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AP MVPs Have Not Won A Super Bowl in 16 Years

Count the shared AP MVP in 2003 between Peyton Manning and Steve McNair, and none of the last 17 AP MVPs have won a Super Bowl. That’s despite the fact that all 17 played on teams that made the playoffs, and often while playing for excellent teams. During that stretch:

  • Three have played on teams that lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs;
  • Five have played on teams that lost in the Division round of the playoffs;
  • Two have played on teams that lost in the AFC or NFC Championship Games; and
  • A whopping seven AP MVPs since 2000 have lost in the Super Bowl.

This might be the part where we say that football is a team game, and one player can’t make the difference that it can in other sports. That might sound nice, except:

  • In seven of the last 16 years, the AP MVP played on teams that made the Super Bowl. That makes it seem like one player is pretty important.
  • Incredibly, six of those seven were favored in the Super Bowl! That’s the most amazing part of this streak: the 2001 Rams were favored by 14 points in the Super Bowl; the 2007 Patriots were favored by 12.5 points; the 2015 Panthers were favored by 5 points; the 2009 Colts were favored by 4.5 points; the 2002 Raiders were favored by 3.5 points; and the 2013 Broncos were favored by 2.5 points. Only the 2005 Seahawks had the AP MVP and were underdogs during this stretch.
  • From 1993 to 1999, five of the eight Super Bowl champions had the AP MVP.

So maybe there is an AP MVP curse, in a similar way to the Madden curse. The table below shows how each AP MVP’s team has fared in the playoffs in each year:

YearPlayerTeamTeam Result
2015Cam NewtonCARLost in SB
2014Aaron RodgersGNBLost in CCG
2013Peyton ManningDENLost in SB
2012Adrian PetersonMINLost in WC
2011Aaron RodgersGNBLost in Div
2010Tom BradyNWELost in Div
2009Peyton ManningINDLost in SB
2008Peyton ManningINDLost in WC
2007Tom BradyNWELost in SB
2006LaDainian TomlinsonSDGLost in Div
2005Shaun AlexanderSEALost in SB
2004Peyton ManningINDLost in Div
2003Peyton ManningINDLost in CCG
2003Steve McNairTENLost in Div
2002Rich GannonOAKLost in SB
2001Kurt WarnerSTLLost in SB
2000Marshall FaulkSTLLost in WC
1999Kurt WarnerSTLWon SB
1998Terrell DavisDENWon SB
1997Barry SandersDETLost in WC
1997Brett FavreGNBLost in SB
1996Brett FavreGNBWon SB
1995Brett FavreGNBLost in CCG
1994Steve YoungSFOWon SB
1993Emmitt SmithDALWon SB
1992Steve YoungSFOLost in CCG
1991Thurman ThomasBUFLost in SB
1990Joe MontanaSFOLost in CCG
1989Joe MontanaSFOWon SB
1988Boomer EsiasonCINLost in SB
1987John ElwayDENLost in SB
1986Lawrence TaylorNYGWon SB
1985Marcus AllenRAILost in Div
1984Dan MarinoMIALost in SB
1983Joe TheismannWASLost in SB
1982Mark MoseleyWASWon SB
1981Ken AndersonCINLost in SB
1980Brian SipeCLELost in Div
1979Earl CampbellHOULost in CCG
1978Terry BradshawPITWon SB
1977Walter PaytonCHILost in Div
1976Bert JonesBALLost in Div
1975Fran TarkentonMINLost in Div
1974Ken StablerOAKLost in CCG
1973O.J. SimpsonBUFMissed
1972Larry BrownWASLost in SB
1971Alan PageMINLost in Div
1970John BrodieSFOLost in CCG
1969Roman GabrielRAMLost in Div
1968Earl MorrallBALLost in SB
1967Johnny UnitasBALMissed
1966Bart StarrGNBWon SB
1965Jim BrownCLELost in CCG
1964Johnny UnitasBALLost in CCG
1963Y.A. TittleNYGLost in CCG
1962Jim TaylorGNBWon SB
1961Paul HornungGNBWon SB
1960Norm Van BrocklinPHIWon SB
1959Johnny UnitasBALWon SB
1958Jim BrownCLELost in Div
1957Jim BrownCLELost in CCG

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments. Oh, and one other note: the Panthers loss in Super Bowl 50 meant another streak is still going. Ron Rivera was the AP Coach of the Year, but no AP Coach of the Year has won the Super Bowl that season since Bill Belichick in 2003.

  • My takeaway is that kickers who win the MVP have a 100% success rate at winning the Super Bowl so maybe we’re underrating the value of kickers.

    • Richie

      McManus was robbed!

      • Despite the joke, he was probably Denver’s second most valuable player throughout the postseason.

    • Andrew Healy

      Or maybe just straight-ahead kickers!

  • This is very interesting trivia, thanks Chase. But I wanted to comment on this:

    “In seven of the last 16 years, the AP MVP played on teams that made the
    Super Bowl. That makes it seem like one player is pretty important.”

    Let’s be careful with cause and effect. The MVP will almost always come from a very good team. Five of the last seven MVPs were the quarterback from the team with the best record. We see this in Heisman voting now, as well: team record is an important factor in the voting. Did the MVP make his team great, or did the great team make him the MVP? I think it’s clearly a little of both.

    • Yep. No doubt. But the cause is a pretty big part of it, too. Put another way, it’s not usual that the true most valuable player was on a team with less than 10 wins.

      • sacramento gold miners

        Another way to look at this issue would be to say the MVP helped to lift his team to that high level. And that level would be greater than what would be produced by a good player. Put C.J. Anderson on the 1998 Broncos, or a healthy Trent Green on the 1999 Rams, and I don’t think those teams would have reached the heights they did.

        Referring to the 16 year drought, a common denominator is the bad to mediocre games played by those MVPs in their final games.

      • You’re right, of course. But I believe team record often separates potential MVPs from the player actually selected.

        J.J. Watt was a compelling MVP candidate in 2014, but the Texans went 9-7. The 2009 Titans (Chris Johnson) went 8-8, and the Jets (Darrelle Revis) were 9-7. The ’08 Chargers (Philip Rivers) went 8-8… about every other year, there’s a reasonable MVP candidate whose team finished with single-digit wins. If the AP voters are using team record even as a tiebreaker in close contests, that can easily skew our perceptions.

  • twman09

    There wasn’t a Super Bowl before 1966.

  • Andrew Healy

    This is one strange split. Given how the AP MVP often goes to the best player on one the top couple of teams, the chances of going another 17 years this way… well, they’re tiny.

  • Yazan Gable

    Using the DVOA for team defenses, I checked what type of defenses the MVP winners lost to. 11 of the 17 lost to a top 8 defense, eight of the MVPs being quarterbacks and the other three being running backs (13 QBs won MVP to 4 HBs):

    2002, Gannon vs. Buccaneers (1st)
    2003, McNair and Manning vs. Patriots (2nd)
    2004, Manning vs. Patriots (7th)
    2005, Alexander vs. Steelers (3rd)
    2006, Tomlinson vs. Patriots (7th)
    2010, Brady vs. Jets (5th)
    2012, Peterson vs. Packers (8th)
    2013, Manning vs. Seahawks (1st)
    2014, Rodgers vs. Seahawks (1st)
    2015, Newton vs. Broncos (1st)

    I know that the losses of the ’01 Rams and ’07 Patriots were surprising, but where I am more fuzzy on (being a more recent football fan) is how surprising were the losses of the ’00 Rams, ’08 Chargers, ’09 Colts and ’11 Packers. I know the Packers had a 15-1 record and the ’08 Chargers were 14-2, but I’ve never heard these two defeats spoken of as shocking. I also know Kurt Warner did not play most of the season in ’00, Trent Green being QB until Warner came back and he wasn’t 100% in the playoff game against the Saints.

    Not sure how helpful this information is, but I thought it might be interesting to see if there was a common factor in these essentially Super OPOY award winners not winning a Super Bowl.