We’re not even at the halfway point of the year, but it’s not too early to start thinking NFL awards. The grand-daddy of them all, NFL MVP, tends to go to quarterbacks (pivots have taken eight of the last nine, with only Adrian Peterson bucking the trend in 2012). This season is shaping up a little differently. The perennial contenders for the award all have a knock or two against them.
Tom Brady was suspended for four games and the Pats went an impressive 3-1 without him.
Aaron Rodgers’ stats continue their downward trajectory since his 2014 MVP season.
Ben Roethlisberger could be missing significant chunks of time due to knee surgery.
That’s left the door open for a couple young running backs – David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott – to poke their heads into the mix. But one near-constant for this award is that the winner has to lead his team to the postseason. The Cowboys looks to be on their way; I can’t say the same about the Cardinals, for certain.
Wait, didn’t you just say the Pats went 3-1 without Brady? How valuable could he really be to his team if they get by just fine without him?
Fair question. I’ll respond with the following: the Patriots were averaging 20.3 PPG without Brady and even got shutout at home by the Bills in their lone loss. They’re putting up 31.6 PPG since he’s been back.
Maybe that’s just a correlation and not causative, you ponder? Ha. Brady leads the league with a 132.6 passer rating and is connecting on over 75-percent of his throws. He’s already racked up eight TDs and no picks through three games.
The Pats are playoff bound and, while they may have been anyway without Brady, their outright Super Bowl favorites now that he’s back on the field.
David Johnson is the Arizona offense now (well, with a little Larry Fitzgerald sprinkled in, of course). The second-year back leads the league in yards from scrimmage (1,004) and has eight majors. Carson Palmer is not playing like he did last year, and the Cards can’t take the top off opposing defenses as a result. Unless that changes, Zona will keep riding Johnson like an eight-year-old who just got a Power Wheels for Christmas.
The NFC Wild Card race is wide-open and the Cards are no lock to make the field. But if they do, Johnson is going to get a ton of (deserved) credit for taking them there.
The decline of “Matty Ice” seems to have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the Boston College product had a couple down years. Now that he’s been given more weapons to work with and a solid offensive line, you’re seeing him return to form. Ryan is leading the NFL’s top offense (32.7 PPG), while throwing for 2,348 yards, 16 touchdowns, and just four interceptions this season. He’s second to Brady in passer rating (113.6) and top-ten in completion percentage (67.6-percent).
The fact that he has arguably the best receiver in the league (Julio Jones) along with a fantastic running back duo (Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman) to lean on may detract from his MVP resume. But Ryan is the spoon that stirs the Falcon drink, and they’re primed to ride their offense to an NFC South title.
Andrew Luck is back and might be better than ever. Indy still has the same issues it did last year elsewhere on its roster. The O-line is a sieve; the defense bleeds yards and points; the ground game is mediocre at best. And now they have the additional problem of injuries at receiver. Both Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett have missed time this year, leaving Luck with T.Y. Hilton and … umm … yeah. Jack Doyle, I guess?
Yet, Luck has kept Indy in every game. He’s found ways to turn the likes of Doyle and Chester Rodgers into legitimate NFL players that opposing defenses have to pay attention to.
Indy aren’t going to run away with the AFC South the way they used to. There are just too many holes on the roster, even for that continued abomination of a division. They could still squeak out the title, though, and that would put Luck right at the top of the MVP favorites.
Ezekiel Elliott may be a rookie, but he’s sure not playing like one. He leads the NFL with 703 rushing yards this season, averaging 117.2 yards per game and over five yards per carry. He’s also added five majors on the ground.
If Dallas continues to use Elliott the way they did against Cincinnati and Green Bay, he’ll get a lot of attention from voters at the end of the year.
There are a couple reasons why his odds aren’t shorter, though.
First, everyone is aware just how good the Dallas offensive line is. In the preseason, Elliott himself said he had the easiest job in America running behind the Cowboys’ litany of first-rounders. The perception that anyone could rack up yards for Dallas is prevalent, and not unjustified.
Second, fellow rookie Dak Prescott is playing phenomenally at QB. Dallas is a run-first team, but not a one-dimensional offense, even while top WR Dez Bryant has been out. When Bryant returns, the offense will likely strike an even greater balance. And that’s a good thing for Dallas, as a franchise (there’s no sense in driving Elliott into the ground this early in his career), but it’s a bad thing for Zeke’s MVP hopes.
Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers): 15/1
Philip Rivers (Chargers): 20/1
Dak Prescott (Cowboys): 25/1
Julio Jones (Falcons): 30/1
Derek Carr (Raiders): 30/1
Von Miller (Broncos): 35/1
Aaron Rodgers (Packers): 35/1
Antonio Brown (Steelers): 40/1
Drew Brees (Saints): 45/1
Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].
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