2011 NFL Predictions: Top 10 Preseason Favorites for NFL MVP
Just about all of the key free agents and stars who were on the trade blocks have now fallen in place, so with camps underway and football back on people's minds--instead of CBA's, revenue-sharing and salary caps--it's time to look towards the NFL regular season.
And although new superstars tend to crop up every year (Arian Foster, Josh Freeman and Mike Wallace in 2010, for example) the last four NFL MVP awards have gone to two pretty familiar old faces: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
So is this the year that a new name takes home the trophy?
Maybe...never count Manning or Brady out of the running.
Here's a list of 10 early favorites for the award.
No. 10: Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
2010 Stats: 1,605 yards, 11 TD, 7 INT (6 games)
2011 Upgrades: Tyron Smith, Demarco, Murray, Jason Garrett
Biggest Obstacle: Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
The Cowboys offense might re-define the terrible cliche "addition by subtraction" in 2011 by unloading Roy Williams and Marion Barber. And having Jason Garrett entrenched as the head coach from Day One.
Felix Jones and Tashard Choice give them a decent but not overpowering running attack, so if Romo stays healthy, he's going to probably set a new personal best for attempts. And with a great trio in Miles Austin, Jason Witten and a year-older Dez Bryant could lead to a very potent offense.
If the Cowboys somehow manage to win the NFC East this year, Romo will earn the lion's share of the credit, garnering him a ton of MVP votes.
No. 9: Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
2010 Stats: 30 solo tackles, 8 INT, 1 force fumble (10 games)
2011 Upgrades: Jimmy Smith
Biggest Obstacle: Health (hip)
If there's going to be a defensive back who wins the MVP (let alone the first defensive player since Lawrence Taylor a quarter of a century ago), Reed is it.
He only played 10 games last year but still led the NFL in interceptions...and that was without much help from the corner position.
Losing Dawan Landry hurts the Ravens, but if Jimmy Smith can get on the field, he's going to contribute and he's going to make up for it. And bringing Haloti Ngata was huge for the pass rush, which certainly helps Reed grab picks and pick sixes.
No. 8: Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts
2010 Stats: 4,700 yards, 33 TD, 17 INT
2011 Upgrades: Anthony Castonzo
Biggest Obstacle: Receiving Corps Health
As concerning as Manning's neck injury is, do you really want to bet he won't be suited up for Week One? It seems unlikely following that five-year, $90 million deal.
So for now, let's assume he's close to 100 percent. Still, he's going to have a hard time putting up his usually outstanding numbers if the Colts' running game doesn't suddenly get on track and if his receivers can't stay on the field.
It's remarkable that he was able to do what he did with Dallas Clark out, Joseph Addai injured and that rotating door of third receiving options: Blair White, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez.
He does still have Reggie Wayne though, so that streak of 4,000-yard seasons should continue. But if the Texans are ready to break through and compete for the AFC South, a fifth MVP for Manning is probably out of the question.
No. 7: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
2010 Stats: 4,620 yards, 33 TD, 22 INT
2011 Upgrades: Mark Ingram Jr., Darren Sproles
Biggest Obstacle: Turnovers
Add in a presumably healthy Pierre Thomas and first-rounder Mark Ingram, and they should have just enough balance to return to their 2009 form.
But it's again going to hinge on Brees. If he can avoid some of the sloppy play that cost them last year (fumbles, a career-high in interceptions), then that strong corp of receivers and a potential star in the making in Jimmy Graham should have Brees chase Dan Marino's record and become the first man to ever pass for 5,000 yards twice in a career.
They certainly throw the ball enough to try.
No. 6: Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets
2010 Stats: 52 catches, 746 yards, 6 TD (12 games)
2011 Upgrades: None
Biggest Obstacle: Himself
With his speed, Holmes might be the best big-play wide receiver in the game—no player today is better at taking a short slant to the house. And now that Braylon Edwards is gone and Plaxico Burress is going to need time to knock off the rust, the Jets will rely on him more than ever for turning routine plays into scores.
If the Jets are able to win the AFC East and Holmes can stay out of trouble—remember when Mike Tomlin made him sit out a game back in 2008 because of an arrest—the New York media will put him on a pedestal, and he'll get tons of attention for the award.
No. 5: Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
2010 Stats: 4,710 yards, 30 TD, 13 INT
2011 Upgrades: Vincent Brown, Jordan Todman
Biggest Obstacle: September
If the Chargers hadn't (once again) stumbled out of the gate in 2010, losing five of their first seven games, Rivers might have received more attention as an early season MVP season, especially since Vincent Jackson was absent the first half of the season.
This year, he might have to overcome another major headache—Antonio Gates' injury—but Rivers just fits that offense so well, and with the Raiders losing Nnamdi Asomugha and the Broncos implementing a brand new scheme, he should have opportunities to rack up big numbers once again.
No. 4: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
2010 Stats: 3,900 yards, 36 TD, 4 INT
2011 Upgrades: Chad Ochocinco, Nate Solder, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley
Biggest Obstacle: The Jets
Brady had one of the most incredible seasons in the NFL history last year—the stats are part of it—but the fact that his numbers and his play actually improved once they unloaded Randy Moss made it most amazing.
Now he still doesn't have a superstar in his prime as a receiving option or a running back, but these running back by committee (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk, Ridley, Vereen), wide receiver by committee (Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate) and tight end by committee (Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski) are certainly enough to have Brady retain his MVP trophy.
Still, the Jets did manage to keep him handcuffed throughout most of their playoff matchup and that has to give Rex Ryan and the defense even more confidence twice next year.
No. 3: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
2010 Stats: 3,922 yards, 28 TD, 11 INT
2011 Upgrades: Randall Cobb
Biggest Obstacle: Super Bowl Hangover/Jinx
The return of Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley should be a huge boost to the Packers offense and Randall Cobb gives them yet another wide receiver to stretch the field, but everyone is going to be gunning for the defending Super Bowl champions. And if the Saints and Drew Brees were any indication last year, there might be a few bumps on the road to repeating.
Still, now that Rodgers has the Brett Favre monkey off his back, he's shouldn't feel nearly as much pressure to perform. You do have to wonder, however, will that make his numbers go up or down?
No. 2: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
2010 Stats: 3,705 yards, 28 TD, 9 INT
2011 Upgrades: Julio Jones
Biggest Obstacle: Much Improved NFC South Defense
Assuming the performance in the NFC Divisional loss to Green Bay (two ugly interceptions) was an aberration, Ryan is poised to continue his rise to super-stardom.
He has an outstanding running back in Michael Turner, a future Hall-of-Famer in Tony Gonzalez, a mostly intact (minus Harvey Dahl) offensive line, an All-Pro receiver in Roddy White and now a speedster to stretch the field in Julio Jones.
Ryan will, however, face some new looks in those six divisional games. Both Tampa Bay (Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers) and New Orleans (Cameron Jordan, Greg Romeus) made serious upgrades to their pass rush, and the Panthers have nowhere to go but up under Ron Rivera.
No. 1: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
2010 Stats: 3,018 yards, 21 TD, 6 INT; 676 rushing yards, 6.8 yards per carry, 9 rushing TD
2011 Upgrades: Danny Watkins, Ronnie Brown
Biggest Obstacle: Health
With Kevin Kolb gone he now has the keys to the castle—and it's going to take some pretty horrible play from Vick to get pulled for Mike Kafka or Vince Young—and the Eagles have certainly gone all in with him at the helm.
Aside from a potential weak spot at tackle, there isn't a weakness on this offense. LeSean McCoy is a very capable back and with Ronnie Brown and Vick's feet complementing him, there is going to be tremendous balance to a solid trio of pass catchers in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek.
Vick's going to have to stay healthy (slide!?) and continue the improved accuracy—that should come with another year in the system—but now that the Eagles defense is loaded with talent, they should be in much better position to score touchdowns, something that will only help Vick garner more MVP support.