Despite my genius and overall sports intellect, the NFL refuses to grant me a vote for its postseason awards.
After reading this column, it may never give me the opportunity, even if I made it to the top of the profession and was one day in the position to be given a vote.
When the true professionals fill out their ballots for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award next month, 99 percent of the ballots will look like this:
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
2. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
1. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Both Vick and Brady deserve the award as much as anybody. I’m not going to go over their numbers because they have been exhausted by radio and television networks over the past 15 weeks.
As great as both quarterbacks have performed this season, however, neither should take home the league’s most prestigious award because there is one that has played just a tad bit better.
It isn’t Peyton Manning, or Matt Ryan, or Drew Brees, or Philip Rivers.
It’s Kansas City’s Matt Cassel.
Cassel played one of the best games of his career on Sunday, and it came in one of the biggest. The Chiefs, despite leading the AFC West all season, were favored only to blow it in the season’s last two weeks. The surging Chargers and lurking Raiders were the talk of the division.
Only San Diego and Oakland lost, and Cassel and the Chiefs delivered. Behind his 314 yards and three touchdowns in a nearly flawless performance against the Tennessee Titans, Cassel punched Kansas City’s ticket to the postseason and took a lighter to the Raiders’ and Chargers’.
The Kansas City Chiefs are champions of the AFC West, rendering Week 17′s game against the Raiders meaningless. Who would’ve thought that back in September? Probably the same kooks who thought Cassel would be thrust into the MVP conversation.
For the season, Cassel has completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,001 yards, 27 touchdowns and five interceptions. The numbers don’t compare to Brady’s and are either slightly ahead of or right on par with what Vick’s would be if he didn’t have two fewer starts than Cassel.
But it isn’t all about the numbers. When Brady and Vick got under center for the first time in September, they were leading playoff-caliber teams. The Patriots were AFC East champions last year and were favored by many to win it again this year. Vick was an afterthought until Kevin Kolb got hurt early in the Eagles’ Week 1 loss to the Packers, but Philadelphia was a playoff team last year and considered a contender this year.
The Chiefs were 4-12 in 2009-10, dead last in the AFC West, and coming into the season were thought of nothing more than fodder for the Chargers. Kansas City shocked San Diego in prime time in the season’s opening week and never relinquished the division lead.
Cassel elevated his game to another level, and that changed the fortunes of the entire franchise. What Brady and the Patriots are doing is commonplace, and while it shouldn’t be taken for granted, it isn’t necessarily MVP-worthy.
In fact, a career-low four interceptions aside, Brady isn’t going to set a new career high in any other statistical category. He has only been rewarded the MVP once before, so why is he a lock this year?
Vick’s story is the best sports had to offer in 2010, and maybe in the last 10 years. To see him redeem himself the way he has on and off the field is great, but if you mute the redemption song, is Vick still a lock for MVP?
He’s been great in the clutch and, as always, has provided more highlight reel plays then Cassel and Brady combined. But his passing numbers aren’t overwhelming (2,755 yards, 20 TD, five INT), and while his 613 rushing yards help Vick’s case, his 2010 total is likely to be the third-best of his career. The Eagles' 10-4 record is also the same as it was a year ago at this time when Donovan McNabb was the quarterback.
Also, as great as Vick has been, he is replaceable. In the three games he missed due to injury in Weeks 5, 6 and 7, the Eagles went 2-1 with Kolb, and that included a 31-17 smashing of the 12-2 Atlanta Falcons, who haven’t lost since. If you are replaceable on your own team, can you really be named the league’s most valuable?
We all know how irreplaceable Brady is, and one small sample of the Chiefs without Cassel spoke volumes about his value.
Cassel underwent an emergency appendectomy just days before Kansas City’s Week 14 showdown with San Diego. He ended up missing the game, and the Chiefs lost 31-0 with Brodie Croyle at the helm. The offense amassed five first downs and 67 total yards against a team they beat earlier in the season with Cassel in the lineup. If those numbers don’t state Cassel’s value, I’m not sure anything can.
Take a look at what his improvement has done for Kansas City’s offense as a whole. In '09-10, the Chiefs ranked 25th in total offense at 303 yards per game and 23rd in scoring at 18.4 points per game. This season, they are up to ninth in total offense at 360 yards per game and tied for 10th in scoring at 23.7 points a contest.
On the flip side, New England is down to 11th in total offense, where it ranked third last season, averaging 43 less yards a game. The Patriots lead the league in scoring, but they finished third a year ago. Again, great, but common.
The Eagles lead the league in total offense and are second in scoring, but they finished 11th in total offense and fifth in scoring last season, so is it fair to say that Vick took over a top-10 offense?
It’s unlikely that these arguments will sway the voters or you, the public, into thinking Cassel is the MVP over Vick or Brady, but honestly, I knew going in that would be a near impossible task.
But before you completely brush me and this column aside, ask yourself this question: Would Vick and Brady be having the seasons they are having if either was the starting quarterback for the Chiefs?
I think we can all agree that Philadelphia’s offense perfectly suites a player with Vick’s abilities. Because he is such a unique player, Vick isn’t a lock for success in every offense the way the Bradys and Mannings are. I doubt he would be having this type of season in Kansas City.
As for Brady, he’s one of the all-time greats, so yes, it’s likely he would be having an MVP-type season, but to the tune of 34 touchdowns and four interceptions? Doubtful.
Could Cassel be putting up these numbers in New England or Philadelphia? Well, I’m not completely sure about Philadelphia, but he already did in New England.
Remember when Brady was knocked out for the season in the first game of 2008? It was Cassel who replaced Brady and threw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns, while leading the Patriots to 11 wins. That’s why the Chiefs gave up the farm to acquire him shortly thereafter.
To recap, Cassel has transformed himself into a top-10 quarterback, his offense into a top-10 unit, his favorite receiver, Dwayne Bowe, into a superstar and his franchise into a division-winning, Super Bowl contender. Are the Chiefs going to win the Super Bowl? Probably not, but if you’re in the playoffs, you are a contender to play in the Super Bowl.
He isn’t better than Brady or Vick, and in some respects, his numbers aren’t better. But the way he has taken the reins of a team that has been a bottom feeder for quite a few years now and turned it into a contender almost overnight deserves some sort of recognition.
Like being named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
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