Racing for Perfection and the MVP

Posted: December 16, 2011 by mzyohai in NFL, Opinion, Patriots
Tags: , , , , ,

Nick and I read sports articles and blogs religiously. Often our texts and e-mails are littered with quotations from sports writers followed by rants with our critiques. James Walker, the ESPN blogger for the AFC East has picked up the MVP race in some of his recent posts, and whenever the name Tom Brady is mentioned, you can bet Nick and I will start arguing.

Mike: James Walker posted something pretty interesting on the AFC East blog. He argued that Tom Brady should win the MVP (again) over Aaron Rodgers. He has a pretty good point: compare the other players on the teams. Aaron Rodgers is slinging it to All-Stars, Brady is making All-Stars by throwing it to previously middling players.

Walker went as far as to say that the Patriots are in a similar situation to the Colts. (He didn’t say they’d go winless, but close) Imagine the Pats playing the AFC right now without Brady: the Jets and Dolphins defenses would stomp any inexperienced QB and the Bills would likely be able to out-score the Brady-less Pats.

Nick: As you well know, I am an unbelievable homer. I have bias oozing out of every orifice in my body (probably not my best choice of words). I will always – ALWAYS – back up my teams and my players.

Mike: That’s why I don’t share drinks with you.

Nick: I’m making an exception, though, when it comes to James Walker claiming Tom Brady should be MVP over Aaron Rodgers. I know, shocking, right? Let me break it down for you.

The main crux of his argument is essentially the Peyton Manning Corollary: without Brady, the Patriots become Version 2.0 of the 2011 Colts, while if Rodgers has to ride the pine with his umpteenth concussion, the Packers still make the playoffs in all likelihood. I understand his point, that Brady is more “valuable” to the Pats than Rodgers is to the Packers, mostly because Rodgers has a plethora of great receivers and a star-studded defense led by Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson.

Mike: Why exactly that “star-studded defense” isn’t playing better than they are is beyond comprehension.

Nick: We can award our “Most Baffling Team” award at the end of the season.

Walker argues that Brady has comparable stats, that Rodgers isn’t light years ahead like everyone presumes. Brady has more passing yards (3,916 to 3,844) and is only a few touchdowns shy of Rodgers (30 to 37).

But I’m not buying, if only on principle.

Mike: You don’t have principles.

Nick: Right, but if I did… The first would be: the Pats do have offensive superstars. Wes Welker has only been one of the most impressive wide receivers in the NFL over the past three years, not to mention the league-leader in receiving yards this season. Then there’s Gronk, who is only poised to set the record for receiving touchdowns for a tight end. And Aaron Hernandez is no slouch either, he just happens to play the same position as the best tight end in the league the past two years. (And don’t give me this Jimmy Graham crap. Gronk puts him to shame. See, there’s that homer bias you were probably expecting.)

Also, the Packers defense isn’t that impressive. They have given up a lot of yards and points just like the Pats defense, and a lot of games have required Rodgers to be all but perfect throwing the ball in order to give Green Bay a win. Remember Week 1 when the Packers won 45-38 over the Saints? Not exactly much defensive support.

Second, Rodgers’s numbers are out of this world, but of course people only focus on the sexy ones yards passing and touchdowns. Because Rodgers all of a sudden trails both Brady and Drew Brees in yards passing, he’s suddenly less valuable? Did you realize that he has thrown 50 fewer passes than Brady and almost 100 fewer than Brees? Rodgers has completed 60 fewer passes than Brees, yet he’s only 200 yards shy of Brees’s record-setting pace for passing yards. The man basically averages a first down (9.42 yards) per passing attempt, almost a full yard better than Brady (8.52) and almost a yard and a half better than Brees (8.13).

In other words, he has been so freaking good, so pinpoint precise, so surgical in slicing and dicing opposing defenses, that he hasn’t even had to throw the ball all that much. His team jumps out to a massive lead, then they just run the ball. So it should count against him that he puts teams away before the halftime horn even sounds? Please.

In his inevitable response to the flurry of infuriated reader responses, Walker made the decent point that the Offensive Player of the Year Award is based on putting up numbers, and the MVP award is more about what you meant to your team’s success. That’s a fair point, but my response is this:

If you could retrospectively select one player to build your team around for 2011, who would you pick? It would be Rodgers, hands down. He has been the BEST player this season, bar none. Even my beloved Tommy Boy can’t compare.

Mike: That point is probably the most salient. Aaron Rodgers has won 19 games in a row. And remember this: the Green Bay defense has allowed over 30 points three times this year. Aaron Rodgers outgunned Drew Brees, Eli Manning, and the sometimes brilliant Philip Rivers to lead his team to victory despite a poor defensive showing. The Patriots’ defense has only allowed 30+ points once. To the Buffalo Bills. And the Pats lost that game.

Nick: Frankly, I think this is a matter of writers being bored with Rodgers’s lights-out MVP candidacy, and so they’re looking for ways to stir the pot, make story lines, and drum up interest.

Anyway, how do you see the MVP race shaping up? Do you think Brady should be the back-to-back MVP? I guess it comes down to the age-old question with every MVP: how do you define “valuable”?

Mike: Do I think Brady should win anything? I hate Tom Brady. But I guess I’ll entertain the idea that Brady is in the running for the MVP and might even deserve to win it twice in a row.

I tend to think that the MVP award should go to the person who is the keystone for the team — take him out and everything falls apart. That is why quarterbacks always figure into the discussion, because who can deny that the guy who touches the ball on nearly every play isn’t the most crucial player on a team?

So let me take a quick look at the Patriots’ weekly game plan: score enough points through Brady’s unbelievable accuracy to overcome the inevitable 20-someodd points the defense will allow. OK, I made that sound a little more subversive than it had to – but I happen to hate your team. Whoops! But tell me: would this plan work without Gronkowski?

Nick: You can’t seriously claim that you would give Gronk the MVP ahead of Brady. That’s ridiculous. You can’t just play the game where you see how successful a player would be if you remove one of their crucial players. It’s a fruitless exercise that proves absolutely nothing, and I hate it. You could say the same thing about how important Matt Light or someone else in the offensive line is to Brady’s success, but that doesn’t undermine his case for MVP. You’re basically saying that Gronk is what gives Brady the MVP, and that any quarterback with such a target would basically get the same numbers out of the superhuman tight end. Come on.

In a weird way, actually, you kind of help prove Walker’s case. Rodgers has a million targets to throw the ball to, but Brady has essentially one guy (two, with Welker) to catch passes, meaning it’s all the more impressive for him to have the numbers he does. But not enough to give him the award over Rodgers.

Mike: I think it takes some serious mental gymnastics to deny Aaron Rodgers the MVP. Giving it to a guy who hasn’t played a snap this year is a head-scratcher to say the least. Drew Brees makes some sense, but it’s a difficult case to make when your biggest divisional competition is Matty Ice. When the Packers realize their 16th win this season, they will have taken the long way. The Packers’ schedule is no walk in the park: Detroit twice, Chicago twice, New Orleans, and the New York Giants. (OK, the second time around for the Bears and Lions will probably easier than the first time… but Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers are still very scary dudes to face)

Nick: I don’t think strength of schedule should have that much bearing on the MVP vote, but I get what you’re saying. He’s done so much against some stiff opposition.

Mike: Assuming that Rodgers hasn’t been pulling a Ryan Braun and juicing this entire time, I think that Aaron Rodgers has earned himself a straight and clear path to the MVP. But since the Packers haven’t played the Jets, I’m going to go ahead and say that the Jets would have stopped him and brought down their undefeated hopes. So we all agree? Great!

Nick:To be honest, I think the Packers’ pursuit of perfection actually enhances his MVP case. To be so impressive and lead his team to the brink of an undefeated season, that is just remarkable. If they were 12-1 or 11-2, then I’d be more receptive to a Brady MVP, but I just can’t fathom a world in which you vote against the player leading his team to the best regular season of any 2011 NFL team. Really of any team since the ’07 Pats. That isn’t MVP worthy? Really, James Walker?

And pull your delusional head out of your ass. I recognize your sarcasm (it is my specialty, after all), but everything has an ounce of truth to it. You trounced a team whose coach managed to actively sabotage their chances at success and whose quarterback somehow manages to throw the ball worse than Tim Tebow. Don’t get your panties in a sopping wet bunch, now.

Mike: OK, but I’m not letting that Gronkowski bit drop that easily. You can bet your ass we’ve got another MVP Debate, Part II on our hands.

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