Has Matt Ryan Overtaken Drew Brees as NFC South's Best Quarterback?

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2012

Nov 29, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) drops back to pass in the first half against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

The NFC South has two elite quarterbacks in the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees and the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan, but has Ryan finally surpassed Brees as the division's best?

It seems like the passing of the torch in the NFC South was only a matter of time, and we may finally be seeing it happen right before our eyes. 

Both Ryan and Brees are having MVP-caliber years, but only one quarterback has elevated his team to an elite level and potential Super Bowl contender. 

That honor goes to Matt Ryan. 

Ryan has thrown for 3,590 yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 96.1 quarterback rating while completing 68.5 percent of his passes. His Falcons are an outstanding 11-1 and are on their way to the postseason with a Super Bowl in mind. 

Conversely, Brees has compiled 3,674 yards, 31 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, giving him a 98.5 rating while completing 62 percent of his passes. New Orleans is struggling to remain relevant at 5-7. 

Obviously, measuring the success of a quarterback by his team's record isn't the greatest way to judge, but Ryan's elite Falcons are impressive.

He's made the Falcons better through his clutch play, and has managed to made it easy for his defense by controlling games. 

Brees has had to deal with some issues that Ryan hasn't (thanks to Bountygate), but is still surrounded by great offensive weapons.

He's backed by a horrible defense, but this is the first time we have witnessed Brees failing to elevate a poor defensive unit. 

Furthermore, Brees is seemingly reliant on his running backs much more than Ryan.

Two of Brees' favorite targets, running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, have a combined 73 receptions for 645 yards and four touchdowns. 

Compare that to the two leading backs on the Falcons, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, who have only 51 catches for 387 yards and two touchdowns. 

To make matters worse for Brees, he recorded a horrific performance against Ryan recently on Thursday Night Football. The Week 13 showdown saw Brees single-handedly lose the game for the Saints. 

Brees threw five interceptions in the contest, along with his 341 yards and no touchdowns.

Ryan shined in the 23-13 victory, throwing for 165 yards and one touchdown. The loss essentially ended the Saints season, while Ryan took his Falcons to another level. 

Make no mistake—Brees is still elite and one of the NFL's best at 33 years old and 12 seasons into his career.

Amazingly enough, he just might not be the best quarterback in his own division anymore, which speaks volumes about Ryan and the talent of the NFL in general. 

In what is becoming more and more a passing league, both Brees and Ryan have stood out.

Brees helped the league to transition through his play, but Ryan has seemingly perfected his formula en route to surpassing him. 

What's scary is that Brees is in his prime, while Ryan is continuing to improve. With Ryan already approaching or having passed Brees, we may have yet to see the best Ryan has to offer. 

For now, it appears the passing of the torch has happened in the NFC South.

Ryan has taken the crown as the best quarterback in the division, but he may not stop there.