Some define the NFL MVP as the best player in the league. Others define it as the player who is the most valuable to the team he plays for. Some would say it's based on consistent play throughout the season. Others would like their MVP to shine brightest when the lights shine on him.
No matter what you like in your MVP, Tom Brady fits the bill better than anyone else in the league.
Definitely the most important player on his team and arguably the best player in the league this year, Brady has been remarkably consistent this season—minus some minor early struggles—and has had flashes of dominance. But the overall theme of his dominance has been a well-rounded attack.
Without question, two of the most important stats in football are points and turnovers.
He plays the lead role in an offense that leads the league in both.
The Patriots outscore opponents by an average of two touchdowns, and they have a stranglehold on the scoring title with 97 points more than the second-ranked Denver Broncos. The Patriots are on pace to score 581 points this season, just eight points shy of the historic 2007 team.
Not only are they scoring at a blinding pace, but they are making next to no mistakes while they put on this offensive firework display.
Brady is once again throwing interceptions on 0.8 percent of his passes—that's the second time he's reached that mark, the most for any NFL quarterback starting every game of the season.
He's not destroying defenses with long passes in the air, and he's not not throwing touchdowns at a crazy rate. He's the AFC's most efficient quarterback in the league in terms of passer rating and head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to protecting the football.
Brady had a seminal MVP moment when he asserted his will on the league's most-feared pass defense, that of the Houston Texans. His performance seemed routine—this was, after all, his fifth game of the season with over a 120 passer rating, making him the first quarterback to reach five such games in 2012—but it was undoubtedly far from the norm for Houston.
While there were clear weaknesses exposed in the Texans defense by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in his performance in Week 6 and restated by immortal Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne, Brady's MVP season has been built partly on his ability to pick those weaknesses apart.
He did so on the touchdown pass on the opening drive.
The Patriots spread the Texans out with four receivers and with tight end Aaron Hernandez lined up in the backfield.
Brady saw Hernandez matched up on Texans linebacker Bradie James before the snap and knew where he was going with the ball immediately.
In fact, he threw the ball the moment Hernandez came out of his break, allowing his athletic tight end to do what he does best: make something happen in space.
Brady doesn't try to be a hero. He simply takes what the defense gives him. It's not spectacular, but it's made him deadlier than any quarterback in the league.
Make no mistake, his success has been built partly on more support from the running game than he's had in recent years and it would be silly to say that he doesn't get some help from talented skill-position players around him.
A lot has been made of Brady's success as a "system quarterback" in the past, but a look at the numbers indicates he doesn't get any more help from yards after the catch than the average quarterback.
The running game should not be a hindrance to his candidacy for MVP. The way he is using the running game—in terms of play-action, effective audibles and quickly getting the players set and ready for the snap—should only enhance his case.
The Patriots have used the play-action to near-perfection this year. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Brady's passer rating on play-action passes is 12.7 points higher than it is on standard passes.
Against the Texans, they used it early to get wide receiver Brandon Lloyd open on a deep post over the middle.
The safeties bit like rabid dogs, leaving Lloyd wide open down the field. Brady knows he wouldn't have gotten a wide-open look like that on a standard pass (via Patriots.com):
I think for the most part when you play-action pass [is] you better be able to run the ball. That’s the most important thing, is the threat of us handing the ball off. You hand it off, you hand it off, you hand it off and the safeties and the corners go, "Wow, I better get up there and try to make some tackles or else they’re just going to run it all the way down the field."
Then you play-action pass and you get guys open and there is distribution in the passing game in terms of where your receivers are at, more so than in any other facet of the game. You’re not going to get it on a drop back pass....The better you run the ball, the better you are going to be at play-action passing and vice versa.
Some might call that a mental lapse on behalf of the safeties, but it may be just as accurate to say Brady executed the play-action so well that the safeties had virtually no choice but to come up.
The fact is, he's just as surgical in picking apart an opponent's weakness in the running game as he is at doing so in the passing game.
"It was disrespectful to us to run the same play over and over and be successful," [McDaniel said.] "Normally when somebody's driving down the field you just think, 'Well, they just had a good run there,' but you run the same play over and over, as a competitor that (ticks) me off."
"It is disrespectful," tackle Randy Starks agreed, "but you've got to stop it. We never stopped it, so I'd keep running the same play, too."
Brady would probably call it successful, and that's really all he cares about.
The Patriots may have a more explosive running game than they've had in years, but to insinuate that Brady is reliant on or in desperate need of the running game would be ignorant of his accomplishments without the running game.
In fact, Brady is peaking down the stretch yet again, as he does virtually every year. He has thrown 19 touchdowns against one interception during the Patriots' seven-game winning streak.
Some may say that Brady has more talent around him than other candidates, but Brady has also had this incredible season while the Patriots have battled a lot of injuries:
- Aaron Hernandez missed six games earlier this year
- Rob Gronkowski has missed the past three games and will miss three more
- Julian Edelman has missed four games this year, and will miss the rest of the season
- Starting right guard Dan Connolly missed two games
- Starting left guard Logan Mankins missed six games
The cases for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning are both strong, especially considering the against-all-odds return each has made from his respective injuries.
Brady's consistency, however, is unheralded, and with dominance like what we saw on Monday night, the 2012 MVP award is his for the taking.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.