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Halo 12-06-2009 11:55 AM

MVP race: Drew Brees has the edge on Peyton Manning and Brett Favre
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Is Drew Brees the clear frontrunner for NFL MVP?

The short answer is no, even after his virtuoso five-touchdown, perfect-QB-rating performance against the New England Patriots on Monday night. He is a co-favorite in a riveting three-man race along with Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings. The three quarterbacks have led their teams to a combined 32-1 record and put up comparable stats, so the guy who finishes the strongest will win the award, pure and simple.

The long answer is yes. Based on his performance in the first 11 games, Brees has a better chance to make the best impression in the final five.

First, a nod to the Tennessee Titansí Chris Johnson, who is having by far the best season for a running back since Barry Sanders in 1997. Johnson averages a whopping 6.4 yards per carry and is on pace to rush for 2,030 yards. Sanders gained 2,053 yards on 6.1 yards per pop 12 years ago, an average no 1,000-yard running back until Johnson has come close to matching.

But Johnson has no shot because the Titans are 5-6. The award is going to Brees, Manning or Favre.

Here is the case for and against all three:

Stats: 298-423 (68.8 percent), 3,415 yards, 24 TDs, 11 INTs
Rating: 102.5

Case for: He leads the NFL in passing yards (an average of 310.5) and completion percentage, and the Colts are undefeated. He has produced five consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks, smashing the previous league record of three. When Miami held the ball for 45:07 in an early-season Monday night game, Manning still won, throwing a 48-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. Even more impressively, he is excelling with a new coach, a new offensive coordinator, a limited running game and two untested starting receivers in Pierre Garcon, a sixth-round pick in 2008, and rookie Austin Collie, a fourth-round selection.

Signature moment: New England coach Bill Belichick went for a fourth-and-2 from his own 28 with 2:08 left and a 34-28 lead rather than punt and guarantee Manning would get the ball again. Belichick paid him the ultimate respect by taking that unprecedented gamble. Manning capitalized by throwing for the winning score after the gamble failed.

Case against: Manning has thrown two interceptions in three consecutive games, raising his season total to 11. His quarterback rating is significantly lower than Breesís or Favreís. While his fourth-quarter magic is amazing, why were the Colts trailing in the first place? Donít blame the defense, which has allowed the third-fewest points (184) in the NFL. Indianapolis has scored 20 or fewer points four times.

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