Collective perfection would have assured Cam Newton individual glory as NFL's 2015-16 Most Valuable Player. Now the Carolina Panthers are no longer unbeaten, the case reopens for investigation heading into Week 17.
The Panthers quarterback has still led his franchise to the league's best record, but the Arizona Cardinals could erase the gap and steal the NFC's top seed on Sunday. Even if they don't, Carson Palmer's superior passing production makes him a worthwhile contender.
Since Odds Shark's latest MVP odds were posted before Week 15, Newton remains a runaway leader with Tom Brady a distant second. Much can change in two weeks, so the award instead will likely boil down to Newton vs. Palmer.
|NFL MVP Odds|
|Player||Team||Odds||Pass YD||YPA||Pass TD||INT||QB RTG||Rush YD||Rush TD|
|Odds courtesy of Odds Shark|
1. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
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One off day doesn't disqualify Newton from the proceedings. Supporters rebuked every flaw with "but the Panthers are undefeated!" Now that's gone.
Also hurting his cause is the fact he didn't start playing like an MVP until midway through the season. The Panthers hadn't lost before November, but the 26-year-old quarterback wasn't carrying the team with 7.0 yards per pass attempt and seven interceptions through six games.
He has since tallied 28 total touchdowns (24 passing) in nine contests while upping his average to 7.9 yards per pass. Fifteen quarterbacks have posted more yards through the air this season, but he also procures significant value with his legs.
If Newton wins the award, he needs to dole out some game balls to his transformed offensive line. Pro Football Focus noted his superb success when he's given a clean pocket:
Pro Football Focus @PFF
Cam Newton's passer rating when kept clean this year: 112.3 When pressured: 59.5 Significantly bigger drop than average2015-12-29 13:16:11
Because of Week 16's loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers can't afford to take Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lightly. Another loss, accompanied by an Arizona victory over the Seattle Seahawks, would swap their playoff seeding. From Newton's quote to NFL Network's Jeff Darlington, it doesn't sound like he would have rested regardless:
Jeff Darlington @JeffDarlington
Should starters play next week? Cam Newton: "We have a game next week, right? We're going to play next week."2015-12-27 22:07:50
Newton still has quarterbacking the best team going for him alongside a strong closing stretch aside from Week 16. He remains in the driver's seat, but this isn't a done deal.
2. Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals
When Palmer dominated early, Brady hogged the spotlight. When he kept carving up defenses, Newton and Russell Wilson eventually stole the headlines. Palmer hasn't enjoyed the same heightened peaks, but he's steadily been the league's premier passer through 15 games.
His 8.87 yards per pass attempt and 8.61 adjusted net yards per pass attempt, per Pro-Football-Reference.com, tops all quarterbacks. The 36-year-old has also never played the Cardinals out of a game, accruing 773 combined passing yards during their two losses.
Skeptics will point to a talented crop of wide receivers—Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd certainly beats Ted Ginn Jr., Corey Brown and Jerricho Cotchery. Then again, does that mean Newton gets penalized for a strong offensive line and No. 4-ranked defense?
Dec. 27 did wonders for Palmer's cause. As the Cardinals pummeled the Green Bay Packers, Newton, Brady and Wilson all participated in losses. Fortunately for the team, but unfortunately for his MVP campaign, rookie running back David Johnson has stolen some of the passer's thunder by scoring four touchdowns over the last two games.
Palmer is probably the best candidate, but it'd take another Panthers loss for a consensus to reach the same conclusion.
3. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
When a normal quarterback leads the league in passing yards (4,636) with 36 touchdowns and a 103.1 quarterback rating, he's typically a top MVP candidate. When Brady does it, it's just another above-average season.
Voters get bored of the same superstars, so those titans must truly transcend the field. When there's another deserving fresh face and a grizzled veteran taken the beaten path back to the top, there's no room for a consistently great two-time MVP to get honored again.
Recency bias also hurts Brady's case. After starting the season on a tear akin to 2007, a stream of injuries derailed the New England Patriots' offensive juggernaut. The same team that scored at least 28 points over each of the first seven games—all victories—has since averaged 25.8 points.
Missing Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis while operating behind a patchwork offensive line, Brady has looked increasingly mortal. He has registered a tame 724 passing yards and five touchdowns over the last three contests, including Week 16's overtime loss to the New York Jets. ESPN's Mike Reiss chronicled their uncharacteristic offensive struggles:
Mike Reiss @MikeReiss
Two stats reflecting how it was a challenging day for Patriots' offense: Played season-low 56 snaps and were 1 of 10 on third down.2015-12-28 10:58:11
A sizzling finish against the struggling Miami Dolphins could save his sinking chances, but Brady's banged-up supporting cast will likely cost him more hardware.