Tom Brady is in the process of statistically mimicking his MVP season of 2010, but does that mean he should expect to win the league's top honor for the third time in his illustrious career? With five games to play, the MVP race is shaping up to be an interesting one.
Brady has thrown for 3,299 yards and 24 touchdowns with three interceptions and three rushing touchdowns to go with his 105.0 quarterback rating. He’s on pace for 4,799 yards, 35 touchdowns, four picks and four rushing touchdowns.
Those projected touchdown and interception totals bear a striking resemblance to 2010, when Brady threw 36 touchdown passes with four picks, though he threw for 3,900 yards, nearly 900 less than he’s on pace for this season, and had just one rushing touchdown. He did have a better passer rating, however, as he finished with a league-best 111.0 mark.
So, with Brady putting together one of his best seasons in the NFL and on pace to be even more productive than he was in 2010, why wouldn’t he be the obvious choice for MVP? This season features some interesting cases, so it might not be as open-and-shut as it was two years ago.
First, it’s worth putting his 2010 season in context of then vs. now. His 36 touchdowns led the league in 2010, and his four picks were far and away the lowest of any starting quarterback. He was eighth in the league in passing yards, but Brady’s touchdown-interception ratio (9-1) clearly was too much to overlook.
While the league has become much more of a passing league even over the last two years, passing yards hardly are the be-all and end-all when it comes to quarterbacks making their case for MVP. Still, it’s worth noting that Brady’s passing yards from 2010 likely would place him in the bottom half of the league among starting quarterbacks this year, behind guys such as Andy Dalton and Josh Freeman.
Five quarterbacks threw for 4,000 or more yards in 2010 (and they weren’t exactly scrubs: Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matt Schaub, Eli Manning). Last year, 10 quarterbacks threw for 4,000 yards, with three throwing for 5,000 or more (Brees, Brady, Matthew Stafford). The 10 passers with 4,000 or more yards marked the most the league ever had, but this season figures to obliterate that figure, as 14 signal-callers are on pace to throw for 4,000 yards. None are on pace for 5,000, though guys like Stafford and Matt Ryan are well within reach.
If everyone keeps up their current pace, Brady’s 35 touchdowns would be fourth in the league behind Brees (31; on pace for 45), Aaron Rodgers (28; on pace for 41) and Manning (26; on pace for 38). If any factor is to win Brady his third MVP this season, it will once again be an impression touchdown-interception ratio. Among the aforementioned four passers, Brady separates himself with just three interceptions to Brees’ 11, Manning’s eight and Rogers’ seven. Brady’s 105.0 quarterback rating is almost even with Rogers’ 105.6 and Manning’s 104.8, while Brees has a 98.5 rating (for what it’s worth, Washington rookie Robert Griffin III is right up there with a 104.6 rating that sits at fourth in the league).
With all that information, here’s a look at those who figure to challenge Brady for MVP, and note that not all of them are passers. (And for more on Brady’s stellar season, check out Kirk Minihane’s column from Monday.)
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Stats through 11 games: 3,260 passing yards, 26 TD, 8 INT, 104.8 rating
Projected final stats: 4,742 passing yards, 38 TD, 12 INT, 104.8 rating
Different year, different uniform, same story. Manning is contending for his fourth MVP award in his first season back from injury while playing for a new team. That’s pretty impressive, even for Manning.
From a numbers standpoint, Manning, like Brady, is looking even better than he did in his last MVP season. The 36-year-old is on pace to surpass his mark of 33 touchdowns in 2009 while throwing fewer interceptions (he has eight and is on pace for 12; he was intercepted 16 times in his last MVP season).
While Manning has resurrected his career with his impressive season, it’s worth a reminder that he didn’t completely rescue a cellar-dwelling team in the Broncos. Manning’s 8-3 record as a starter this season is just one win better than Denver's record last season (with Tim Tebow at the helm for four games).
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Stats through 11 games: 2,838 passing yards, 28 TD, 7 INT, 105.6 rating
Projected final stats: 4,128 passing yards, 41 TD, 10 INT, 105.6 rating
The reigning MVP hasn’t matched his performance of a season ago, but his numbers still rank at or near the top of the league. His overall numbers are helped by a mammoth Week 6 performance against the Texans in which he threw for 338 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Though Rodgers hasn’t had any truly disastrous performances, he has been mortal too often to make him a favorite for MVP. He’s thrown interceptions in seven games and had a pretty unproductive stretch in Weeks 2 and 3, when both the Bears and Seahawks held him to less than 230 passing yards. Green Bay’s controversial Week 3 loss to the Seahawks is Rodgers’ only zero-touchdown performance this season.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
Stats through 11 games: 84 receptions, 1,105 receiving yards, 3 TD
Projected final stats: 122 receptions, 1,607 receiving yards, 4 TD
It was somewhat surprising to see Wayne re-sign with the Colts in the offseason, but both sides have benefited greatly from the three-time All-Pro inking a three-year deal just hours into free agency.
Without Manning last season, Wayne had his first campaign with less than 1,000 receiving yards (960) since 2003. Now 34 years old, Wayne has defied his age by leading the league in receptions while compiling less receiving yards than only Detroit's Calvin Johnson (1,257). Wayne’s projected 1,607 receiving yards also would be a career high. In case there’s any doubt of his value to the Colts, he leads the league in targets (144) by 20 (Chicago's Brandon Marshall is second with 124).
The touchdown numbers likely are what will prevent him from winning the award, but strictly from a standpoint of value, there might be no player more deserving of the award. With everything that the Colts have gone through, from their coach battling leukemia and the team in the midst of rebuilding with a new quarterback, Wayne’s presence as a veteran star and leader has had more of an impact than anyone could have imagined.
If he were to win, Wayne would be the first non-quarterback MVP since running backs Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson won in 2004 and 2005, respectively. While the MVP has become a bit of a quarterback’s award, from 1997 to 2006 seven of the 10 MVPs were running backs. The last (and only) time a receiver won MVP was 49ers legend Jerry Rice in 1987.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Stats through 11 games: 3,333 passing yards, 31 TD, 11 INT, 98.5 rating
Projected final stats: 4,848 passing yards, 45 TD, 16 INT, 98.5 rating
When considering MVP, you can't ignore the guy that leads the league in passing touchdowns. Still, even if Brees is that guy, it’s worth considering that in the five-year stretch in which quarterbacks have won MVP, the leader in touchdown passes won it twice (Brady both times), while Brees has led the league in touchdown passes three times (2008, 2009, 2011) and never has won the award.
It would appear that Brees is in for more of the same this season. Though 45 touchdowns would be hard to overlook, he always throws a lot of interceptions (47 since the start of the 2010 season), so guys like Brady often end up with a more polished overall line.