Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Mike Sando's MVP Watch
By Mike Sando
Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's 27-year-old single-season passing record Monday night.
Breaking Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yardage enhanced Drew Brees' MVP credentials even if Aaron Rodgers remains the favorite on your imaginary ballot.
The manner in which Brees broke the record shouldn't matter too much in the end because Brees needed only 15 games to break it. Yes, the Saints kept passing during their blowout victory over Atlanta solely because they wanted Brees to get the record. But if the record hadn't fallen Monday night, Brees likely would have claimed it against Carolina in Week 17 -- a game the Saints must win for any shot at the NFC's second seed in the playoffs.
Rank 'Em: NFL MVP Candidates
Who tops your ballot for NFL MVP heading into Week 17? Consider the candidates and submit your rankings for NFL MVP honors.
One thing I wanted to know, however, was to what degree Marino chased Dan Fouts' previous record with the same sense of purpose. A trip back into 1984 showed Marino taking a different, more organic path to the record.
Marino entered the 1984 regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys with a chance to clinch home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs.
A week earlier, Marino had thrown four second-half touchdown passes to turn a 17-7 deficit into a 35-17 victory over Indianapolis. Needing just 19 yards against the Cowboys to break Fouts' record, Marino closed the season with a 340-yard effort featuring the winning 63-yard touchdown pass to Mark Clayton with 51 seconds remaining.
The Cowboys had tied the game with 1:47 remaining on deflected 66-yard pass that Tony Hill caught off the rebound.
Marino was the MVP, of course. Brees, despite his record-setting ways, stands second on our list again this week. Rodgers has more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions for a team with a better record and a Week 1 victory over Brees' Saints. But if Green Bay rests Rodgers and its starters while Brees outduels Cam Newton in Week 17, then what?
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 1/1 vs. DET ... Last Poll: 1
Like Brees, Rodgers spent Week 16 shining on a national stage. His five TD passes without an INT came after a couple down games statistically (at least by Rodgers' standards). Rodgers' 45 TD passes are the fourth most in NFL history and five short of the record Tom Brady set in 2007. What will the Packers do in Week 17? A consideration, from ESPN Stats & Information: "The Packers have won their final regular-season game in each of the last eight seasons, the longest active win streak of any team in regular-season finales. Green Bay is 16-1 in its final regular-season game since 1994."
Quarterback | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 1/1 vs. CAR ... Last Poll: 2
Marino averaged 9.0 yards per attempt during his historic season. Brees checks in at 8.2 YPA this season. His completion percentage (70.7) would set an NFL single-season record. From ESPN Stats & Information: "Brees has thrown a passing TD in 42 straight games, five shy of tying Johnny Unitas' NFL record set from 1956-60. Brees also has a streak of 35 straight games with at least 20 completions, an NFL record, and is moving up the leaderboard in a variety of other categories." Those would include most 300-yard passing games in a season (12), most consecutive 300-yard games (six) and most consecutive games with at least 35 pass attempts (19).
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 1/1 vs. BUF ... Last Poll: 3
One player in NFL history has needed only 15 games to amass at least 4,800 yards and 35 TDs, all while averaging at least 8.5 yards per attempt. Brady is that player. Opening the window to 16 games draws Marino (1984) and Kurt Warner (2001) into this select circle. The point, basically, is that Brady is enjoying what would be an MVP-caliber season in just about any other year. Perhaps we take for granted his production.
Receiver | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 1/1 at GB ... Last Poll: 4
The Lions woke up just in time to make a playoff push, and Johnson played a leading role in that after a few nondescript performances. Johnson has 316 yards and three TDs over the Lions' last two games. His 6-yard scoring reception to beat Oakland was the NFL's most pivotal play in Week 15, based on how much it altered win probability (plus-39.4 percent, according to Alok Pattani of ESPN's analytics team). Johnson has career highs for receptions, yardage and TDs with one game remaining.
Quarterback | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 1/1 at GB ... Last Poll: 8
No Pro Bowl for Stafford? No problem here. Rodgers and Brees wipe out two of the three potential spots. The Lions had yet to fully emerge from their midseason dive when coaches and players were casting their votes. Stafford does rank well behind Rodgers, Brees and Tony Romo in Total QBR this season, but leading the Lions to their first playoff appearance since 1999 counts for plenty. Stafford's 36 TD passes nearly double his career total in 13 games predating this season.
Receiver | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 1/1 vs. BUF ... Last Poll: NR
A 12-catch, 138-yard performance against the Dolphins, Welker's former team, pushed Welker's already towering stats even higher. Welker needs seven receptions to tie his single-season career high of 123. He and Cris Carter are the only players in league history with at least 116 receptions in two seasons. Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, Herman Moore and Jimmy Smith are the only other players with at least 116 catches in one season.
Running Back | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 1/1 vs. CAR ... Last Poll: NR
The Saints' all-purpose running back makes his 2011 debut on the MVP Watch list. Sproles leads the Saints in rushing (563 yards). He ranks second in receptions (81). He averages 9.6 yards per punt return and has a 72-yard scoring return. He averages a healthy 27.2 yards per kickoff return and has a 92-yarder. Sproles has nine total TDs and has given the Saints a more-than-viable replacement for Reggie Bush.
Running Back | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 1/1 vs. TEN ... Last Poll: 7
The Texans' late-season slide hurt Foster's standing among second-tier candidates. He does have 267 yards rushing and two TDs during Houston's last two games, however. Foster leads the Texans in rushing and stands only one reception and 60 receiving yards behind team leader Owen Daniels in those categories. Injuries have wiped out the Texans at key positions, from quarterback to outside linebacker. Even their defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, has required medical attention. Foster has persevered and helped carry them to their first playoff appearance.
Quarterback | Dallas Cowboys ... Next Game: 1/1 at NYG ... Last Poll: 6
Romo wasn't going to appear on the list this week after hardly playing in Week 16. There simply weren't superior candidates among players from winning teams. We might also point to how the Cowboys fared without Romo as evidence supporting his value to them and worthiness for consideration here. He has 18 TDs and two INTs from Week 9 to the present.
Running Back | Jacksonville Jaguars ... Next Game: 1/1 vs. IND ... Last Poll: NR
Finding a 10th player for the list was tougher than finding No. 9. Appearing on this list with a losing record stands as a rarity, but as Paul Kuharsky of the AFC South blog pointed out, Jones-Drew is about to lead the league in rushing for a team with absolutely zero threat of a passing game. Seattle's Marshawn Lynch was another consideration in this spot after ending the 49ers' streaks of not allowing a 100-yard rusher (36 games) or a rushing TD (15 games).