Think of the great quarterbacks in today's NFL and The Big Three immediately come to mind: Peyton Manning. Tom Brady. Aaron Rodgers.
Rank them in any order you like, and it's tough to go wrong.
Oh . . . wait.
Even after more than seven years of brilliance, the Saints quarterback still flies under the radar in most debates about the greatest quarterback in today's game. But the numbers and the performance tell you that Brees belongs in that conversation.
Standing at just 6 feet, Brees may not have the prototype size of The Big Three and may not have their arm strength, but the 34-year-old has been one of the NFL's most dominant passers since going to the Saints in 2006, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
It's not The Big Three when it comes to deciding the great quarterback debate. It's the Fab Four.
Who's the quarterback with the most passing yards since Brees' first year in New Orleans? Not Brady. Not Manning. Not Rodgers. It's Brees with 35,861.
And the quarterback with the most touchdown passes since then? It's Brees with 263.
And who has the longest streak of games with at least one touchdown pass? Brees again with 54.
By any measure, statistical or otherwise, Brees -- whose Saints will face the Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium -- deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as his more recognizable peers. Even if he won't really admit as much.
When I asked Brees if he senses that he might not get quite the respect he deserves, he respectfully took a pass.
"Well, that's for you to say and you to write and not me," he said. "I'm just trying to do my job and be as consistent as I can and continue to improve."
Besides, he doesn't really obsess over it.
"I think at this point in my career, I really don't care about the past, I just care about the future one game at a time, one season at a time," he said. "I love this game. I want to play it for as long as I can. When it's all said and done, we can look back and make judgments, but for now it's about winning, it's about trying to find a way to win a championship and being the best decision-maker I can be and the most efficient quarterback that I can be, the best leader I can be."
Spoken like the truly great leader he is. Brees, however, does admit that he plays as if he doesn't get the respect he has earned. Does he have a chip on his shoulder?
"Yes. Absolutely. Always," he said. "You have to. It's not angry. You don't play angry, but you play with something to prove. Always."
If the Saints are to win a second Super Bowl title, it will be because Brees gets them there. Maybe as soon as Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium, scene of Super Bowl XLVIII.
Now that he's reunited with coach Sean Payton, who missed the 2012 season while serving a suspension for his role in the team's bounty scandal, the Saints have that look of Super Bowl contenders again. At 6-1, they're comfortably in front in the NFC South, and they're thinking big.
But Brees takes nothing for granted -- even against a team that's coming off a 40-point loss to the Bengals last Sunday.
"I look at them as very talented," Brees said of the Jets. "They are doing a great job at stopping the run. They're doing a great job of getting pressure on the quarterback. I've got a lot of respect for Rex Ryan and his scheme."
The feeling's mutual. Ryan especially admires how Brees overcomes his lack of height.
"Most quarterbacks in this league are much taller," he said. "And the thing he's uncanny about, he has phenomenal vision down the field. You would think, it just makes sense, you get bigger guys, he's not going to be able to see, but it is amazing how he can [see down the field]. He's smart and he's done it, but he can visualize the whole field. He doesn't get many passes blocked compared to a [taller] guy. He gets open windows and that's [what] he throws through."
Ryan will see firsthand what Brees is all about, although it's not his first time going against the Pro Bowl quarterback.
Ryan's Jets did a decent job against Brees in their only other meeting; in a 24-10 loss to the Saints early in the 2009 season, it was Mark Sanchez's turnovers that caused the most damage. Brees was held without a touchdown by Ryan's defense, but he wouldn't be shut out again until the 12th game of the 2012 season.
Ryan can only hope to contain Brees that well on Sunday. But if Brees is on his game, the odds aren't in Rex's favor.