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QB Index, Week 12: Drew Brees now clear MVP favorite

There is separation atop the QB Index -- and the same could be true for the MVP race heading into the season's stretch run. The longer this season goes, Drew Brees looks more and more like the best quarterback leading the best team in football.

Brees' performance on Thanksgiving night against the Falcons felt somewhat routine, like the team's 31-17 victory. When a four-touchdown outing doesn't come close to ranking as one of your five best games of the season, it's been a magical year. Even Brees' second interception of the 2018 campaign came with a major asterisk, as officials missed an obvious pass interference penalty that led to the pick.

The Saints' recent surge reflects an offense that is always evolving, with Brees and coach Sean Payton looking incredibly resourceful in recent weeks. It's as if Brees is actively attempting to develop his secondary receivers at this latter stage of the season so that his young players will be ready when the playoffs arrive, thus preventing future opponents from devoting all their resources to stopping Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.

On the heels of perhaps Brees' best performance of the season against the Eagles, when he was dropping passes into matchbox car-sized windows, Brees threw touchdowns Thursday night to Tommylee Lewis, Austin Carr, Dan Arnold and Keith Kirkwood. The Saints are playing without stud left tackle Terron Armstead, but you'd never notice because Brees is so good at getting rid of the ball quickly and moving up in the pocket to avoid pressure.

It's not that Patrick Mahomes has done anything to blow his chances for MVP. (And I won't listen to any MVP "conversation" that goes beyond those two players.) But my weekly grades for this article show a growing gap between the two players, with Mahomes closer to Jared Goff and Aaron Rodgers behind him.

Brees is unlikely to leave the spotlight. He plays again in prime time against the Cowboysand Panthers and another nationally televised game against the Steelers. With an irresistible narrative as a first-time MVP at age 39 and generally spotless play, it's Brees' award -- and No. 1 spot in the QB Index -- to lose.

And now, on to the rankings. The QBs are ordered based on 2018 play alone. The next ranking of all 32 starters comes after Week 12.

My favorite throw Thursday night from Brees came when all of his receivers were covered, so he and his 37-year-old buddy Ben Watson improvised a beautiful play down the sideline for 20 yards like they were playing Thanksgiving football in a backyard.

 **2018 stats:** 11 games | 76.4 pct | 3,135 pass yds | 8.8 ypa | 29 pass TD | 2 INT | 24 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

His Monday night performance was epic for its soaring highs and costly lows. He was responsible for five turnovers in the game, failing to sense where the pass rush was at times. Brees has two turnovers all season.

 **2018 stats:** 11 games | 67.5 pct | 3,628 pass yds | 9.3 ypa | 37 pass TD | 10 INT | 186 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

The Rams' tight ends, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, combined for 112 yards and two scores against the Chiefs, a sign of how L.A. will make up for the loss of Cooper Kupp.

 **2018 stats:** 11 games | 67.7 pct | 3,547 pass yds | 9.3 ypa | 26 pass TD | 6 INT | 88 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Despite passing up on all those open checkdown throws in Seattle, Rodgers was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded quarterback of Week 11. I didn't have him nearly that high, but it shows how complicated it is to evaluate Rodgers when he completes a handful of the most difficult throws each week, even in an uneven performance.

 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 61.8 pct | 3,073 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 19 pass TD | 1 INT | 148 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

There is a sense watching Luck that he is only beginning to reach his potential in Frank Reich's scheme and that there are levels this offense has still yet to hit this season.

 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 67.3 pct | 2,769 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 29 pass TD | 9 INT | 61 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Despite a couple of vintage Rivers interceptions against the Broncos, the Chargers' offense dominated a quality defense, moving the ball at will all day.

 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 67.0 pct | 2,860 pass yds | 9.1 ypa | 23 pass TD | 6 INT | -4 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Let's stop the throwaway line that Ryan is having a similar season to his MVP year, no matter what the stats say. It's been a strong season on balance, but he hasn't been in the same league as the top three on this list.

 **2018 stats:** 11 games | 71.4 pct | 3,683 pass yds | 8.5 ypa | 24 pass TD | 5 INT | 97 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

Spot Nos. 8-13 on this list could be rearranged in almost any order and I wouldn't have a problem with it. Wilson gets a bump after closing so strong against the Packers.

 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 66.2 pct | 2,192 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 23 pass TD | 5 INT | 227 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Give Big Ben credit for playing in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville as if the first three quarters never happened.

 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 65.1 pct | 3,202 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 23 pass TD | 10 INT | 76 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

The Patriots' late bye week gave Brady and the coaching staff time to self-scout the team's offensive problems, but Brady's knee injury is a new issue to overcome.

 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 65.2 pct | 2,748 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 17 pass TD | 7 INT | 28 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

I'm surprised how much criticism Cousins is taking. The Bears game was one of his worst, but his overall performance this season has been strong. Almost every other aspect of the Vikings' offense around Cousins is worse than a year ago, from the play calling to the offensive line to the running game.

 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 70.7 pct | 2,947 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 19 pass TD | 7 INT | 86 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

 The loss in Detroit was one of many games this season where Newton and the 
 Panthers' offense didn't wake up until the fourth quarter. 
 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 68.4 pct | 2,443 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 20 pass TD | 6 INT | 354 rush yds | 4 rush TD 

Wentz has been far less aggressive this season throwing into tight windows according to Next Gen Stats, falling from first to 19th in a stat that measures willingness to try tough throws. Is he not trusting his arm?

 **2018 stats:** 8 games | 69.5 pct | 2,304 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 15 pass TD | 6 INT | 102 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

The strong beginning to Dalton's season is keeping his overall grade up, but the arrow has been pointed to the middle for a while now.

 **2018 stats:** 10 games | 62.1 pct | 2,466 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 20 pass TD | 10 INT | 78 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Stafford is one of many quarterbacks stuck in the middle of my rankings who are coming off sluggish games, including Marcus Mariota and Deshaun Watson.

 **2018 stats:** 11 games | 67.0 pct | 2,841 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 17 pass TD | 10 INT | 64 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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