It's no longer a case of "if" or "when" Drew Brees breaks Dan Marino's single-season Passing Record of 5,084 yards. After lighting up the Vikings Sunday for 412 yards, Brees needs 305 yards against the hated Atlanta Failcons on Monday Night Football. The NFL's passing leader averages 341.4 YPG (#1) going into a matchup with the Failcant's Passing Defense that gives up an average of 230.6 YPG (#17.)
While Marino's record stood for 27 years, Drew Brees might not hang on to his for long. Tom Brady is 187 yards behind Brees with two regular season games left. Both the Saints and the Pats are Playoff-bound--a tempting time to rest starters.
Whether Brees holds the record until next season depends on the Saints' and Patriots' remaining schedule, their need to play their superstar QBs based on their Playoff standings, the strength of their last two opponents' Passing Defenses, and Payton and Bellicheat's track record of resting their superstar QBs in final games heading into the Postseason.
Both teams face Divisional Rivals in their final two games. The Saints play the despicable Foulcans (9-5) then the worthless Panthers (5-9) at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Patriots face the Dolphins (5-9) then the Bills (5-9) in Gillette Stadium. Although both the Saints and Patriots are 11-3, only the Patriots have won their Division and are poised to be the #1 Seed in the AFC.
Projected to be the NFC's 3rd Seed, the Saints still have a shot at moving up to 2nd if the 49ers lose one of their last two and we win both of ours. If the Saints & 49ers finish the season with the same record, the 49ers would still be 2nd Seed on a Conference tiebreaker (currently 9-2 vs 7-4.) The Saints have clinched a Wild Card berth, but not the NFC South Title (yet.) WHEN the Saints win Monday night, they'll end the Dirty Birds' chances for the Division. Although should hell freeze over and the Failcons win, the Division will come down to the final game. God forbid the Saints lose to the Panthers and the Felons beat the sorry Bucs, because if both teams finish 11-5 the vile Failcant's would WIN the NFCS on a Divisional Record tie-breaker (4-3 vs. 3-3.)
Drew will play with everything he's got Monday night. Should the Forces of Darkness prevail on MNF, sitting-out Drew against Carolina won't even be an option. He'll stop at nothing to prevent the Failcons from stealing the Saints' 5th NFCS Title on a freaking tie-breaker. If four-digit yardage were ever possible, it will be in that game.
Is there ever any doubt Brady can rack up serious yardage? His '11 season-high is 517 yards against the Dolphins--the Patriots' next opponent. The Dolphins Passing D has improved since the season opener, holding opponents to 247.6 YPG (#25.) The Pats finish the season against the Bills whose Passing D averages 230 YPG (#16.) At 328.1 YPG (#2), Brady will chew up and spit out these two AFCE bottom-dwellers. The Patriots have less need to play Brady in the final game than the Saints do. Historically, Brady has played in every final game (except for 2008 when he was injured), although Head Coach Bill Bellicheat has pulled #12 at some point. The only exception was in 2007 when the Patriots went 16-0; Brady played every down.
Head Coach Sean Payton has either pulled Drew early or sat him out entirely in three of the last five seasons' final games--ALL of which have been LOSSES. Coach Payton has a history of handing over final games as late Christmas presents by resting most of the Saints' starters in years the Saints are Playoff-bound ('06 CAR 31-21; '09 CAR 23-10; '10 TB 23-13.) Coach Payton pulled Drew in the 1st Quarter after the 2nd series and brought Jamie Martin under Center. In '09, Drew rode the pines the entire game while backup Mark Brunnell took every snap; there nothing to gain and A LOT to lose risking Drew since the Saints had already locked-down #1 Seed in the NFC and Domefield advantage throughout the Playoffs. In '10, Drew played until 9:15 in the 4th Quarter then Chase Daniels finished the game.
The Saints were out of Playoff contention in '08 and '07, but Drew played every down in those losses ('07 31-25 CHI; '08 33-31 CAR.) 2011 isn't the first time Drew challenged Marino's record; Drew fell 15 yards shy of it in '08. In that season-ender, Drew threw for 386 yards--unbelievably his 3rd best that season--far above his average of 316.8 YPG.
In a statistical battle, neither of the Saints final regular season opponents have Passing D's to shutdown Brees. The Failcons give up 230.6 YPG (#17) and the Panthers allow 234.4 YPG (#18) in the air. Brees averages 341.4 YPG (#1). His season best of 419 yards was in the opener against Green Bay--seven more yards than he threw last week against the Vikings. Even his season low of 269 yards in the St. Louis abomination is more than either the Falcant's or Panthers Passing D's can stop.
The 2011 season began with five serious contenders to break Marino's record: Brady, Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, and Cam Newton. Newton fell out of the race midseason after he decided to turn Michael Vick and his passing numbers deteriorated. Last weekend's debacles effectively took Rodgers and Manning out of contention. Now, there are only two: Brees and Brady. Only one has reason to keep throwing until his arm falls off to secure his team's Division Title and Playoff position: Drew Brees.
Barring a North Korea nuclear strike on the Superdome or even worse (gulp) injury, Drew Brees will not only break Marino's single-season Passing Record--he'll hang on to it. Until next season at least. When he breaks it AGAIN.