Examining NFL MVP Race

If you are a Cowboys, Patriots, Chiefs, or Falcons fan, this week is pretty boring for you. Generally there is little news regarding your own team other than some small injury updates, and you’re mostly just waiting around until the weekend so you can learn who your team will be playing in the divisional round. I will try to ease this boredom with an examination of the regular season MVP candidates, which include Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott from Dallas, Matt Ryan from Atlanta, Aaron Rodgers from Green Bay, and Derek Carr from Oakland, and Tom Brady from New England.

*Just as a disclaimer, I hate the this award selection. There is a big difference between the “Most Valuable Player”, and the best player, yet the award is basically given out to the best player every year. I will be taking this into account in my analysis.*

Ezekiel Elliot has been the best running back this season, and it’s really not even close. He racked up a ridiculous 1631 yards, which was good for second all time by a rookie. He also added 15 rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown, to go along with an absurd average of 5.1 (!) yards per carry. Zeke has lived up to the hype and will be a force for the Cowboys in the future.

My hesitation with naming Zeke the MVP stems from the talent that his offensive line has. They are unquestionably the best offensive line and football, and probably the best unit. Last year, they were able to lead Darren McFadden to 1089 yards and an average of 4.6 yards per carry. While those numbers are still not what Zeke was able to accomplish, they indicate that running behind Dallas’ offensive line is ridiculously beneficial to any running back. I think Zeke is a game-changing talent, and those numbers are not a fluke. However, to quote Kevin Durant “[Dallas Offensive Line], you’re the real MVP”.

Dak Prescott has been the biggest surprise of this season. A fourth round selection out of Mississippi State, no one expected him to have to start for the next few seasons. Tony Romo’s injury threw him into the mix and he answered the call. Prescott rattled off 13 wins (tying Ben Roethlisberger for most by a rookie) and threw for 3667 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also had an impressive 67.8% completion percentage. In my opinion, Dak has more of a claim to the MVP this season than Zeke because without a quality quarterback, even a stud running back can be limited (see Todd Gurley this season). He kept the Cowboys from sinking after the injury to Romo.

My hesitation with Prescott is the same as with Zeke. He has been significantly aided by the best offensive line in football, who has kept him upright and has given him time to throw the ball. He was sacked only 25 times this season, compared to 37 sacks for Matt Ryan and 35 for Aaron Rodgers. If Dak had been hurried the same way as these quarterbacks, I am not sure if he would have held up quite the same. While the Cowboys will have a bright future with him at the helm, I don’t think he is MVP caliber just yet.

Matt Ryan has surpassed all expectations and had an absolutely spectacular season. He threw for 38 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions. He had nearly 5000 yards to go along with a 69.9% completion percentage. His total QBR was 117.1. Those numbers are all absurd. He also helped lead his team to an 11-5 record and the second seed in the NFC. Ryan flat-out balled all season long, and was statistically the best quarterback in the NFL. It is a very hard argument against him being the MVP, but we will get to that momentarily.

Aaron Rodgers quietly had a stellar season. That is an odd sentiment because while Rodgers is known for his greatness, it usually does not go unnoticed until the last few weeks of the season. Rodgers threw for 40 touchdowns and 4428 yards, while only throwing seven interceptions. He helped the Packers close out the season with six straight wins, including a week seventeen victory over the Lions that gave Green Bay the NFC North Title.

Rodgers numbers are certainly outstanding, as is the way Green Bay finished out the season. The thing that causes Rodgers problems is the way the season started. The Packers were 4-6 after their first 10 games, and were very nearly knocked out of the playoffs. While Rodgers was incredible over the last six games, he was no slouch to start the season either, throwing 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions and averaging 242 yards per game. The team as a whole seemed to turn their season around, rather than a heroic effort by Rodgers to put the team on his back.

Derek Carr had the second worst statistical season out of all of the MVP candidates. He threw for just under 4000 yards, with 28 touchdowns to six interceptions. His final completion percentage was 63.8%. However, none of those stats are truly representative of the impact that he had on the Oakland Raiders this season. In the three years that Carr has been the quarterback of the Raiders, their record has gone from 3-13, to 7-9, and finally to 12-4. They were one win away from the second seed in the AFC, and if Carr had played in the Raiders final game of the regular season against the Denver Broncos, they probably would have won the AFC West. While he is surrounded by great talent including Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and a great offensive line, Carr has been the difference maker for the offense. He is the arguably the most important reason that Oakland earned its first playoff berth since 2002.

The things that can be held against Carr are his numbers and his injury. While his numbers are certainly nothing to be ashamed of, they are not of the same caliber as the other players on this list. Breaking his leg in week 15 could also hurt him, as his season did not finish on a high note like that of Aaron Rodgers.

– What Tom Brady did this season was historic. Over the 12 games that he played this season, he threw for 3554 yards, 28 touchdowns, and two interceptions, with a completion percentage of 67.4%. He finished with a QBR of 112.2, second only to Matt Ryan. He did all of this at age 39 (!). For context, in Peyton Manning’s age 39 season he threw for 2249 yards, nine touchdowns, and 17 interceptions, a finished the season with a QBR of 67.9.
1. For those that want to argue that Manning went through a neck surgery, his age 39 season came just two years after throwing for 55 touchdowns and almost 5500 yards.
2. Some may argue that Brady had the advantage of not having to play the first four weeks of the season, therefore his body was in better shape. That is a valid point. However, he also spent that entire month away from his team, unable to develop chemistry with his offensive line and receivers. Despite that, he came back firing on all cylinders.

Tom Brady was incredible this year. There’s no other way to put it. In his 16th year in the league, he set the record for touchdown to interception ratio. Try to wrap your head around that.

For Brady, the biggest issue comes from missing the first four games of the season. Despite his absence stemming from an absolutely preposterous, sham of an investigation that had no evidence and only proved that the NFL is petty and cares more about paying back favors than producing any sort of fairness, the fact remains that Brady did sit out those games. I think that if he had played, his stat line would have been even more outlandish. However, because we don’t know for sure, and I’m sure many of the Hall of Fame voters will take the suspension into serious account.

Before I reach my vote, I would like to make a quick note that I think Matthew Stafford is not getting nearly the recognition that he deserves. I chose not to spend too much time on him here because his name has fallen out of the conversation, but he posted good numbers after losing his most potent threat in Calvin Johnson over the offseason. He also led a number of fourth quarter comebacks, and led the Lions to a playoff berth, and one win away from an NFC North Title.

For myself, the MVP race comes down to Matt Ryan and Derek Carr (again, while I think Brady would have been incredible over the first four games, and still deserves the MVP, I have to judge him on a full season and these two had full seasons). Matt Ryan had an incredible season, and played at an elite level from start to finish. I think it’s a safe argument to say that Ryan was the league’s best player. It is an incredibly tough call, and I could easily be happy with the award going to either player. However, my vote would be for Derek Carr because of the way he turned the Raiders around as a team. They thrived on his energy and his play. The team has gotten continually better in his tenure there, and I think they can be better over the next few seasons. You can also see how sorely he is missed by Oakland, as evidence of their offense’s utter inability to put points up on the board in their matchup with Denver last weekend. In my opinion, Derek Carr was the Most Valuable Player to his team this regular season.

Let me know what you think, and if there’s anyone else that you think is MVP worthy!

Until next time- B$

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Brian Cole

Brian Cole

Author ProfootballTalkLine.com at SportsTalkLine.com
Expert on all things Deflategate, and New England Patriots Writer for SportsTalkLine.com

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