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The 1987 MVP Award: Rice, Montana, and Elway

Two of the most valuable players from 1987.

In 1987, the Associated Press voters were faced with a difficult choice. This was a year disrupted by the players’ strike, which led to a 15-game season that included three games featuring replacement players. Jerry Rice was the rare unanimous first-team All-Pro selection at wide receiver, courtesy of a record-breaking 22 touchdown receptions in 12 games.  How remarkable was that? Eagles receiver Mike Quick was second in the league in receiving touchdowns with *11*, and no other player had more than 8!  And for good measure, Rice scored a 23rd touchdown on a rush against the Falcons.

And it’s not as though all Rice did was catch touchdowns. Cardinals wide receiver J.T. Smith crossed the picket line and played in all 15 games; he wound up leading the league in receiving yards, but Rice led the NFL in receiving yards per game for the second straight season.  A remarkable year from the greatest receiver in NFL history is certainly worthy of MVP honors.

The biggest threat to Rice capturing the MVP award appeared to be his own quarterback, Joe Montana.  The 49ers lost on opening day in Pittsburgh, but the 49ers went 10-0 in Montana’s remaining starts.  In part, this is because this was a dominant San Francisco team on both sides of the ball, but Montana led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdowns, touchdown rate, and passer rating.  He also ranked 2nd in ANY/A, behind Cleveland’s Bernie Kosar (the Browns went 8-4 in his starts, and Kosar received minimal MVP attention). Montana had three 4th quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives, while Kosar had none.  And in a head-to-head game on Sunday Night Football, Montana outclassed Kosar. And Montana was Montana, so it’s no surprise that peak Montana on a 10-game winning streak was considered the best quarterback in the NFL. [click to continue…]

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Checkdowns: Carson Palmer and MVP Voting

Since twitter limits me to 140 characters, and I’m having fun debating with guys like Bryan Frye (@LaverneusDingle) and Adam Hartstad (@AdamHarstad), I thought I’d crunch some numbers here.

Is Carson Palmer the best choice for MVP this year? Let’s put aside the Cam Newton argument and just focus on Palmer’s place in post-merger history.   As Adam pointed out, 2015 Carson Palmer is currently 7th on the list of Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt leaders, and the six players in front of him all won the AP MVP (that would be Peyton Manning 2004, Aaron Rodgers 2011, Dan Marino 1984, Tom Brady 2007, Manning 2013, and Rodgers 2014).

Of course, ANY/A is biased in favor of modern players, so let’s look at ANY/A+. Here, he doesn’t drop as far as you might think: Carson is still tied for the 11th best season since 1970, and a few non-AP MVPs sneak in there ahead of him (Mark Rypien 1991, Randall Cunningham 1998, and a quarterback who lost to another quarterback a having historic season: Montana ’84 and Ken Anderson 1981). [click to continue…]

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2014 MVP Odds and Historical QB MVP Performance

On July 8th, Bovada released some early MVP odds, so I figured it would be fun to take a few minutes and examine which players seem like the best and worst bets. Bovada listed odds for 40 players. For example, Peyton Manning has odds of “3/1” which implies that he has a 25% chance of winning the MVP (if you bet $10 on Manning, you get your $10 back plus $30 from the casino). The odds for all 40 players sum to about 140%, which means there’s a healthy house cushion built into these odds. And it’s even worse than that, as Bovada did not include a “Field” category, so the 140% doesn’t even include all possibilities. In any event, I divided each player’s implied odds by 140% to get “adjusted” percentages (or vigorish-adjusted odds) of winning the MVP. Take a look: [click to continue…]

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NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 17

At the New York Times Fifth Down Blog this week, I explain my choices for the major awards this season.

Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Generally, the Most Valuable Player award is given to the best quarterback, while the Offensive Player of the Year is usually the player with the most impressive statistics. In the last five years, Tom Brady — first in 2007, and then again in 2010 — is the only player to take home both awards in the same season. Last year, Drew Brees won the award while Aaron Rodgers took home the M.V.P., but running backs Priest Holmes (2002), Jamal Lewis (2003), Shaun Alexander (2005), LaDainian Tomlinson (2006), and Chris Johnson (2009) have all won the award in the last decade. While Calvin Johnson will probably get some support for breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards, Adrian Peterson has had this award locked up for a month, and finishing the season with 2,097 yards was the icing on the cake.

I don’t think you’ll find too many people arguing about this one. Peterson’s story is outstanding, and it’s hard to argue that he didn’t provide the single most impressive performance by an offensive player this year. Quarterbacks may be more valuable, but it’s hard not to just sit back and admire what Peterson’s done. Johnson’s also had a magnificent season, but he was greatly aided by the Lions also breaking the record for pass attempts in a season.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

The shine is off the Texans, but there’s no denying that their star lineman has been outstanding this year. If the stars were aligned slightly differently — say, the Texans were streaking towards the end of the year, and Watt had a monster primetime game late — he’d have a legitimate chance at the M.V.P. award. Last month, I talked about how this award was a three-man race with the stars all coming from the 2011 Draft. In that article I also mentioned Geno Atkins as a possible darkhorse, and he’s been ever better since. But Watt has 20.5 sacks and the national reputation as the Sultan of Swatt, so this award is pretty easy to predict.

And well justified. Watt’s production as a 3-4 defensive end is remarkable. He now owns the single-season record for sacks by a player at that position, but he’s far from one dimensional. We know that he is fantastic at tipping passes at the line of scrimmage and is excellent in run support. He’s a complete player in every respect, a dominant force at a position that rarely receives media attention.

I’d select Von Miller as my runner-up and give Atkins the bronze. While Aldon Smith gets more attention because of his lofty sack totals, he’s a one-dimensional player. While he’s outstanding at that one dimension, just being a dominant pass rusher only makes him the fourth best defensive player this year. He also disappeared down the stretch, which not coincidentally began when star defensive end Justin Smith went down with a triceps injury.

Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season, but as soon as he took the field in 2012 he became the favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year. A quarterback has won this award each of the last four years — Chad Pennington (2008), Tom Brady (2009), Michael Vick (2010), and Matthew Stafford (2011) — and the trend should continue in 2012. Comeback Player of the Year is a two-man race, and there’s no wrong answer when choosing between Manning and Peterson. If the voters could, surely the majority would pick that Manning and Peterson split the award. If ever an award called for a split, this was it.

Peyton Manning’s neck injury was considered career-threatening this time last year. Many questioned his arm strength in the pre-season and in September, but by the end of the year he was once again the best quarterback in the league. It’s simply splitting hairs picking between Manning and Peterson, who tore two ligaments in his knee just over a year ago and rebounded to rush for 2,000 yards. And let’s at least recognize Jamaal Charles, who in any other year would likely take home the award. The Kansas City running back tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season, and rebounded to rush for over 1,500 yards in 2012. My guess is that those voters looking for a tiebreaker focus on the fact that Manning missed the entire 2011 season while Peterson ran for 970 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, making Manning more of a “comeback” story.

You can view the full post here.

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