And the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award Goes to...Who?

Craig RondinoneCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 06:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the Washington Redskins on December 6, 2009 at FedExField in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Voting for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player is going to be harder than voting on which Kardashian is the most annoying.

It figures in a year where the Academy Awards decided to increase the Best Picture nominees to 10 that this should be a season where the NFL has multiple candidates for the MVP award.

You have two quarterbacks helming undefeated teams, another quarterback having the greatest season of his Hall of Fame career even though he has retired 500 times, and a running back quietly closing in on 2,000 rushing yards and possibly the all-time rushing record.

And the nominees are...


Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

Why he should be MVP—Because Manning is the main reason Indianapolis is 12-0 right now, and if Jim Sorgi was the quarterback, the Colts would probably be 4-8.

Manning has survived and thrived without Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzalez, and any semblance of a consistent running game. He has thrown for a league-high 3,685 passing yards and is on pace to set new career-highs in yards and completion percentage.

Eli’s older brother is ranked in the top five in virtually every major passing category as well. And did I mention Manning is the main reason Indy is undefeated?

Why he shouldn’t be MVP—Because Manning is not doing much more this season than he has done in past years. His numbers are not way better than they have been in other non-MVP seasons, and it is not like he has become more valuable now. He has always been the franchise for the Colts. Plus, he has Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark catching his passes, which other quarterback candidates do not.


Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings

Why he should be MVP—Because Favre has singlehandedly turned Minnesota from a wild card team into a Super Bowl contender.

Sidney Rice was a lost receiver looking like a high-round bust. Now with 1,000 yards, already he is looking like a poor man’s Larry Fitzgerald. Thank Favre. Percy Harvin is playing like he is still at Florida with Tim Tebow, not like how most rookie receivers play. Thank Favre. And the world was saved from another season of Tarvaris Jackson’s wobbly, uncatchable passes. Thank Favre.

And somehow this late in his storied career, Favre has transformed from an interception machine into a QB-rating monster. His 26-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio could not have been predicted by Mel Kiper, Peter King, or the world’s greatest fortune teller. This could be his best season yet, and he is having it at age 40.

Why he shouldn’t be MVP—Because, without Favre, the Vikings would still be battling for a playoff berth anyway thanks to Adrian Peterson’s running and Jared Allen’s sacking. Also Favre doesn’t have as many passing yards as Manning, nor does he have the touchdown tosses or quarterback rating of the next nominee. And Favre’s team has lost two games.


Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Why he should be MVP—Because the other two quarterback nominees have All-Pro receivers or running backs to rely on. Brees has no Wayne to throw to or Peterson to hand off to. He has taken a cast of unknowns, low-round draft picks and unheralded free agents and turned them into the most potent offense in the NFL and one of the highest-scoring units of the past decade.

Brees leads the NFL with 29 touchdown passes and a 111.3 QB rating, while being third in passing yards behind Manning and New England’s Tom Brady. If you haven’t heard, Indianapolis isn’t the only team making Don Shula and the 1972 Miami Dolphins sweat these days. New Orleans is also lossless, and Brees is the No. 1 reason why.

Why he shouldn’t be MVP—Because Brees plays in a system orchestrated by the most intelligent offensive mind in football right now, Sean Payton. Mark Sanchez could get plugged into that system and not throw any interceptions. JaMarcus Russell would go from a laughingstock to a Pro Bowl player in that offense (OK, maybe that’s a stretch).

Another reason Brees shouldn’t be the MVP—because there are three great quarterbacks all with similarly superb seasons, but only one running back having an MVP-caliber season.


Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

Why he should be MVP—Because Johnson is the first running back to have three 85-yard touchdowns in the same season. Because he rushed for 125-plus yards six games in a row. Because he has pinned LenDale White, a pretty decent runner in his own right, to the bench, even though the formerly tubby tailback dropped a couple pants sizes after quitting drinking tequila.

Need more reasons? Because Johnson averages 125 rushing yards per game, and the next closest back (St. Louis’ Steven Jackson) averages 102. Because Johnson averages 6.2 yards per carry and only part-time tailbacks are in his area code. And because Johnson has a chance to surpass the single-season rushing mark of 2,105 yards held by Eric Dickerson.

Why he shouldn’t be MVP—Because Johnson’s team, albeit a squad Vince Young and he turned around after a 0-6 start, is still 5-7 and a long shot to make it to the playoffs.

Now football is not like baseball, where the MVPs almost always come from playoff teams. But if Indianapolis or New Orleans go undefeated while Tennessee goes 8-8, Johnson would only have a shot at winning if he set the new rushing record, and that would mean he would have to average 150 yards per game over the final four weeks, a tall order.

My MVP choice? Brees if New Orleans goes 16-0, Johnson if the Saints lose a game, especially if the latter breaks the 2,000-yard barrier. And Johnson has to get it if he becomes the new single-season rushing champion.


Run and Shoot

Here is another MVP candidate that has gotten little attention from the football media—the lawyers for the players in the infamous StarCaps case.

You think New Orleans would be undefeated if defensive ends Will Smith (10 sacks) and Charles Grant (4.5 sacks) had been suspended for four games?

Same holds true for Minnesota. Forget about Favre, Peterson, and Rice. If defensive tackles/run stuffers/Pro Bowlers Kevin and Pat Williams both missed four games at the start of the season, you think the Vikings would have the league’s top run defense, Jared Allen would have 12.5 sacks, and the team would be 10-2?

To sleep on the Arizona Cardinals for a second straight year would be as dumb as going for it on 4th-and-2 from your own 28 with two minutes to play when you have the lead.

When the Cards made it to the Super Bowl last season it was because they had the best passing attack in the NFL, their defense created some timely turnovers, and Edgerrin James found a fountain of youth for a month.

But now the Cardinals are better. The passing game is still great, but the defense is sounder and the running game more reliable with Beanie Wells’ fresh legs replacing Edge’s slow feet. Just ask Minnesota if Arizona should be feared in January.

The Cardinals are Super Bowl contenders for sure. The same cannot be said about the defending Super Bowl champions, though.

The Pittsburgh Steelers need to take a page out of the Indianapolis Colts’ book when it comes to living without an All-Pro safety/defensive quarterback. Pittsburgh has been an entirely different team without Troy Polamalu. The Steelers have become the Brad Lidge of the NFL—unable to close games when they have late leads.

Polamalu covered up for a lot of Pittsburgh’s defensive ills when he was around. The Steelers’ cornerbacks have been average at best the past couple years. Now they have been exposed as frauds, like Tiger Woods, without Polamalu to bail them out.

And without Polamalu around, even the Steelers seem to be scoring fewer points. His interceptions and sacks would give his offense the ball in better field position, and he would generate his own offense when he would return picks for touchdowns.

But missing one safety, no matter if he is an All-World player, should not change your team from a Super Bowl contender into a hapless, helpless bunch that loses to Oakland, Kansas City, and Cleveland.

Sanders was just as instrumental to his team as Polamalu is to his. Indianapolis has never folded no matter how many times Bob Sanders has been hurt. Maybe it is because they are used to it because he is injured annually, but there has never been a time the Colts looked as bad as the Steelers have lately.


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