Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Mike Sando's MVP Watch
By Mike Sando
Quarterbacks Drew Brees, left, and Aaron Rodgers have been at the forefront of the NFL MVP conversation for the majority of the season.
Aaron Rodgers did not lead the NFL in passing yards, touchdown passes or completion percentage. What he did do was lead the Green Bay Packers to a 15-1 record while posting a ridiculous 45-6 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.
Rodgers was the slam-dunk MVP choice all season until New Orleans' Drew Brees closed with a flourish and Rodgers, having earned a rest in Week 17, watched Packers backup Matt Flynn toss six touchdown passes to beat Detroit.
The debate was on.
Rank 'Em: NFL MVP Candidates
Who tops your ballot for NFL MVP? Consider the candidates and submit your rankings for NFL MVP honors.
A challenge issued via Twitter invited strong responses backing each man.
A sampling from the Rodgers crowd, paraphrased for grammatical and content reasons:
@colbydub11: Rodgers was offensive player of the month for September, October and November, while "all Brees has done is break Marino's record" for passing yards. Rodgers also won the award in December 2010, making him the first player to win it four months in a row.
@RamsHerd: "I would go with Rodgers, if only because he didn't let his team nap vs the Rams like Brees did."
@SoCalMindset: Rodgers had no games with more than one interception. He had one touchdown, no picks and four sacks in his lone defeat. Brees had five touchdowns, five picks and nine sacks in three defeats.
@49ers_21: Rodgers for NFL MVP, Brees for Arena League MVP after the Saints played 11 games indoors this season.
@SeahawkSammy: Rodgers was far superior in yards per attempt and more consistent over the season. Unlike Brees, he didn't lose to teams that finished 2-14 or 4-12.
@caseyrichey: Rodgers would top 6,000 yards if he had to throw as frequently as Brees did this season.
From the pro-Brees contingent:
@adamweber3: Why couldn't Rodgers set records his backup set?
@nmunoz52: "Numbers aren't the issue. It's value. This knocks off Rodgers and makes Brees a no-brainer: Matt Flynn."
@johnallender: "You have to go Brees for MVP. He carried that team and broke Dan's record. Packers insert Flynn and they look like same team."
@booverschmidt: Rodgers might be the best quarterback, but after watching the Packers excel against the Lions, Brees' value was clear.
It's interesting to see the cases "for" one player take aim at the other. Rodgers was deserving because Brees lost to the Rams, or because Brees played 11 games indoors, or because it's not his fault Brees had to throw all those passes. Brees was deserving because the Packers set records when Rodgers missed a game.
What happened in Week 17 wasn't going to steer me away from Rodgers. If a backup such as Flynn could throw six scoring passes against the Lions, imagine how many Rodgers might have thrown. Does anyone think Flynn would sail through the regular season with 45 touchdowns and six picks?
"Rodgers, off a Super Bowl win, clinically took apart every team they played until it did not matter," @lhillberg wrote.
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 1/15 vs. TBD ... Last Poll: 1
Good QBs should throw very few INTs in the red zone, but this Rodgers stat is ridiculous: 30 TDs and one pick from inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Rodgers has 11 TDs with one INT on passes traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage before the reception. He averages a league-leading 22.8 yards per attempt on these longer throws, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has 10 TDs without a pick on throws from outside the pocket. Basically, Rodgers can beat any defense from anywhere on the field.
Quarterback | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 1/7 vs. DET ... Last Poll: 2
All Brees did was set NFL records for passing yards (5,476), completion percentage (71.2), completions (468), first downs passing (278), 300-yard games (13) and consecutive 300-yard games (seven). Brees finished the season with 39 TDs and eight INTs on short and long throws. His ratio on intermediate passes -- those traveling 10-20 yards past the line of scrimmage -- was only 7-6, compared to 9-1 for Rodgers.
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 1/14 vs. TBD ... Last Poll: 3
Brady joined Brees and Matthew Stafford to give the NFL three 5,000-yard passers, one more than the league had produced previously in all its history. That would seem to diminish the accomplishment, but this was still a special season even by Brady's standards. He rushed for 109 yards, one shy of his career high. He set a career high with three rushing TDs. He averaged a career-best 8.6 yards per attempt, better than the 8.3 average during his historic 2007 season. Brady passed for 517 yards in one game, now the sixth-highest total in league history (it was fifth before Stafford passed for 520 in Week 17).
Receiver | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 1/7 at NO ... Last Poll: 4
Johnson set a career high for single-season receiving by 350 yards. He upped his yards per reception to 17.5, another career high. Closing the season with an 11-catch, 244-yard performance against Green Bay gave Johnson two 200-yard games in the final three weeks of the season. Johnson had more receiving yards over the final three games (560) than Andre Johnson, Sidney Rice and Demaryius Thomas had all season (each played in at least seven games). Johnson had 112 more receiving yards and seven more receiving TDs than Wes Welker on 26 fewer receptions.
Quarterback | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 1/7 at NO ... Last Poll: 5
Having two Lions in the top five seemed excessive, but one could not appear on the list without the other. Stafford tossed 14 TDs with only two INTs over the Lions' final four games, carrying Detroit to its first playoff appearance since the 1999 season. So much was at stake for the Lions. Missing the playoffs after starting 5-0 would have proved devastating to the organization. Stafford led the Lions to three consecutive late-season victories to clinch the postseason. His 520-yard game in the regular-season finale left Stafford with a league-high 1,919 yards over the Lions' final five games.
Quarterback | New York Giants ... Next Game: 1/8 vs. ATL ... Last Poll: NR
Passing for 346 yards and three TDs to win the NFC East and secure a playoff berth provided validation for Manning after his finest individual regular season. Manning set a career high by more than 900 yards with 4,933 for the season. He cut down on turnovers and made teams pay for blitzing him. Manning trailed only Rodgers and Brady in yards per attempt against five or more pass-rushers. That was critical for the Giants because Manning faced five or more rushers on a league-high 230 drop backs (defined as attempts plus sacks, not counting scrambles). Mark Sanchez (202) and Ben Roethlisberger (200) were the only other QBs with more than 189.
Running Back | Baltimore Ravens ... Next Game: 1/15 vs. TBD ... Last Poll: NR
The Ravens had two strong candidates in Rice and Terrell Suggs. Rice topped 1,300 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving for the second time in three seasons. He had 15 total TDs and set a career high with a 70-yard scoring run against Cincinnati in Week 17. Rice carried 24 times for 191 yards and two scores against the Bengals to clinch the AFC North title. Rice rushed for more yards than Cincinnati had allowed to any team (not just individual) since the final game of the 2009 season. He had six 100-yard games and finished the season with 76 receptions as well.
Tight End | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 1/14 vs. TBD ... Last Poll: NR
The Saints' Jimmy Graham was another strong consideration during a breakout season for tight ends. Gronkowski and teammate Aaron Hernandez were each targeted 100-plus times. Gronkowski and Graham became the first tight ends in league history to reach 1,300 yards. Kellen Winslow held the previous record at 1,290. Gronkowski led the league in TD receptions with 17, scoring 10 of them during a six-game stretch as the Patriots ran away with the AFC East title and eventually secured home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Wide Receiver | Arizona Cardinals ... Last Poll: NR
There are no players from losing teams on the final MVP Watch of the 2011 season. Fitzgerald put together a career year despite continued instability at quarterback in Arizona. His nine-catch, 149-yard game against Seattle in Week 17 was among the more memorable performances of his career. Fitzgerald suffered a bruised lung and was spitting up blood. Medical personnel even checked him for a concussion at one point. Fitzgerald dropped only one pass all season. The three other players with at least 150 targets combined for 22 drops, including 14 by Roddy White. Fitzgerald joined Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss as the only players with four 1,400-yard seasons.
Running Back | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 1/7 vs. DET ... Last Poll: NR
I've used the 10th spot to recognize players without realistic expectations for winning the award or even factoring in voting. The San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith appeared not long ago. Surely someone from the 13-3 49ers should get mention. Smith would be my choice, but the 49ers' success was so much a reflection of the defense and special teams playing in concert with the offense. Sproles earned the spot over Smith, Matt Ryan and others for his unusually varied contributions. Sproles set an NFL record with 2,696 combined rushing, receiving and return yards. He rushed for 603 yards with a 6.9-yard average. He caught 86 passes for 710 yards. He scored twice rushing, seven times receiving and once on a punt return. He had a 92-yard kickoff return as well.