The definition is thrown around quite loosely, but it usually means the best player on the best team, the player with the best stats, or the player who sends the most texts to Jenn Sterger, etc.
The NFL’s Most Valuable Player award should really be given to the player who’s playoff-caliber team would have no chance to be successful without him. The stats will come along with the impact the player makes for his team, and from there it’s up for debate who is the most valuable.
To narrow it down, let’s take a look at the various relevant position groups in the game:
Quarterbacks are obviously the heavy favorites every year, as they are the proverbial field generals and lead their respective teams into battle every weekend. The quarterback is the first player onlookers will give credit to for a successful season, and the first they will direct displeasure towards during a down year. In the 53 year history of the Associated Press’ version of the award, quarterbacks have taken it home a whopping 34 times, including the last three (Peyton Manning twice, Tom Brady).
Running backs are often prime candidates if they either put up big time yards or a bevy of touchdowns. If a running back has a quarterback that is putting up great numbers as well, both players’ stocks diminish—as they should. It’s tough to make a case that a running back is very “valuable” if his quarterback is among the league’s best, and vice versa. Running backs have nabbed the MVP 17 times since the award began in 1957.
You can basically count out wide receivers. Unless a player has an amazing season with different quarterbacks throwing the ball, they have no shot. That’s the “catch”: if a receiver is piling up the stats, his quarterback is too (as stated before, the quarterback gets the nod over everybody else). No wide receiver has ever won the MVP, and it will take an astronomical season stat-wise and a bit of luck to capture the award playing wideout.
Defensive players have a slim shot at the award, as two defensive specialists have captured the crown: the polarizing (and pulverizing) Lawrence Taylor in 1986 and the Purple People-eating Alan Page in 1971. In today’s game, not even Michael Strahan could get the award with his record-breaking 22.5 sacks in 2001, so it’s safe to say a defender needs to play out of this world to steal the MVP from an offensive player.
Although there is no hope for a placekicker to snag the MVP in this era, Mark Moseley was the controversial selection after the strike-shortened 1982 season, becoming one of the most popular sports trivia answers of all-time.
Now that the ground rules are out of the way, it’s time to look at the top 10 candidates for the award in 2010.
Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay
Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
10. Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago (9-3)
17 TD – 10 INT – 2,545 YDS – 92.8 RTG
After 13 seasons of high school, Vanderbilt, Denver, and now Chicago, Mr. Cutler has finally secured his first winning season. He has propelled the Bears offensively, but needs to be more consistent and put up huge numbers in the next four games to have any shot at MVP.
9. Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City (8-4)
23 TD – 4 INT – 2,503 YDS – 98.4 RTG
Somehow, after a slow start, Cassel has put together a tremendous statistical season, especially in the touchdown to interception department. The reason he is so low on this list is that he has thrown 14 of those touchdowns to his stud wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, without whom Matt would probably not look half as good. Missing the next game due to his untimely appendectomy will probably spell doom for his MVP chances.
8. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego (6-6)
24 TD – 10 INT – 3,642 YDS – 102.5 RTG
If the Chargers were 8-4 instead of 6-6, Rivers would probably be near the top of this list, but the fact of the matter is that the Chargers just haven’t been able to pull off their trademark second-half spree, and that leaves them on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs go. A big day against division-leading Kansas City this weekend could shoot him up the boards.
7. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis (7-6)
26 TD – 15 INT – 4,028 YDS – 91.2 RTG
Although he has taken a lot of criticism in the last few weeks for his interceptions, Manning began this season like a man possessed. Through the first eight weeks, he had 15 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. If he can finish the season like he started it, and lead the Colts to the division crown, he has a chance to take home his fifth MVP award.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville (7-5)
4.5 YPC – 1,177 YDS – 4 TD
The lone running back on the list, Jones-Drew has carried the Jaguars to a 4-1 record in the past five games while galloping to at least 100 yards in each of those contests. His slow start (one 100 yard game in the first seven) will probably doom him, as well as the Jaguars’ recent ineptitude to snag a playoff spot.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta (10-2)
21 TD – 7 INT – 2,920 YDS – 91.8 RTG
They call him “Matty Ice”. There is probably no better nickname for Ryan, who has consistently led his team down the field at the end of games to claim victory. He has proved himself to be an above-average game manager, and everybody already knows about his tremendous record at home. Ryan is at the five spot because he has exceptional offensive playmakers around him (see Turner, Michael and White, Roddy).
4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay (8-4)
23 TD – 9 INT – 3,243 YDS – 100.3 RTG
Rodgers has quickly risen to the league’s elite at the quarterback position. His command of the offense as well as the league’s best deep ball has him poised to reach his third 4,000-yard season in his first three years starting. It’s easy to forget about his impact on the ground, too: 284 yards and four touchdowns is not too shabby.
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans (9-3)
25 TD – 16 INT – 3,634 YDS – 94.6 RTG
After an early season funk which the media love to attribute to the Saints’ Super Bowl victory, Brees is getting hot at the right time and leading the charge for New Orleans. He has at least 300 yards in three straight games, and the Saints have won their last five. There’s no question who the hero is in the city of New Orleans, and it looks like he has the cape back on.
2. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia (8-4)
15 TD – 2 INT – 2,243 YDS – 105.7 RTG
Perhaps the most polarizing player in football due to his off-field antics, Vick has been pure gold on the turf. He very rarely turns the ball over (he did not at all in his first six games) and has sparked Philadelphia ever since taking over from Kevin Kolb. The knock on Michael is that he missed three games due to injury. If not for that, it’s hard to imagine him not taking the top spot thus far. Oh, and he’s added 467 yards on the ground to the tune of six touchdowns.
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England (10-2)
27 TD – 4 INT – 3,029 – 109.5 RTG
New England’s record and the statline above do most of the talking. After watching the Patriots embarrass the Jets on national television with Danny Woodhead at running back and Deion Branch catching passes, how can the favorite not be Tom Brady? Every AFC team is praying New England does not capture home-field advantage, because no one wants to try to beat #12 on the road in the playoffs.