Always a bridesmaid, Drew Brees could make best MVP case yet vs. Rams

Drew Brees is on pace for 4,549 yards, 32 touchdowns, two interceptions and an astonishing completion percentage of 77.4 for the 2018 season. AP Photo/Nick Wass

METAIRIE, La. -- At least Drew Brees is in good company.

NBC put up a graphic during the New Orleans Saints' Sunday night victory against the Minnesota Vikings, listing Brees along with Derek Jeter, Jerry West and Steve Yzerman as all-time great athletes who have never won a regular-season MVP award. Jerry Rice is in the same GOAT boat, as well.

But maybe that can finally change in Brees' 18th NFL season -- especially if the 39-year-old outduels fellow MVP candidates such as Todd Gurley and Jared Goff on Sunday when the 6-1 Saints host the 8-0 Los Angeles Rams (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).

All three of those guys rank as top-five MVP candidates according to various oddsmakers halfway through the season.

They will all have to outmaneuver Kansas City Chiefs wunderkind Patrick Mahomes, among others, to bring home the hardware. But showing out in Sunday's marquee matchup -- and ultimately winning this tight NFC race -- would be an awfully nice résumé topper.

Both the NFC supremacy and the NFL MVP honor could be at stake in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

ESPN Rams reporter Lindsey Thiry just wrote about Gurley's case to become the first non-quarterback to win the award since 2012, as he is on pace for 2,302 yards from scrimmage and 30 touchdowns for an unbeaten team.

But Brees' case is obvious, too.

Not only would he be a sentimental favorite as one of the greatest players in NFL history, but he is having one of the best seasons of his career with a personal-best passer rating of 118.2. He just threw his first interception of the season on Sunday night, compared with 14 touchdown passes.

Brees is on pace for 4,549 yards, 32 touchdowns, two interceptions and an astonishing completion percentage of 77.4. He just set the NFL record for single-season completion percentage last year at 72.0.

"Man, his play speaks for itself. His résumé speaks for itself," said Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead, who made a compelling case for Brees as "The GOAT" earlier this season -- but who said Brees doesn't need Armstead to be his campaign manager.

"I mean, we got some crazy WhoDats that'll be chanting, 'Brees for MVP!'" Armstead said of the Saints' fan base. "It's about time for everybody to get on board."

It's pretty astonishing to think Brees has never won a regular-season MVP award, even though he became the NFL's leader in career passing yardage this season.

Brees has won a Super Bowl MVP (after the 2009 season) and two NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards (2008 and 2011). But when it comes to the ultimate regular-season honor, Brees has had to settle for three runner-up finishes (2006, 2009, 2011).

According to one site, Brees, Randall Cunningham and Eric Dickerson are the only three players ever to finish second in MVP voting three times without ever winning the award.

Brees has mostly been a victim of bad timing.

In 2006, he signed with the Saints as a free agent after major shoulder surgery and somehow helped lift them from 3-13 in 2005 to the No. 2 seed in the NFC one year later. But his friend and former San Diego Chargers teammate LaDainian Tomlinson just happened to set the NFL record with 31 touchdowns that season.

Then in 2009, Brees and the Saints started 13-0 on their way to a Super Bowl title. But Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts started 14-0, and their individual statistics were close enough to make that the tiebreaker.

Finally, in 2011, Brees had one of the best statistical seasons in quarterback history, setting an NFL record at the time with 5,476 passing yards to go with 46 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions while the Saints went 13-3. But that same year, Aaron Rodgers set the NFL record with a passer rating of 122.5, with 4,643 passing yards, 45 touchdowns and six interceptions, while the Green Bay Packers went 15-1.

ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck joked about how he remembers when he and Brees used to be battling for the fourth Pro Bowl spot in the NFC until somewhere around 2008 or 2009, when Brees "went bonkers and then just never looked back."

Brees is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season more than once -- and he has done it five times in the past 10 years.

Brees hasn't been posting the same astronomical yardage numbers over these past two seasons, but he has been just as efficient while the Saints have remained among the NFL's elite offenses with a balanced attack that includes running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.

"Have I seen Drew change? Yes, last year I saw a shift. But I don't think it was because of Drew but because the team shifted," Hasselbeck said of the more run-heavy approach.

And Brees has even proved his value in these past two games at Baltimore and Minnesota, said Armstead, when Brees threw for a total of just 332 yards while the Saints were able to grind out tough victories against top defenses.

"He's a big reason for us to be able to grind it out," Armstead said. "Sometimes teams gotta take somebody out of the box because of his ability to get the ball down the field. And our balance, not knowing where we're gonna attack you, even when we have a lead."

Hasselbeck, who played until he was 40, said he thinks Brees can keep this up as long as he stays healthy. Hasselbeck shot down the notion that a quarterback's arm suddenly goes as he gets older. He said it's not like a major league baseball pitcher -- unless of course there is a significant injury involved, like what happened with Manning or with Hasselbeck himself.

"It's not like the amount of throws or your age. Tom Brady's proving that. Drew Brees is proving that. Never in the history of the NFL has a quarterback thrown too many passes in a game and been like, 'Oh, my arm's sore, my arm's tired,'" Hasselbeck said. "As long as he stays healthy, and as long as he's training the same way, which we know Brees does, he can still make all the throws."

The only thing that might change is Brees might finally get himself off of that list of all-time great MVP bridesmaids.