The 2016 NFL MVP has no obvious frontrunner. The Dallas Cowboys have two rookies deserving of consideration, Derek Carr has emerged as a star, and Le’veon Bell has put up a season for the ages at running back. But there are three candidates that will garner the most votes, and all have strong cases to be made.
Matt Ryan: The Statistical Argument
The stats back him up. Matt Ryan was in the top three in what are generally considered the most telling quarterback stats. He compiled 4944 yards on a 69.6 completion percentage, and trailed only Aaron Rodgers in Touchdown passes with 38. His team also scored 33.75 points per game, a whopping 4.4 more than the second place team. Those numbers are MVP caliber, plain and simple.
Down the Stretch. A common refrain when it comes to the Falcons is that they cannot finish a season strong. Just when it looked they may lose footing in their division this year, Matt Ryan played some of his best football and led the team to four consecutive victories en route to claiming the 2 seed in the NFC.
It wasn’t a one-man show. One can easily make the argument that Julio Jones is the best wide receiver in football. He regularly took over games this season, including only the sixth 300-yard performance in NFL history. The Falcons also had a heavy 1-2 punch at running back with Devontae Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The high quality of play from that position consistently put Ryan in good positions to throw the ball downfield.
Matt Ryan lacks household name recognition and his team didn’t capture the number one seed, but if the voters value numbers more than anything, he will take home the MVP.
Tom Brady: The Shortened –and Almost Flawless- Season
Near Perfection. Like a fine wine or Jennifer Aniston, Tom Brady appears to be getting better with age. He is already considered the all-time greatest by many, but this season was one of his best. His 11-1 record is nearly spotless. He won as many games and Matt Ryan and one more than Aaron Rodgers in a quarter fewer games. The other way he was nearly perfect was his Touchdown to Interception ratio. He set the NFL record, throwing 28 Touchdowns to just 2 interceptions.
No Gronk, No Problem. When All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski went out with back surgery, I wrote about how I didn’t think the Patriots had enough firepower to make up for the loss. I’ll gladly eat it on that prediction. Brady and the Patriots didn’t miss a beat, winning every game with him missing.
The Suspension. I don’t subscribe to the thinking that he should be ineligible because he was suspended (I think we all know that suspension was ridiculous), but I do think it needs to be considered because of what his team did without him. They went 3-1, beating two playoff teams (Houston and Miami), which is something I don’t think you would have been able to say about Green Bay or Atlanta had Rodgers or Ryan missed four games.
The Schedule. Take a look at this list. Cody Kessler, Andy Dalton, Landry Jones, Tyrod Taylor, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jared Goff, Joe Flacco, Trevor Siemian, Bryce Petty, and Matt Moore. If you don’t follow the NFL closely and don’t recognize most of those names, don’t feel bad. It’s a list mostly of quarterbacks you wouldn’t want starting on your favourite team, but it’s also the list of the quarterbacks Tom Brady went head to head against this season. Not exactly Murderer’s Row.
It’s very tough to evaluate Brady’s season because it was incomplete. Over 16 games his stats probably would have been enough to run away with the MVP. The question is whether voters see him missing four games as too much to overcome or not.
Aaron Rodgers: Running the Table
Calling his shot… Well, sort of. With the Packers 4-6 and all but eliminated from the playoffs, Aaron Rodgers claimed “I really feel this team can run the table”. It wasn’t a guarantee, but simply expressing that sentiment publicly considering how poorly his team had been performing, was gutsy. The Packers did run the table, and the season was capped with a showdown in Detroit for the NFC North Division crown, and Rodgers was marvelous. It was a performance for the ages, just as seemingly every game was during the team’s six game winning streak. During the streak, Rodgers stats were something out of a video game. He completed 71 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Simply said, Rodgers was perfect when he claimed he would be.
There was a reason he had to run the table. The Green Bay Packers have been a fixture in the playoffs during Rodgers’ tenure. They generally make it with relative easy, save for the season in which he broke his collarbone and had to rescue the team in the final two weeks. This year was different. The Packers started the season 4-6, and Rodgers looked terrible by his standards. Keep in mind, three quarters of the league would have still taken ‘terrible’ Aaron Rodgers over their own quarterbacks, but he didn’t look the sure-fire Hall of Famer he is.
The question when making the case for Aaron Rodgers is: Can you forget about a poor start to the season if the ending is perfect?
Who Gets the Nod?
I find it so hard to pick between these candidates. All three are worthy of being MVP, yet none of them stand out as the easy choice. Since I don’t actually have a vote, I get to go outside the box. In the opening I mentioned the two Cowboys rookies. Both Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott have been great this year and play for the best team in the NFC. The reason I can’t consider either for MVP however, is neither of them are more vital to the Cowboys’ success than the Offensive Line. I believe the Cowboys line is the most valuable ‘unit’ in the NFL; more than Ryan, Brady or Rodgers. Voters can’t pick five guys for MVP so it won’t happen, but I believe the Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line of Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Doug Free should be the NFL MVPs.