For the first several weeks of the NFL season, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning appeared to be a lock for the Most Valuable Player Award. He threw 20 touchdown passes before tossing his first interception, an NFL record. His passer rating was off the charts, and, most importantly, the Broncos began the season 6-0.
Since that magical start, Manning and the Broncos have taken a slight step back. They recently lost to the San Diego Chargers, a .500 team who they were expected to beat, on Thursday night. In fact, since that 6-0 start, the Broncos are a mere 5-3. They are beginning to look like a mortal team, and Manning’s performances have not been, well, Manning-like.
Just as Manning and the Broncos are beginning to falter ever so slightly, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are picking up steam. The Patriots have won five of their past six games, including three in a row.
One of those five wins includes a victory over the Broncos in Week 12, a game that was truly indicative of Brady’s MVP-caliber play. The New England quarterback led his team to a 24-point comeback and eventual overtime victory. He threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions in the win, compared to Manning’s two TD’s and one pick.
Incredibly, Brady found a way to top that comeback in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns. With 2:39 left in the game, Brady started a drive facing a 26-14 deficit. He also had to adjust to the absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left the game earlier with what was later identified as a torn ACL. Brady subsequently led the team to a touchdown on that drive, then found the end zone once more to win the game.
These examples show Brady’s ability to take over games essentially by himself. (With a little help from the referees, as Browns fans can attest.) If that doesn’t speak to his value as a player, nothing does.
Another factor in the MVP race is the issue of the caliber of Brady’s teammates. Ask yourself this: How many quarterbacks in the NFL could lead the Patriots to a 10-3 record with a supporting cast like Brady’s?
Most NFL fans have heard the story of Brady’s receiving corps before, but just for good measure, here is the lowdown. Brady’s top receiver this year is Julian Edelman. Drafted in Round 7 of the 2009 draft, Edelman had all of 714 career receiving yards in his four seasons prior to 2013. He has more than doubled that total this year with 775 such yards to go along with 76 receptions and five touchdowns, both team highs as well.
Continuing on, Brady’s third- and fourth-ranked receivers (in terms of yards), respectively, are rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. The latter went undrafted, and Dobson came on as a second-round pick this year. Dobson was not expected to contribute much, but he has already reached 492 receiving yards in just 10 games. Thompkins’ expectations were obviously far lower, but his astounding (for his standards) 466 receiving yards have helped him emerge from obscurity as a legitimate receiving threat.
Inexperienced receivers are not Brady's only problem. His porous offensive line has done him no favors, as he is the sixth-most packed quarterback in the NFL. To have to deal with the constant pressure on top of constant personnel changes only makes Brady's job more difficult.
In short, Brady’s numbers may not match up to Manning’s, but his true value lies in his ability to make his teammates better. When one can be successful with top-four receivers that include the aforementioned Edelman, Dobson and Thompkins, it is clear that he a special player.
In contrast, Manning’s top three receivers are Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Here is another question to consider: Could the Broncos make the playoffs, or even have a similar record, without Peyton Manning at the helm? If they had, say, Jay Cutler or Andy Dalton behind center, there is, admittedly, a good chance they would not be 11-3 right now. But there should be no debating that with a supporting cast like Manning’s, any half-decent quarterback like Cutler or Dalton should be able to lead his team into the playoffs. In Brady’s case? You cannot say the same.
The level of talent surrounding Brady is far lower than what Manning has the luxury of dealing with. That much is obvious. But even given that information, Manning will, in all honesty, likely win the award for the fifth time in his career. His numbers are truly astounding, as he leads the NFL in just about every significant passing category. He has also helped lead his team to an 11-3 record. These are reasons why Manning should be the Offensive Player of the Year. The Most Valuable Player Award, however, should go the player who is truly the most valuable: Tom Brady.
Stats are courtesy of CBS Sports and ESPN.