The Saints last week reached the halfway point of their season by taking down the undefeated Rams and lifting up the incomparable Drew Brees as front-runner for the first MVP award of his record-blasting 18-year NFL career.
At least that’s how it looks from here with half a season to go.
For some other perspectives, a few Vikings were asked Wednesday to pick the player they think will win the Associated Press’ 62nd NFL MVP award. As you might guess, a certain rags-to-riches teammate was the most popular choice.
“Adam Thielen, hands down,” said defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, referring to the league’s leading receiver. “Thielen gets MVP. Danielle [Hunter] gets Defensive Player of the Year. Next question.”
Both certainly are in the mix. But the process used here to pick the MVP at the midway point included where each team sits in its division.
Since there’s never been an MVP from a team with a losing record, players on 19 teams without a winning record were eliminated. No Eagles. No Rodgers.
Only twice in league history has the MVP not made the playoffs. In 1967, Johnny Unitas’ Colts finished 11-1-2 but lost a playoff tiebreaker to the Rams. And in 1973, O.J. Simpson’s Bills went 9-5 and finished three games behind the Dolphins, even with the Juice’s 2,003 yards rushing.
With that in mind, players on another five teams were dismissed because they aren’t leading their own divisions. So, for now, sorry, Adam. Sorry, Cam. Sorry, Philip.
That leaves the Patriots, Steelers, Texans, Chiefs, Redskins, Bears, Saints and Rams to pick from.
Reigning MVP Tom Brady has the Patriots at 7-2 after a 1-2 start, but his numbers can’t compete. Yet.
The top choices on the Texans and Redskins are receiver DeAndre Hopkins and, believe it or not, Adrian Peterson. But neither has the numbers to beat out Thielen at receiver or a handful of other running backs.
Next up: Chicago. The Bears’ best candidate is Khalil Mack, who was on a torrid pace to possibly join Alan Page (1971) and Lawrence Taylor (1986) as the only defenders to win the award. But Mack has missed the past two games, both wins.
That leaves Pittsburgh, Kansas City, the Rams and New Orleans.
The Steelers were supposed to implode as Le’Veon Bell continues his holdout. They started to at 1-2-1 but have won four straight as his replacement, James Conner, ranks second behind only Todd Gurley in rushing yards, total yards and rushing touchdowns.
But Conner was eliminated here because it wouldn’t make sense to pick him over Gurley, a better back on a better team who’s leading the league in scoring, rushing, touchdowns and combined yards.
“I have to stick with my running backs and say Gurley is the MVP,” Vikings running back Latavius Murray said. “He’s doing it all right now. Running the ball, catching the ball. Blocking.”
It won’t be easy for Gurley or any other running back. Not with three quarterbacks to contend with in the Rams’ Jared Goff, Chiefs 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes and Brees.
Any of those four sounds good. Mahomes is 7-1 and on pace to throw for a record 58 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. Goff is consistent and was perfect, literally, in the win over the Vikings.
But Brees has somehow taken to new heights a career that already was first-ballot Hall of Fame-worthy. A year after he once again set the league record for completion percentage (.720), he’s even more precise this season with a .763 completion percentage, 18 touchdowns, nine sacks and just one interception.
And now a Saints team that’s 27th in points allowed is 7-1 with a seven-game winning streak.
Last Sunday, in an 80-point, no-sack-on-either-side shootout with Goff, Gurley and the 8-0 Rams, Brees outplayed everybody and won by double digits. He threw for 346 yards, four touchdowns and a 137.0 passer rating.
At some point in time, the NFL’s career passing leader deserves to win MVP. It appears that time has arrived.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org