Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your NFL MVP is...

WARNING: Explicit NFL Content To Follow

After watching a few consecutive weekends of NFL football, I feel like I’ve got a better grasp on it than I did earlier in the season. I’ve confirmed that I know at least more than some of the ESPN pundits, as Woody Paige and Skip Bayless each put up their top five MVP candidates and neither of them made mention of Tom Brady.

That’s what we like to call “Taking Things For Granted.” Taking for granted a guy that’s leading the NFL in passing yards and just won his division – albeit, a very crappy division – when his team had been written off a number of times during the season (after the Chargers, Chiefs and Colts games, to name a few) and is sporting the 27th best defense in the league (19th ranked scoring). He lost his starting left tackle early, and slowly watched as his offensive line decomposed in front of him. He’s been sacked 23 times this season. (To put that in perspective, Drew Bledsoe’s only been downed 14 times.) He won games with Heath Evans as his leading rusher, with Corey Dillon being dinged up most of the season.

Take Tom Brady away from the Patriots and I’m celebrating a Dolphin playoff berth. There’d be no 12-for-12 against the Steelers in the 4th quarter, no 23 for 27 for 350 yards in Atlanta and no near perfect game against the Buccaneers Saturday, where he sliced and diced the number two defense in the NFL. There’s a reason Peyton Manning is sweating nervously this week, and it’s not because there’s rumors Kenny Chesney might be getting back together with Renee.

He knows that the next meaningful game the Colts play will probably be a divisional playoff game against the Patriots, barring a first round upset in the AFC. Even though they’ll be at home, how many people would confidently pick the Colts after watching how the Patriots got after the Bucs…and then seeing that same sort of attack disrupt Peyton the next afternoon. The Patriots will have Week 17 to get healthy if Denver and Cincy win this weekend, and then they’ll get to tune up their offense against the Jaguars, who won’t present much of a challenge at Gillette in January.

When you look at the combined playoff experience of the other quarterbacks in the AFC, it’s hard to not notice the glaring difference of Brady’s nine wins. Carson Palmer and Jake Plummer, who will be managing the second and third seeds, have a combined one playoff win. Big Ben and the Gerrard/Leftwich combo that will most likely take the wild card spots have one combined win. The Great Peyton Manning has three playoff wins, and two of those were against Jake Plummer, so one of them had to stumble into the victory. So that would make the running tally of AFC playoff quarterbacks:

Tom Brady: Nine wins

Everyone Else, Not Counting Games Against One Another: Three.

Think the rest of the AFC is getting nervous?


The other guy who I’d strongly consider for MVP is Tiki Barber. Any time his team needs a big run, he’s churning it out for them. He’s playing with a sophomore quarterback who is anything but consistent and a receiving corps (Shockey, Plax) that’s every bit as eccentric as they are talented. Despite some quality pass rushers, nobody’s taking the Giants defense in their fantasy league (22nd overall, but 12th in scoring). Yet there they stand, atop the NFC East and in position to get themselves a first round bye.

Has Eli played great at times? Certainly, but in his last six games, he had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (8). In Tiki’s last six games, he’s gone over a hundred yards all but once, and in that game where he only rushed for 95 yards, he caught balls for a 111 yards, meaning he was still over two hundred yards from scrimmage that day. Tiki has one final hurdle to get over as his Giants travel into Washington this weekend to play the tough Redskins defense in what will be a hotly contested divisional game. If he can carry his team to a road victory there, it might be time to split the MVP up.


Of course, there are other candidates being touted for the award. We’re going to run through them quickly, touching on why I think Brady and Barber are much better candidates than them:

Shaun Alexander: He leads the NFL in rushing, has one of the oddest SI covers in recent memory and might set the touchdown record. Offensive player of the year? Definitely, but his team is getting help from an experienced Matt Hasselbeck and the resurgent Joe Jurevicius, along with the 4th-best scoring defense in the league. Plus, who have they beaten? Their best two wins – against the Giants and Cowboys – involved a bevy of missed field goals and terrible interceptions. I just think Alexander is more of a vital cog in the offense rather than the most important piece.

Peyton Manning: Not even the most important player on his own offense, as you saw what happens to him when a team takes Edge away like the Chargers did on Sunday. No play-action, no stretch plays and no reason for the pass rush to let up. He’s had a great season, no question, but if you attempt to make a case for him getting it because he’s general of a team that will finish no worse than 13-3 after resting it’s starters, then I’ll point out to you Tom Brady’s two 14-2 seasons where he got no consideration for this award.

Jake Plummer: Honestly, if you put The Mustachioed Snake on the Patriots and don’t give him the run game to baby sit him, how many picks does he throw? Thirty? Forty?

Steve Smith: If he wasn’t a receiver, Steve would be getting gonzo consideration. 150 more receiving yards than the next guy, second in yards per game by two yards and second in touchdowns by one. I’m not sure what this says about Steve, but he shows up biggest in the games the Panthers lose. Definite All-Pro, not so much the MVP.

Carson Palmer: Great numbers, great story, great record, but do remember it was his second half interceptions that cost them the Colts game. He’s playing fantastically, but his defense is a turnover machine, Rudi Johnson is a beast and Jon Kitna carried this team to a .500 record two years ago. Again, maybe the All-Pro over Brady, but not more valuable to his team than Brady.

LaDainian Tomlinson: If you didn’t have to play the last couple months of the season, LT would have this award wrapped up. Injuries and schemes against him kept him down and out in the Philly, Miami and Indy games, but still a fantastic back. Just can’t stack up against Alexander and Barber.

Chris Chambers: Just kidding, although it’s fun to look at his name in such a capacity. Pro Bowler, perhaps?

So there you have my MVP candidates, along with the two clear favorites. As you come across the campaign posters for other, let me know, as I can’t wait to dissect the “OMGZ Jake Plummer is the best!!!!” column bit by bit.

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