Last season we got the MVP train rolling on Peyton Manning while the Colts were still 5-4. It was easy to look at the schedule, foresee a string of wins against lesser defenses and posit that 18 was going to jump to the front of a very mediocre pack of MVP candidates. Along the way, Manning's case was helped by 8 straight wins, but also by Adrian Peterson fumbling the ball constantly, Drew Brees melting down in the fourth quarter of must win games, and Kurt Warner looking ancient in awful losses to the Eagles and Patriots. In the end, everything broke Manning's way, and he captured his third MVP award. We eagerly chronicled the chase every step of the way because 2008 was Manning's greatest season and because we knew in our hearts the 2008 were a flawed, broken team that had no real title shot. Rooting for Manning to win the MVP award was all we really had. The award was a recognition of how great 18 was and just how weak that team was.
Now a year later, Manning is again in the conversation for MVP along with Favre and Brees. Apparently, that's the new MVP formula: Manning, Brees, and some really old QB having a nice year. Still, we've barely discussed the issue, and you won't find any impassioned pleas here today. Do I think Manning is the MVP? Of course I do. But there's two reasons not to worry about it yet. First is that there's too much of the season to play out. It's simply too early to talk MVP. I have a feeling the issue will clarify itself dramatically in the coming weeks. Second, there are bigger issues this season. The 2009 Colts are a Super Bowl caliber team. All focus is on the entire team, as it should be. The MVP race is a distant second behind what could be the most spectacular regular and post season in NFL history. We have GREAT teams. We have living legends playing at the peak of their powers. The NFL has never been better than it is right now
Here are the cases for the top four MVP candidates and what they have to do to win the award in the final five weeks. Please note, this isn't how I would vote, just how I see the race shaping up. Don't argue with me that so and so is too low or too high based on any sane reason. This is how I think the media who votes will see things:
1. Brett Favre
The case for: a 10-1 record, 24 TDs and 3 picks, a 112 rating. Say what you will, it's hard to argue with those numbers. Currently 5-0 verses the NFC North (4-2 last year).
The case against: Took over a 10 win team from last year. The Vikings also added Percy Harvin and have gone from 32nd in Special Teams to first this year. None of that has anything to do with Favre. Oh, and there's this running back they have that I've heard is sort of talented. Favre joined a stone cold stacked team. He's playing great, but the Vikes probably won't finish more than 3 or 4 games better with him than without him.
What he has to do to win: If he keeps his rating north of 105, and finishes the final five games with a TD/INT ratio of 2:1, and the Vikes go at least 4-1, he'll almost assuredly win. Manning or Brees would have to lead their team to an undefeated season to beat him out. The hype is only going to escalate from here. However, if the Vikes go 3-2 and Farve throws some picks, the window is open for another player. I'm not saying I like it, I'm just saying this is the reality of 2009. It's about Favre until it isn't.
2. Peyton Manning
The case for: 6 fourth quarter comebacks, an 11-0 record, a rating of 102.5, leads the league in completion percentage and yards, doesn't have a great running game, breaking in two young receivers, has a rookie head coach. He scares the living hell out of Bill Belichick.
The case against: He won last year (a very lame, but VERY real reason). He has thrown 6 picks in his last three games. As great as he is, this season lacks the epic "I'm willing this team to win" vibe that he had last season. He also didn't beat the Packers twice.
What he has to do to win: Finish 16-0 and/or break Ken Anderson's single season completion percentage record of 70.5% (currently he's at 70.4%). He must lead the league in passing yards, and needs a TD/INT ratio of 3:1 over the final five games. Manning can still pull this out, but he'll have to play off the charts down the stretch to do it. He's still topping a lot of MVP boards, but the perception is that the Colts are about to go into shell mode. This feels like 2005 all over again. Manning had the award locked with 12 weeks to go, but taking the air out of the ball killed that. Honestly, that's what I expect to happen this year.
3. Drew Brees
The case for: 11-0. Huge numbers, including leading the NFL in passer rating. A perfect game on MNF over the Pats (possibly the best modern passing game in history). There's a sense that it's 'his turn'.
The case against: Massive talent surrounding him. The Saints have a great run game this year, and he has a bevy of talented players and a coach with a wide open style. He's never won a Super Bowl so people don't take his regular season numbers as seriously (don't ask me what that has to do with anything, but trust me, it does).
What he has to do to win: Finish 16-0. He's already done everything else. If the Saints win out, Brees is the MVP. If the Colts and Saints both win out...I think Manning takes it. Since I don't expect Indy to play for 16-0, I think Brees can win the award with a perfect season. Otherwise, I can't see him leap frogging Favre.
4. Chris Johnson
The case for: Leads the NFL in rushing. Three 85 yard TD runs in a season is more than any player has had in his entire career. He is an explosive dominant player on a hard charging team.
The case against: He's a running back. His team is 5-6. He's a boom/bust guy. Lots of long runs, but his success rate is 28th in the NFL. That makes for gaudy numbers, but an inflated 'true value'.
What he has to do to win: If the big three play soft down the stretch, and he rushes for 2000 yards AND the Titans win 10 games and make the playoffs, Chris Johnson could win the MVP award. In the immortal words of George W. Bush, "Nah gah dah".