1. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady isn't going to win the MVP award. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is going to win and, based upon his week 17 performance, it could be a runaway victory. The Charlotte Observer contacted 50 MVP voters, received 25 responses, and 19 voters were leaning towards Newton. Five were undecided. The final vote was for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.
The general sentiment of the responding voters was that the award is Newton's to lose, and any slippage would give way to Palmer stepping into the front. Brady currently leads the NFL in passing yards (4,636 yards) and in touchdown passes (36). We'll play through all of the reasons why Brady should win the award, but won't. For now, let's highlight that leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns means nothing to the voters.
2014: Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tied with 4,952 passing yards, and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck led the league with 40 passing touchdowns. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers won the award with 31 votes, while Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt finished second with 13 votes. The 12-4 Packers held a tie for the best record in the league.
2013: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning smashed NFL records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdown passes. Manning collected 49 of the MVP votes, with Brady earning the final vote by dragging a broken Patriots team to the conference championship.
2012: Brees led the league in passing with 5,177 passing yard and his 43 touchdown passes was four more than the 2nd ranked Aaron Rodgers. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 rushing yards, the 2nd most all time and earned 30.5 of the 50 MVP votes. Peyton Manning picked up the remaining 19.5 MVP votes because Brees and the Saints posted a 7-9 overall record. Aaron Rodgers posted better numbers than Manning, but the Broncos went a league-best 13-3, while Green Bay finished 11-5.
2011: Brees set the NFL record with 5,476 passing yards and ranked 1st in the league with 46 touchdown passes. Rodgers won 48-2 over Brees. Rodgers led the Packers to a 15-1 record with an NFL record 122.5 passer rating.
2010: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers led the league in passing yards, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led the league with 36 touchdown passes and threw just four interceptions all season. Brady was the first player to be the unanimous league MVP as the Patriots finished with a league best 14-2 record.
So what does it take to win? Ask yourself the following questions:
1) Is there a running back posting record-breaking numbers for a playoff team? (Not this year!)
2) Is there a quarterback posting record-breaking numbers for a playoff team? (Nope!)
3) Are there multiple teams sharing the best record in the NFL? (Well, let's just name their quarterback MVP!)
It turns out that the Panthers and the Cardinals are the teams with the two best records in the NFL. Brady won't even be in the conversation for MVP, unless he puts up some mind-boggling numbers against the Dolphins. It's Newton's to lose, and Palmer's to fight for.
2. But how ridiculous is the MVP voting when it's become so easy to break down the logic of which players are eligible? The only exception to that line of reasoning since Brady led the 2003 Patriots to a 14-2 record, and lost the MVP to a Peyton Manning and Steve McNair tie, would be the 2008 Titans.
In 2008, Tennessee went a league-best 13-3, but quarterback Kerry Collins threw a laughable 12 touchdowns over the course of 15 games. Running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White combined for 25 touchdowns, and the defense was one of the best in the league, but it was difficult to highlight any single player on that team as the most valuable.
The three quarterbacks with better seasons than Peyton in 2008 were Brees, Rivers, and Kurt Warner, who led their teams to 8-8, 8-8, and 9-7 records (respectively). There were no good nominees that season.
3. There are so many reasons why Brady should be the best candidate. No team has battled as many injuries as the Patriots, and yet Brady still produces at a higher level than any other quarterback in the league. Brady has been protected by the most inconsistent offensive line in the league, and it's not even close.
Cam Newton lost his top receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason, but that's been the only starter missing this year. Palmer has missed running backs Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington to injuries, and starting lineman Mike Iupati missed time at the beginning of the season.
Tom Brady is the only player on the Patriots offense to start every game this season. Tight end Rob Gronkowski will be the only other player to start 15 games, and he was on a snap count for a couple games after hurting his knee against the Broncos.
The Patriots top two running backs are on the injured reserve. The #2 wide receiver couldn't play until week 7, and then the #1 wide receiver ended his regular season in week 10. The starting left tackle was placed on injured reserve in week 5, his back-up missed the next four weeks with a toe injury, and the starting center that missed the first nine weeks with an injury was forced to play right tackle. The starting guards have either been rookies, or injured, or both.
This doesn't even include the injuries to the fullback and #2 tight end, or the #3, #4, and #5 wide receivers.
It's not hyperbole to say that Brady has been forced to play in the most difficult circumstance when compared to those other quarterbacks. The simple, and unfair, counter is what about Gronkowski?
4. There seems to be a willingness to glaze over the incredible feat that Brady is performing on a weekly basis because Gronkowski is expected to serve as a band-aid. The Globe says that Newton has been "doing more with less," and Brady's MVP campaign hit a major snag when Bill Belichick opted to kick the ball in overtime against the Jets, rather than give his quarterback the chance to win.
The only possible comparison of circumstance would be if Newton still had Kelvin Benjamin, but then lost every other player on his offense, or if Palmer kept Larry Fitzgerald, but then sent the rest of the team to the Citgo. It wouldn't be very pretty.
This isn't to take away from the success of Newton or Palmer this season; they've been outstanding. But it seems very clear that Brady is getting the same treatment in the MVP race that Bill Belichick receives in the Coach of the Year listings. The fact that Brady has overcome more injuries on his offense than at any other point in his career to post league-best numbers shouldn't be overlooked just because he's still posting Brady-like numbers, or just because Gronkowski is on the roster.
5. And just because the Patriots are sleepwalking to another incredible regular season doesn't mean that Bill Belichick shouldn't deserve credit as being the best coach in the league. Now that the Panthers aren't going undefeated this season, can we throw Belichick's name back into the ring?
The coaches of the three MVP candidates will be Coach of the Year nominees, including Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. The other two have won the prize more recently than Belichick (Rivera in 2013, Arians in 2012 and 2014). Belichick last won in 2010.
Unless the award is renamed after Belichick, the selection of any other coach will always feel like a snub.