New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the best player in the NFL and it's not even close. He's the most dominant performer at the most important position and he is the league's Most Valuable Player through the halfway mark.
And yet he's not the unanimous choice. People are giving their votes to players like Andy Dalton and Cam Newton and Carson Palmer instead of the obvious choice. Maybe someone in Brady's camp will come to his defense?
"I don't really care about some midseason, midterm grade," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said this week. "Give me whatever you want. I don't care."
Okay, sure, and I'm sure that Brady doesn't care either, but that's where we come in to play. There were 50 ballots cast across ESPN and NFL Network platforms and Tom Brady was named MVP on all but four of them. Let's break down their justifications.
NFL Network (16 Bradys out of 17 votes)
Gil Brandt: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers. Newton might not have the shiniest stats, but he's stood out with his leadership skills and knack for making big plays at critical times.
I have no problem with Brandt. I think that he's one of the most insightful sources of football knowledge. Newton deserves plenty of credit for putting this Panthers offense on his back and producing a top 10 offense with his top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, out for the season with a torn ACL.
The entire Panthers offense relies on Newton. The top two skill players are running back Jonathan Stewart and tight end Greg Olsen- good players in their own right, but not dangerous enough to force the defense to spread out and defend the sidelines. Newton's top receiver is Ted Ginn Jr. That alone puts Newton in the conversation.
But the justification for placing Newton at the top of the ballot sounds very similar to the reasoning for putting Brady atop the 2013 MVP race, even while there was another quarterback producing historically great numbers.
While Peyton Manning was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, Brady was throwing the ball to the likes of Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. His top tight end was Michael Hoomanawanui. He lost his best offensive lineman, Sebastian Vollmer, halfway through the season. The defense lost its two defensive captains in Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork in the first few weeks of the season. Brady put the 2013 Patriots on his back and put them in a position to win every single regular season game that year.
Of course, here is Brandt's three-quarter season MVP ballot from 2013 (he didn't do a midseason):
1. Russell Wilson: 198/305 (64.9%), 2,672 yards, 22 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 80 carries, 456 yards, 1 rushing touchdown
2. Nick Foles: 124/196 (63.3%), 1,791 yards, 19 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 39 carries, 145 yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
3. Peyton Manning: 327/480 (68.1%), 4,125 yards, 41 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
4. Cam Newton: 226/366 (61.8%), 2,616 yards, 19 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 82 carries, 447 yards, 6 rushing touchdowns
It's wildly insane that Manning wasn't at the top of the list, but Brandt doesn't even given Brady an honorable mention. He puts a side note as to why Brady isn't worth listing:
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: While the Patriots are winning, Brady has had an off year, with a completion percentage (60.7) approaching his career low (60.2).
Through the three-quarter point in the season, Brady was 286/471 (60.7%), for 3,267 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions.
But the justification rings hollow. You know which quarterback is currently on pace for a career low in completion rate (and interceptions, and passer rating) at 53.7%? Yeah, that'd be Cam Newton.
ESPN (30 Bradys out of 33 votes)
The Worldwide Leader polled all of the beat writers for their thoughts on the subject. 30 of 32 named Brady their midseason MVP. Here are the two exceptions.
Adam Teicher, Chiefs reporter: Andy Dalton. The rise of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Dalton has taken a talented team and made it into a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Brady gets strong consideration but Dalton is suddenly playing like one of the NFL's top quarterbacks and that transformation makes the Bengals a most dangerous team, now and in the postseason.
I'm absolutely thrilled that Dalton has taken the step to the next level as an NFL quarterback. The league is more fun with fresh faces and I'm excited to see where he goes for the next decade. I'm also okay with highlighting that the Chiefs lost to the Bengals earlier in the year, so Teicher got a front row seat. The last time the writer saw Brady was week 4 of 2014.
But let's not get caught up in Dalton being the engine behind the Bengals historic start.
Let's highlight the Bengals top four offensive weapons this season:
1. Wide receiver A.J. Green is back after suffering through an injury-ridden 2014 campaign. He played the season with a foot injury and battled biceps, thigh, and head injuries.
2. Running back Giovanni Bernard is a bigger part of the offense after missing a few weeks with hip injuries in 2014.
3. Tight end Tyler Eifert is the league's leading receiver in touchdowns and he spent the 2014 season on the injured reserve after week 2.
4. Wide receiver Marvin Jones missed the entirety of the 2014 season with a foot injury.
Basically the entire Bengals offense is back after dealing with injuries in 2014. Of course the unit is going to be better. The focus should be on whether Dalton is the source of the improvement, or if it has more to do with the supporting cast.
Personally I think that Dalton has made some major strides this season with regards to his command and confidence within the offense. He needs just one more touchdown to tie his 2014 production. But to say that Dalton is the Most Valuable Player would mean that he is the reason for the resurgence, when there are just so many other variables in play.
Josh Weinfuss, Cardinals reporter: Carson Palmer. Palmer may be a more popular pick for comeback player of the year, but the Cardinals wouldn't be 6-2 and leading the NFC West without him. Just look at last year when Palmer went down for the second time after 10 games -- Arizona won two games the rest of the season.
The argument that "the Cardinals were a terrible team once Palmer went down!" is eerily similar to that of the 2011 Colts when they lost Manning. See how much more valuable Palmer and Manning are? They say. The Patriots still won 11 games with Matt Cassel!
This is easy to counter. Matt Cassel is technically still starting in this league. He has a 23-36 (39% winning rate) starting record since he's left the Patriots. That's not a good record, but that's why he's a journeyman quarterback. For comparison, Browns quarterback Josh McCown has an 18-38 record (32.1%). Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has a 38-59-1 record (39.3%).
The 2014 Cardinals went 5-3 with Drew Stanton, who held a 2-2 record with the Lions prior to playing for Arizona. The wheels only fell off once Ryan Lindley took over for quarterback- the same Lindley that the Patriots used as preseason fodder this year.
Ryan Lindley is a free agent, just like former Colts quarterback Curtis Painter. Don't compare how teams fared with these players to how the Patriots performed with Matt Cassel on a schedule against the AFC and NFC West divisions that combined for just one team with a winning record (9-7 Cardinals). The 2008 AFC East played the easiest schedule since realignment in 2002 changed how schedules were created.
The Cardinals have played against the 2nd easiest schedule this season. They've lost their only two games against teams currently at .500 or better, including a game against a Michael Vick and Landry Jones led Steelers team.
Hold your horses, here.
The last ballot goes to Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight, who titles his article "For Once, My MVP Isn't Peyton Manning", which is kind of all you need to know.
Morris whittles down his list of contenders by pitting ESPN's QBR rating, which he admits isn't perfect, against Expected Points Added, a model which Pulpiteers should be at least generally aware of existing. Morris also claims that garbage time has been removed from the calculations, which should eliminate near. The model picks out Brady, Palmer, and Dalton as the three notables.
Palmer states his case because the Cardinals offense operating at a higher level than last year with lesser quarterbacks. Morris eliminates Dalton because the Bengals offense is playing better, but since Dalton also played last season, the improvement probably isn't entirely rooted in growth from the quarterback. This meshes with our argument above, where Cincinnati's success has come with the return of four key players from injuries.
Morris then moves Palmer into a head-to-head comparison with Brady. Morris uses the same irresponsible Look at Matt Cassel! argument to eliminate Brady by comparing the Cardinals success with and without Palmer, versus the Patriots with and without Brady.
There's no question that the Cardinals offense is playing far better than it was last season and Palmer is a major key to their success.
But if we're making comparisons to the 2007 and 2008 Patriots, let's compare the 2007 Patriots to the 2015 Patriots.
In 2007, the Patriots led one of the most impressive offensive campaigns in NFL history. In just 158 offensive drives (the 2013 Broncos used 190 drives), New England scored 69 touchdowns and 21 field goals, for 3.46 points per drive (PDD). Compared to other 2007 offenses, the Patriots were 3.28 standard deviations above the average team.
This season, the Patriots are again leading the league with 3.26 PPD, excluding kneeldowns. While the average offense is scoring more per drive than ever before, there are more teams that are closer to average. This means that the Patriots standout offense is 3.31 standard deviations above the average team.
The year is still young and things can and will change. But there's one offense that's dealt with injuries along the offensive line, at wide receiver, and in the backfield that is somehow producing at a rate that's historic for the league not just the franchise.
"We know that Brady's offenses produce, they have for many years now," Morris writes. "But we don't really know who's responsible."
We do, Ben. We do. It's the one player that's been the constant across all of those offenses. It's the one player that's taken a Super Bowl winning offense to new heights, even with injuries across the board. It's the one player that is the obvious choice for midseason MVP.
It's easy. It's Tom Brady.