New England Patriots QB Tom Brady lost the league Most Valuable Player award to Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Ryan is a deserving winner after setting an NFL-record in yards per attempt (min. 350 attempts) and the 5th-best passer rating in NFL history en route to leading one of the top 10 most productive offenses in NFL history, while also carrying one of the worst defenses in the league.
Brady had a great year- one of the best in his storied career- but he had the good fortune of playing with the #1 scoring defenses in the league, while playing four fewer games than Ryan.
Still, Brady finished a strong second in the MVP voting. Ryan earned 25 votes, while Brady earned 10, edging out Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr (6 votes) and Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (6 votes). Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (2 votes) and Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (1 vote) rounded out the ballotts.
These are my two quick takeaways from the MVP results.
1. Poor Super Bowl record of MVP winners
The league MVP has only won the Super Bowl 10 out of 50 times in NFL history, and have failed to win in this millennium. Packers QB Bart Starr won league MVP and the very first Super Bowl. Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw won both in 1978. Washington K Mark Moseley won both during the strike-shortened 1982 season. Giants LB Lawrence Taylor won under the guidance of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in 1986 and 49ers QB Joe Montana won both in 1989.
The 1990s were a good year for MVP winners as Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith won both in 1993, 49ers QB Steve Young won both in 1994, and Packers QB Brett Favre won both in 1996, Broncos RB Terrell Davis won both in 1998, and Rams QB Kurt Warner won both in 1999.
No regular season MVP winner has won the Super Bowl title since Warner. I have a theory as to why they haven’t won, too.
What is the big reason why Ryan won MVP this year over Brady? Or why Panthers QB Cam Newton won in 2015? It’s because they were players that had to overcome a lot. Ryan had one of the worst defenses in the NFL; Brady had the #1 defense in points allowed. Newton single-handedly carried that 2015 Panthers offense that lacked skill players.
These are players that had to put their team on their back to reach the Super Bowl- but they weren’t playing on the best team.
Those MVPs that won the Super Bowl were also playing on the best team. Starr, Bradshaw, Montana, Smith, Favre, and Warner played on teams that ranked in the top 5 of both offense and defense. Taylor, Young, and Davis played on teams that ranked in the top 8 of both. Even K Mark Moseley played on a team with the #1 defense and #12 offense (although it was a strike-shortened year and should be thrown out).
The Falcons rank #1 on offense, but a horrendous #27 on defense. You know what team has an MVP candidate and ranks in the top 5 of both offense and defense? That would be the New England Patriots (#1 defense, #3 offense).
2. Tom Brady climbs MVP shares rankings
Last season I tabulated the MVP shares of NFL players dating back to 1986, when comprehensive data is first available. The system is simple: if a player wins the award unanimously, he receives 1 MVP share. If he receives 50% of the vote, like Matt Ryan did this year, he receives 0.5 MVP shares. This is just to see which players have exceeded or fell short of expectations.
For example, QB Brett Favre has 2.20 MVP shares over the year, but has won 3 MVP awards, meaning that he is 0.80 MVP shares above expectation. Recently inducted Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner is 0.89 MVP shares above expectations, with 2 MVP trophies, but just 1.11 MVP shares.
QB Peyton Manning has far and away the most MVP shares over that time frame, earning the equivalent votes of 4.58 MVP awards; he has been awarded 5 MVP trophies.
Brady added to his total as he added 10 more votes- 0.20 MVP shares- to his career tally. Brady now has 2.60 MVP shares, but only 2 MVPs to his name. His 0.60 MVP share deficit is beaten only by QB Randall Cunningham (-0.83 MVP shares) and WR Jerry Rice (-0.69 MVP shares). Brady is the only player to win an MVP award to have an MVP share deficit, a testament to his success and high level of play.