFL in passing touchdown percentage at 8.6%, and has a wider lead in this category, where Brees is fifth at 6.5%.
Brees leads the NFL in passer rating (thanks to his large lead in the completion percentage category, which is overrepresented in passer rating) and Mahomes is 2nd. Brees is at 115.7 and Mahomes is at 114.
TOTAL TOUCHDOWNS (PASSING + RUSHING)
Huge advantage for Mahomes in this category, where he is putting up historic numbers and may be second all-time. Thanks to four rushing touchdowns, Brees is in a logjam at second with several others (Luck, Roethlisberger, Ryan) with 36 total touchdowns, but that is 14 behind Mahomes.
Mahomes has a sizable lead in two categories that have been traditional indicators (touchdown rate and total touchdowns). The two split in two overall efficiency measures, ANYA and passer rating, currently 1st and 2nd in the two categories, with the positions reversed. In team categories, the Chiefs lead in points scored while the Saints lead in wins. Will experience and career accomplishment overcome a massive touchdown advantage? That’s the question.