- Wednesday, December 16, 2009 1:02 AM
- Written By: Sumner Widdoes
Football is often called the ultimate team sport, a distinction that should make the determination of its most valuable player that much more difficult. Individual talents dominate sports like baseball and basketball. So whether a team is the best in the league or the worst, the most valuable players stand out simply because of the natures of the games. But it ain't so in football. The best individual performances are much more difficult to discern because they are inextricably linked to those around them – not to mention the effect that play-calling coordinators and opposing teams have on one’s statistical output. Basically, one person’s play cannot be responsible for a team’s record.**
**That is not to say that certain positions are not more important than others – quarterbacks are obviously the most important players on the field. But there is no method I know of to determine exactly the relative importance of each player on the field. As such, each player’s performance should be assessed in relation to the other players at his position, not to his team’s overall performance.
So when determining the NFL MVP, it must be important to look beyond team success, right? Because one player’s performance does not make a team great, and a team cannot be great without excelling in every phase of the game. All of which makes this year’s MVP race so interesting. Much of the discussion thus far has centered around three players: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Brett Favre, the first two of which play quarterback for undefeated teams. While all three have played outstanding football this year, it seems as though Manning and Brees are the assumed frontrunners for the award almost by default – that because they play the most important position for league’s best teams, they must be the most valuable players.
Well, it just isn’t so. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson is the NFL’s most valuable player. Through 13 games, Johnson leads the league in rushing yards (347 yards ahead of the next guy) and is on his way to breaking Marshall Faulk’s record for total yards from scrimmage (he needs 475 rushing and receiving yards in his final three games). He has scored 13 total touchdowns – seven of which came from more than 50 yards out – and is the only player averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game (he averages 125.1). His six rushing yards per attempt are more than a half yard better than the next best player, and could become the eighth player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards or more in eight straight games if he does so this weekend against Miami. Compared to any other running back, Chris Johnson is Zeus and they are those weird half-God/half-mortal characters like Achilles.
But his team is 6-7. It lost its first six games, then won its next five, lost one more and then blew out the Rams last week. MVPs can’t come from teams that don’t make the playoffs, let alone finish with losing records, right? Well, historically, this is right. It hasn’t happened before, and I don’t foresee that changing now, what with the All-American trio of gunslinging heroness standing before us. But have any of them really distinguished themselves from the rest of this year’s QB crop?
I know their teams don’t have perfect records and they aren’t sponsored by Wrangler, but Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers are putting up some damn good numbers and winning a lot of games that people didn’t expect them to win. And what about Manning’s 14 interceptions this season, fifth worst in the NFL? Aren’t Brees’ statistics worse than last year’s? Favre’s performance has actually been the most surprising and seemingly valuable of the three, but there is no statistical or circumstantial evidence pointing to his case for MVP. The fact is, Chris Johnson is the most dominant, valuable player this season, but his team’s record – combined with the perfect records of the Saints and Colts – will prevent him from even entering the discussion of MVP candidates.
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