As the final weekend of the NFL season is soon upon us, it is almost time to judge the best NFL players on their performances and give them awards that they will forget about in the near future and store in a back linen closet.
The most prestigious of the linen-closet statuettes is the MVP award, given out annually by a bunch of different publications but most prominently by the Associated Press. Last year's winner, Tom Brady, is still in the running this season, but does he have a legitimate chance to win? I guess that's why you clicked on this article, I suppose.
Here are the players you will likely see grace the final ballot, in sequential order:
This motley crew includes one quarterback, one defensive end, one tight end and one football-playing divider of men. Stafford put up solid numbers this year (36 TD, 14 INT, 96.6 RTG) and led the Lions to a wild-card berth. He also went the entire season without having a body part explode, an achievement in its own right.
Ware had 18 sacks and is regularly the defensive player that gets mentioned in the MVP race year after year, so it seemed right to put him on the list (right?).
Gronkowski, despite playing a position that pretty much automatically puts him out of the race, gets a nod here due to his record-breaking tight end season. His 82 catches and 15 touchdown passes are remarkable for any receiver, much less a tight end.
Tebow's stats are not that impressive, but he did turn the Broncos' season around. He doesn't deserve to be any higher, because the defensive unit is the real hero of that Denver team. I am not discounting what Tebow did, which is still sort of impressive. Also, there are some less-intellegent sportswriters who will probably give him a few top-five votes, so you need to handicap for that also when prognosticating this thing.
Mo-Jo Drew gets a nod for not only being the NFL's leading rusher (1,437 yards at a 4.5 clip), but because he is pretty much the sole reason the Jaguars are not in the front of the Suck for Luck race. You have to feel bad for a guy like MJD, because it's an annual rite of passage for him to be the only player worth breathing about on the Jaguars.
The only non-quarterback on the list, Maurice Jones-Drew deserves to be here. He probably needs this more than anyone else, the notion that anything he did this season mattered.
Eli Manning probably isn't the most valuable Manning this season, but since the other one technically didn't play in a game, I don't think he can be considered for this award. That doesn't mean Eli doesn't deserve to be mentioned though.
At 26 TDs, 16 INTs and a 90.3 RTG, Eli maybe has put up as remarkable numbers as his contemporaries. But without him, the Giants are probably nowhere near .500. He somehow has led that team of no-names and stragglers to the thick of the NFC East race, an amazing feat in its own.
It's an odd thing to say, but Eli Manning has a right to be listed here, especially after all the things he has had to go through this season.
There is a very good chance that by the end of the season, it is Tom Brady who owns the regular-season passing record instead of Drew Brees. Brady has thrown for 4,897 yards so far, with a 36-11 TD-INT ratio and a 105.1 RTG.
Voters will likely put Brady after Brees, despite the potential fact that Brady has better numbers. Historically, MVP voters aren't going to give the defending champion love if he doesn't have a legitimate shot at the award. They want Brees to have a closer smell of the award than Brady, most likely.
I am sure Brady will be distraught with this news since he has nothing to fall back on.
The NFL record holder for passing yards in a season, or at least for the time being. Brees has thrown for 5,087 yards, a 41-13 TD-INT ratio and a 108.4 RTG, all while leading New Orleans to the NFC South crown. He has made do with a former basketball player as his tight end and a diminutive running back as one of his leading receivers.
No one quite spreads the ball around as well as Brees does, as he has three receivers in the top 14 of receptions. Brees, a sportswriter's favorite (just look at his baby!), may be able to steal a few first-place votes away from our next contestant and may actually give him a run for his proverbial money (I hate that saying).
The favorite since the beginning of the season, Rodgers has earned the accolades: 4,643 yards passing, 45-6 TD-INT ratio and a 122.5 RTG has Rodgers as the clear favorite for this year's MVP. And his team is 14-1, so he leads in the always-important "wins" category.
Any rationally-thinking AP voter would put Rodgers first, but I am sure a few will be swayed by the big passing-yard numbers of Brees and Brady. There's a reason why Rodgers isn't up as high on that list, and that is because the Packers have been able to put teams away early and haven't forced Rodgers to throw.
When Rodgers has had to throw, however, he has been an artist.