I'm not normally one to encourage running up the score, padding statistics or both. So had New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees not been attempting to break one of the National Football League's most hallowed records -- Dan Marino's 5,084 passing yards in one season (1984) -- I probably would have been upset that he was on the field in the final four minutes of Monday night's 45-16 rout of the Atlanta Falcons.

Especially since Brees breaking the record was somewhat inevitable, given that the Saints are hosting the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, which means he was all but certain to gain the 31 yards he needed before returning to the Falcons game in those final four minutes.

But two facts can't be considered enough here: First, if you're Saints coach Sean Payton, you want this distraction behind your team as soon as possible, especially since Brees could break it before the Saints' home fans.

Second, Brees's 5,087 yards are currently just 190 yards in front of New England quarterback Tom Brady's 4,897. Had he sat out the rest of the Falcons game, then turned an ankle on the first play of the Panthers game, he might easily have lost the record to Brady, who already owns the record for most passing TDs in a single season with 50.

This isn't to say the Patriots quarterback still can't claim No. 1 by Sunday's twilight -- especially if the Saints elect to rest Brees for all or most of the Carolina contest -- but he'll be breaking Brees's record rather than Marino's, brief though the Saints QB's achievement would be.

So in more ways than one, you could somewhat understand Brees throwing the record-breaking pass -- which just also happened to be a touchdown -- with less than three minutes to go.

Besides, if you're a frustrated Falcons fan today, at least you can hope that Monday's meltdown might inspire your Dirty Birds to play a far smarter and more competitive game should the two meet two weeks down the road in the opening round of the playoffs.

But while Brees getting every yard he can would seem prudent given Brady's own brilliant play, the better question might be which quarterback has the best chance to win the Super Bowl -- Brees, Brady or Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who seemed certain to win both the regular-season MVP and the Super Bowl before Brees' record-breaking performance.

No offense to the Falcons, Lions, 49ers and whoever ultimately wins the NFC East between the Cowboys and Giants, but if the NFC's current hottest two teams play for the Super Bowl, it has to be the Saints visiting Rodgers' Packers in the NFC title game.

And good as Brees has been, if that happens, the Pack should prevail on its frozen tundra.

But the Super Bowl could be a different matter, especially if the Brady Bunch can win the AFC.

As long as Bill Belichick coaches the Patriots, it will always be difficult to root for them. But it will be more difficult to beat them in games the magnitude of the Super Bowl. His teams are almost always there at the end and a victory over Buffalo on Sunday would give them home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.

New England isn't always as wretchedly cold and miserable as Green Bay in late January, but it often is and assuming the Pats beat the Bills, the Belichick-Brady duo has proved pretty difficult to topple at home in the postseason.

So despite Brees passing Marino, he figures to be no better than the second most successful QB in his own conference come the playoffs.

But that shouldn't take away from his record or his season or Payton's decision to give him a chance to break the record sooner than later.

In fact, about the only thing to quibble with Brees on was his post-game assertion that, "I'm not thinking that we are 9 yards from the record. I was just focused on execution. I guess it all registered when the guys picked me up [in celebration]."

C'mon, man.

You're up 22 points with less than five minutes on the clock and you're still throwing the ball when it would arguably be better to run it and use up the clock, but you're not thinking about the record?

You're up 22 points with no chance to lose -- a point in which most teams rest a player as important as a quarterback -- and you're not thinking about the record until your teammates mob you?


At least one thing will become quickly evident on Sunday if word leaks that Brady is playing from the opening snap against the Bills. If Brees is also on the field, we'll know both he and Payton are thinking about keeping the record for more than six days.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at or 423-757-6273.