For as archaic as the thinking around qualified candidates can be for Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player Award, the system in which the writers vote is quite solid. A sliding scale, it assigns a value to each player receiving votes based upon which slot they were voted for in. A 1st place vote receives X points, while a 10th place vote receives Z amount of points. It’s not as cut and dry as the current NFL voting system, which is only a single 1st place vote to bestow (which Tony Dungy so erroneously gave to Bobby Wagner in 2014). A useful tool to have when you have three or more players in contention for the the award every season, an issue seldom seem in recent years for the NFL’s MVP award.
Q: Do you know the closest margin of victory in the NFL MVP award over the last 15 years?
A: 4 points in 2001, when Kurt Warner narrowly defeated his teammate, Marshall Faulk–a fact soon to be referenced again.
Since 2011, every winner of the award has received at least 30 votes, and the narrowest margin of victory has been 11 votes by Adrian Peterson in 2012. He’s also been one of three non-quarterbacks to win the award since 2001–the other two also being running backs–along with Shaun Alexander and Ladanian Tomlinson, who each had a record breaking season in their respective MVP campaign.
It seems as though for the first time since about 2005, we will have at least five players receive at least five votes for MVP. With recent near unanimous finishes, and given the unremarkable nature of typical MVP races in the league, we might be in for as exciting a finish as 50 people writing a single name on a piece of paper can give us.
Now, here is what I think if you’re asking me (you’re probably not) what qualifies an MVP candidate in the NFL:
- Playoff team. While I don’t think you can formally write this as a prerequisite, it is certainly a strongly, strongly preferred attribute.
- If I replaced you with an average player, what would the impact be? How many wins would I be costing the team? A perfect example would be the 2011 Colts, who were a 10 win team every season since 2002 with Peyton Manning as their quarterback and a 2-14 team without him that season. That is valuable. Most back-up quarterbacks are remedial at best–Dak, Brady and Kurt Warner are complete outliers to the rule. They are more likely to be Matt McGloin, Matt Moore and Matt Cassel.
I have no idea who stands up at a podium and says “I qualify these players for the MVP award!”, because by my standard, I would have to rearrange the unofficial candidates for the award. Call me a homer, but if you’ve watched the Giants this season, you know what their formula for winning has been. Play suffocating defense and give Odell Beckham enough chances to change the game. Their offense does not erode the opposing defense the way Dallas does throughout the course of a game. They are stagnate for the most part, generating enough points to be within striking distance before the difference maker blazes through straight to the end zone on a simple slant route. The Giants formula has two parts to the equation: Odell Beckham and the defense. The defense would have to lose about three players for there to be a serious drop off. Thus, the value of Beckham as a single player is quite apparent.
That being said, no one is going to vote for Beckham because ___________. I have not been given an excuse. Meanwhile, there is some crazy notion out there that two rookies behind the most dominating force in the NFL right now should be in serious consideration. Yet again call me a homer, but there are aspects of the Cowboys that I believe make any consideration for Dak Prescott and/or Ezekiel Elliot almost insane. The first being the unique situation of the Cowboys quarterback depth chart, which may contradict half of my MVP standard for qualification. Tony Romo is not a remedial replacement. If Tony Romo had not been speared in the pre-season, the Cowboys could very well have the exact same standing in the NFL as they do with Prescott as their quarterback. As for Elliot, as great as he has been this year, their is an unstoppable force leading the way for him. The Cowboys offensive line is truly a force of nature. It is by far the most dominating positional group in the entire NFL, better than the Giants pass rush or the Seahawks healthy secondary or the Patriots healthy receiving corp. They turned Darren McFadden into a 1000 yard rusher last season on a 4-12 team. This was a team quarterbacked by Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel for an overwhelming majority of the season. Running the football had the “safe” equivalency of investing with a Certificate of Deposit. Running the football had the shock value of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith. Everyone knew it was coming. If Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot were replaced by Tony Romo and Darren McFadden, the Cowboys would win 10 games.
Now, there is a movement for each player’s respective MVP campaign. They are each certainly going to garner votes for themselves. Look no further for historical precedent on two players on the same team than Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk in 2001. For the second time in three years, they finished 1st and 2nd in voting for the MVP, and in this particular year, Warner edged out Faulk for the award by 4 votes. Even though the two split the vote, one of them still managed to secure the victory. There are however, a couple reasons why I think history won’t repeat itself:
- Kurt Warner was that remedial-level player I talked about before. He was the back-up quarterback when Trent Green was lost for the season in 1999. There was no Tony Romo behind him. His value was basically absolute.
- The list of candidates that season included a guy receiving for votes who barely had a 1:1 touchdown-interpcetion ratio. Kordell Stewart was not exactly the dark-horse of today’s potential recipients as he was back then. Unlikely and at the very best, splitting a vote might secure you a tie (Two Cowboys splitting the MVP award is not the desired outcome for a Giants fan).
Enough about the Cowboys though, I’m paying them the mind that I criticize everyone else for giving them. Let’s perhaps talk about the hottest and most dangerous player in football: Aaron Rodgers. The blazing streak Rodgers is on right now is not unfamiliar to Rodger’s fans because that is the type of football player and quarterback he is. The Packers started the season 4-6 and were read their last rites by everyone. A truly foolish maneuver for anyone who genuinely wanted to see Rodgers and the Packers miss the playoffs, a crowd certainly comprised mostly of jaded Bachelorette fans. Rodgers’ level of play has been gone into a different stratosphere these last five weeks. Playing through injury no less, his execution has been near flawless, having not thrown a single interception during their five-game win streak. They massacred Seattle at home, eliminated the Vikings from playoff contention, beat the number one defense in football at home and it has all been on the back of Aaron Rodgers. People are reserving standing room only seats in amphitheaters just to watch the Packers bandwagon. The hot topic in the NFL is the Packers being the playoff team nobody wants to play. Let’s tinker that statement a little bit–Aaron Rodgers is player you do not want to see in the playoffs.
The Packers roster is not very good. Their secondary is an atrocity, they’ve had to play a wide receiver at running back, they’re still battling offensive line issues and yet they have rattled off five in a row to put themselves in the drivers seat of the NFC North. You absolutely have to evaluate circumstances surrounding a team when considering the MVP. The Packers with any other quarterback might have sunk to 6-10 when the team hit rock bottom this season.
If you can lose four games in a row when the quarterbacks line looks like this during that losing streak, you are probably not a good football team. There is not much that a demigod can do when your defense allows nearly 90 points in back to back losses. Also, he was sacked THIRTEEN TIMES in four games. Derek Carr was sacked 16 times in 15 games this season. What Aaron Rodgers has done this season, despite a hurricane of adversity swirling around the Packers, has been magical.
And yet despite all the publicity Aaron Rodgers is getting for this stretch of play, no one is talking about Matt Ryan in the same light. While Rodgers has a shiny touchdown-to-interception ratio to hang his hat on in this debate, Ryan has been just a shade “worse” in terms of statistical output. But also keep in mind that Julio Jones has been absent for much of the latter half of this season, yet Ryan and the Falcons quietly put up one of the most prolific scoring seasons in league history. I would assume that most campaigning against Ryan for MVP would try and feed the perception of Matt Ryan the quarterback from years past. Ryan’s career has been good, but there have always been patches of poor play. That’s in stark contrast to Aaron Rodgers, who most hold within a regard higher than some divine figures. But the two this season have been neck and neck in most passing categories, while Ryan has the #2 seed in the NFC and the league’s best offense under his belt.
Speaking of Derek Carr, what about his candidacy for MVP? His season ending injury casts a dark cloud over the Raiders Super Bowl chances, but it should have no adverse effect on his MVP chances. His deliverance of the Raiders this season has been the story of the year. In the category of playoff droughts, the Raiders had been mainstays at the top of the list. For such a storied franchise, it has been a helluva dark day for the Raiders. Which is why everything about Derek Carr was so fantastic this season. That is also why his injury is devastating.
That doesn’t erase what he did over 15 games this season. He secured a playoff berth and potential first-round bye for the Raiders while posting the best season by an Oakland quarterback since Rich Gannon in 2002, who coincidentally won the MVP award. By the numbers, Carr is outside the pantheon of passing statistics, but let me be the first to tell you that the eye test might be more indicative in this instance. Eli Manning’s numbers look pretty decent, but I assure you he has been awful this season.
Finally, that brings me to Tom Brady. Detractors of Brady can only hang their hat on his 4-game absence, a stretch that saw the Patriots go 4-1. Assessing value in this instance should be done by viewing what their record was without Brady, not that Brady wasn’t there all-together. Absence is really a relative term, considering some players up and ghost it while actually physically being on the field. The Patriots buoyed themselves to 3-1 record, with two wins against teams now participating in January’s tournament. That alone is going to be enough ammunition in voter’s minds to hand the hardware elsewhere, despite Brady sticking it to the league and father time. His touchdown-to-interception ratio has been stellar this season, and he does technically have the best winning percentage among the quarterbacks remaining this season. His 11-1 record is punctuated by a dominant performance in Miami, the setting for last regular seasons’ finale that upended New Englands’ hopes for the #1 seed. Whatever demons Brady held from last season have seemingly been exorcized–he dumped Denver from playoff contention with a road victory, lanced the Miami beast that stole home-field advantage from him last season and as per usual, delivered an embarrassing and soul-crushing loss to the Jets. It’s been the typical vendetta were used to see from Brady, but without the tombstone numbers you associate with a vendetta. Brady’s play has been flawless this season, yet in the end I unfortunately do believe voters will take issue with a 3-1 New England record without the GOAT.
When all is said and done, I’m fine with Brady, Ryan or Rodgers. However, my guy is Aaron Rodgers. This is nothing against Ryan–I’m certainly not trying to cling to the his past reputation as a quarterback. In my mind, Aaron Rodgers has done just as much as Matt Ryan with a lot more wind swirling around him. Their running back situation was a disaster, the team was in a tailspin 4-game losing streak and he was basically asked to carry a team that outside of a few key players, is not very good. Their pass rush has been absent (Atlanta’s Vic Beasly leads the league in sacks), their running back is a converted wide receiver (roll the tape of an Atlanta home run by Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman) and their secondary is an unmitigated disaster, punctuated by topsy-turvy play of their young defensive backs (Keanu Neal is a defensive rookie of the year candidate). The Packers had little breathing room during their six-game winning streak, needing to absolutely beat every team in order to have a chance. They lucked out Sunday night and essentially clinched a playoff berth by virtue of Washington’s flat performance against the Giants, but needed huge wins against Seattle, a Philadelphia defense that mauled visiting offenses to that point and the Vikings ferocious pass rush. Rodger’s answered the call and then some, and punctuated his season with yet another awe inspiring performance.
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