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NFL's MVP is an arms race; Gaudy numbers aren't worth what they were in the good old days, such as the 1990s

In the span of a few days, Tom Brady surpassed his career high in passing yardage and matched his second-highest touchdown total and Drew Brees became the first quarterback to twice throw for 5,000 yards while breaking Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season.

Brady would be worthy of winning the NFL Most Valuable Player award in almost any other year. He has thrown for 4,897 yards, 36 TDs and only 11 interceptions while carrying the Patriots, who have the worst defense in the league, to a 12-3 record. The Bills this weekend look like a speed bump on his way to 5,000 yards.

Brees has thrown for 5,087 yards this season. He could have an average game, or 339 yards, for the Saints this weekend against the Panthers and finish with 5,400 yards. He already has thrown for 41 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions, the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career. He also has guided New Orleans to a 12-3 record.

Excellent work, gentlemen. Now, please, step aside.

Gaudy numbers aren't worth what they were in the good old days, such as the 1990s. It looks like 5,000 yards is the new 4,000 yards and 40 is the new 30 when it comes to touchdown passes.

Brady could actually finish third in the MVP voting, one spot behind Brees and two spots behind the likely winner, Aaron Rodgers. The Packers quarterback appeared to lock up the MVP with his five-touchdown performance in their convincing win over the Bears, a game in which Green Bay was without three offensive tackles.

OK, make your pick for MVP.

Rodgers has become the fashionable choice if not the intelligent one. He's the best player in the most important position in the game. He has thrown for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions this season while leading the pack with -- and the Pack to -- a 14-1 record. All this while having the second-worst total defense and the 27th-rated rushing attack in the NFL.

He has thrown three TDs nine times and had three TDs and no picks in five games this season. His 122.5 passer rating is the highest in NFL history and isn't likely to change. He could watch the final game with Green Bay clinching home-field advantage until the Super Bowl.

Former Packers great Brett Favre, who was named MVP three straight seasons, never threw for as many yards and as many touchdowns and as few interceptions in any season as Rodgers did this season. Jim Kelly's best year was 1991, when he threw for 3,844 yards and led the league with 33 TD passes.

Zzzzz.

Rodgers had the same number of yards and 38 TDs through 12 games. Brees had 4,031 yards passing and 30 TDs while Brady had 3,916 yards and 30 TDs three-quarters into the season. Brady or Brees, who together own four of the top six spots for single-season passing yardage in history, have a case for MVP.

Brady had more pressure on him than ever this season because the Pats' defense has been so poor. New England has the 19th-rated running game in the NFL. He has completed a league-high 67 passes of 20 yards or more without superstar receivers. Instead, he used a star tight end in Amherst native Rob Gronkowski.

Brees has thrown three TDs or more eight times this season. If he does it again, he'll have the fifth-highest TD total in history. He needs 11 completions to reach a record 451. Only four times in the first 40 years of the NFL-AFL did the leader have more than 450 attempts. His 13 interceptions and 8.2 yards per attempt are good, but he trails Rodgers and Brady in both categories.

The numbers in the Year of the Quarterback, astounding enough, likely would be more off the charts if Peyton Manning wasn't sidelined this season. Manning averaged 4,217 yards passing and 30 touchdowns in his first 13 seasons.

Seven quarterbacks have thrown for 4,000 yards through 15 games. Another three -- Tony Romo, rookie Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger -- were within 150 yards of reaching the milestone going into the final week. Guess who is 11th in NFL passing yardage: Why, it's Ryan Fitzpatrick, of course, with 3,525 yards.

What does it all mean?

Quarterbacks are playing a different game in a league that has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, particularly in the past decade. The winning formula that says "run and stop the run" is hogwash. These days, it's "pass and slow down the pass" under rules geared to protect quarterbacks and free up receivers.

Years ago, the likes of Marino, Kelly, Joe Montana and John Elway had marginal numbers compared to what you see today. Marino, with 5,084 yards passing and 48 touchdowns in 1984, is the only QB who had single-season stats that would hold up in the current NFL. Brees will shatter his yardage record. Brady broke his TD record four years ago.

Montana, who never threw for 4,000 yards, had one 30-TD season. Elway had one 4,000-yard season and never threw more than 27 TDs in a year. Drew Bledsoe had three 4,000-yard seasons but never had more than 25 TDs.

It brings us back to Buffalo, the way it often does. Bledsoe owns Bills' records with 375 completions and 4,359 yards in 2002. His completion total would be fourth in the NFL this season, his yardage total sixth, with one game remaining.

If you remember, Bledsoe arrived a year after the Bills took Nate Clements 21st overall, 11 picks ahead of Brees. He became available because New England turned to Brady after picking him in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Bledsoe left Buffalo in 2004, months after the Bills traded with Dallas to move up in the draft.

The Bills placed their bets on quarterback J.P. Losman, selected 22nd overall in 2004. The move left them without a first-round pick in 2005. Dallas ended up with the 20th selection overall. Four picks later, Green Bay selected Rodgers.

Buffalo, like many teams, could have had Brady, Brees or Rodgers.

Take your pick.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com