NFL Week 15: Tom Brady, Michael Vick and the Deserving Dozen MVP Candidates
With 15 weeks now in the books (going into the Monday night clash between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears), who are my Top 12 NFL MVP candidates?
If you’ve been following my previous three installments, you may be wondering why this is a Top 12 and not a more traditional Top 10?
A) Were you one of the select few who read last week’s “power rankings”?
B) Why not? After the first few, it’s a crapshoot anyway.
But the bigger question is: Did the Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick’s ridiculous fourth quarter take him to the No. 1 spot on the list, unseating Tom Brady of the Patriots?
Maybe, maybe not, but the comeback may have placed someone else on my Top 12.
Did any player drop off last week’s list, or anybody new grab one of these vaunted 12 spots?
A) There was a little movement.
B) You’ll just have to read on.
A Quick MVP History
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
In reviewing the Associated Press MVP award for the last 11 years, it is clear that quarterbacks are the favorites for the award. And if it's not a quarterback, then a running back is likely to win.
Three running backs have won the award since 1999: Marshall Faulk in 2000, Shaun Alexander (remember him?) in 2005 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
Otherwise, Kurt Warner has won it twice; Peyton Manning three-and-a-half times with the other half going to the late Steve McNair, and Rich Gannon and Tom Brady have both taken home the hardware.
Are you looking for a wide receiver? Well, keep looking. The incomparable Jerry Rice took home most of the postseason awards in 1987, but lost the AP vote to John Elway (pictured).
That's about it for the last 50 years, and the only offensive player other than a quarterback or a running back to take home the award since 1970 was Mark Moseley (a placekicker) in that strange, strike-shortened 1982 season.
If you're looking for a defensive player, step away: There's little to see here.
The original LT, Lawrence Taylor, garnered the award in 1986 and Alan Page, a far superior citizen, did so in 1971.
All this does not suggest that I am only looking at QBs and RBs, but the NFL is increasingly a quarterback's league, and any realistic list should reflect that.
Last Week’s Top 10
10) Arian Foster (Texans)
9) Matt Cassel (Chiefs)
8) Roddy White (Falcons)
7) Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars)
6) Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
5) Matt Ryan (Falcons)
4) Drew Brees (Saints)
3) Philip Rivers (Chargers)
2) Michael Vick (Eagles)
1) Tom Brady (Patriots)
Of this list, nine of the 10 players stayed on my new Top 12, and I may owe an apology to No. 10, so let’s get that out of the way.
Mr. Foster, you still lead the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns, and are pretty decent as a receiver out of the backfield. But 11 carries for 15 yards versus the Titans? And upon further review, your Texans stink.
I was looking for guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Freeman and David Garrard—and perhaps others like LeSean McCoy, Joe Flacco and Michael Turner—to work their way on, but I don’t have room presently. I’ll keep you in mind.
Note to Adrian Peterson: I’m getting this list out before the MNF game, and you’ve been terrific this year despite the ugliness and instability spinning around you. If your team was doing anything, you’d be an easy candidate.
I also wanted to work in Troy Polamalu of the Steelers, but he did not play yesterday—his team missed him, as they usually do when he is sidelined.
So, who did make the Deserving Dozen?
12. DeSean Jackson (Eagles)
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Three receptions for 52 yards (17.3 YPC), and one game-winning punt return for 65 yards in an amazing 38-31 win over the Giants.
DeSean enters my list, even if his receptions are down somewhat this year.
He does average a league-best 22.8 yards per reception, and he’s deadly—as you well know—on punt returns, even when slightly injured.
Jackson is one of a handful of NFL players who can take it to the house on nearly every touch.
11. Jamaal Charles (Chiefs)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Eleven carries for 126 yards (11.5 YPC), one TD and three catches for 27 yards in a win over the Rams.
Jamaal Charles is third in the league in rushing yards, and has, by far, the best yards-per-carry average in the NFL—6.4.
The third-year running back from the University of Texas is the key member of (arguably) the NFL’s best running attack.
Welcome back to the list, Jamaal.
10. Peyton Manning (Colts)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
29-39 (74.4 percent) for 229 yards (5.9 YPA) and two touchdowns in a must-win over the Jaguars.
Peyton has bounced back nicely from an uncharacteristically horrific stretch to lead the Colts to two key division wins.
In the win over the Jaguars, Manning threw a lot of short, dart passes that kept the chains moving.
Even better news for Colts fans: After throwing a mind-boggling 11 picks (several of the “pick-six” variety) during that bizarre three-game stretch, in the last two weeks he has only completed passes to those wearing horseshoes on their helmets.
9. Matt Cassel (Chiefs)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
15-29 (51.7 percent) for 187 yards (6.7 YPA) in a win over the Rams.
Cassel came back from his appendectomy, and his Chiefs won again.
Matt’s numbers don't wow you other than his 24-5 touchdown/interception ratio, and his 9-4 record as the starting quarterback for the surprising Chiefs.
He seems to be a fixture in my No. 9 slot; it just seems right for him. Maybe he should change his uniform number.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
25 carries for 46 yards (3.1 YPC); two catches for 22 yards in a loss to the Colts.
It was not a great day for MJD (or his team) yesterday, who needed one from him to finally wrest the division title from those Colts, who have seemingly won the last 20 AFC South crowns.
Still, the little workhorse is second in the NFL in rushing, and the Jags offense truly revolves around him.
7. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
DNP in loss to the Patriots.
I think that Rodgers still deserves a spot on this list, but I’m not sure how long I can carry him as he sits out games—which may result in his Packers sitting out the playoffs.
Rodgers is as talented as anyone at the position today (with the possible exception of Michael Vick), and he does so many things to keep his team competitive.
He’s big, mobile, strong-armed, accurate and a good leader. (Otherwise, I’m not much of a fan.)
With no running game and lots of injuries to his supporting cast (which is not that great to begin with), Rodgers is putting up terrific numbers passing and even running the ball himself when it all breaks down.
6. Roddy White (Falcons)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Seven receptions for 65 yards (9.3 YPC) and one touchdown in a win over the Seahawks.
White is having a monster season for what is essentially a running team. He leads all NFL wide receivers in receptions (106) and (1,284) yards for the 12-2 Falcons.
5. Matt Ryan (Falcons)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
20-35 (57.1 percent), 174 yards (5.0 YPA), three touchdowns and one INT in a win over the Seahawks.
Statistically, "Matty Ice" has not wowed anyone the last few weeks, but the 12-2 Falcons just keep rolling.
The man has a knack for winning football games, which is a good trait for an NFL franchise QB.
He’s kind of like Matt Cassel (and not just because of their first names, or mine), but a little better and playing for a better team.
As for this Matt, I was a sometimes spectacular, if erratic, intramural college quarterback, with a knack for losing close games. I never won an intramural title and was somehow overlooked in the draft.
4. Drew Brees (Saints)
Larry French/Getty Images
29-46 (63 percent) for 267 yards (6.8 YPA), three TDs and two INTs in a loss to the Ravens.
The Saints lost a tough one in Baltimore, and their chances of earning either a division crown or a playoff bye look bleak.
On the bright side, the Saints (10-4) were coming off a six-game winning streak, and is there any team in the NFC that much better?
Brees is—somewhat under the radar—having another strong year; he is third in the NFL in passing yards and tied for first in touchdown throws.
3. Philip Rivers (Chargers)
Harry How/Getty Images
19-25 (76 percent) for 273 yards (10.9 YPA) and three TDs in a win over the 49ers.
Rivers held onto his No. 3 spot, after playing an almost flawless game against the 49ers on Thursday night. Although the win raised the Chargers record to only 8-6, he is almost solely responsible for keeping the Chargers in contention.
He has been the glue for a team that could have easily fallen apart without his leadership.
The sixth-year quarterback, who really came into his own in 2008-09, is having his best year, especially when you consider that he has done so while missing Antonio Gates for a few games and getting no playing time from Vincent Jackson, a co-favorite target.
The Chargers passing attack is second in the NFL in yards per game, and Rivers has the second-highest passer rating, behind Tom Brady.
Rivers continues to throw for a high completion percentage (66.6 percent) and a bunch of touchdowns (29) while limiting his interceptions (11). He leads the league in yards per attempt (8.9).
2. Michael Vick (Eagles)
Al Bello/Getty Images
21-35 (60 percent) for 242 yards (6.9 YPA) three TDs and one INT in an amazing comeback win over the Giants. Not so incidentally, he rushed 10 times for 130 yards and another touchdown.
After three quarters or so, I was pondering how far Vick would drop in my rankings.
After all, as gaudy as his season stats were, and as remarkable a story as he has been, who had the Eagles beaten with him at quarterback? And in a must-win game (for the division, anyway) he was mostly frustrated by a swarming Giants defense.
And then the explosive comeback happened—one that very few (if any) other quarterbacks could have managed, or even thought about.
It was truly a final half-quarter for the ages, and even though it was capped by DeSean Jackson’s game-ending punt return, the Eagles would not have been close to being in position to win without Vick’s late heroics.
1. Tom Brady (Patriots)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
15-24 (62.5 percent) for 163 yards (6.8 YPA), two TDs in a win over the Packers.
It was not the huge stat line that we have seen from Brady in recent weeks, but it was another win and another game without a turnover for the best quarterback on the planet.
When the Patriots really needed him to step up, trailing 27-24 with about 10 minutes remaining, Brady made the resulting 63-yard touchdown drive look ridiculously easy.
I'm running out of superlatives to describe Brady, who is arguably the greatest winning quarterback in modern NFL history.
And no offense to Wes Welker and company, but who exactly is he surrounded by?
While Michael Vick may be the trendier pick off the Eagles’ amazing comeback win, Tom easily retains my top spot on this week’s Power Ranking of the Top 12 MVP candidates.
Stay tuned for next week's update, as things tend to change rapidly in today's NFL.
Now it’s time for your thoughts.
Please fire away below, and thank you for reading.
For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, other writings and appearances, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org