Stat Analysis
Advanced analytics on player and team performance

Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

by Scott Kacsmar

Really, this much debate over an individual award in the ultimate team game?

The reason we make such a big deal about the NFL's Most Valuable Player award is that the winner is usually one of the biggest stories of that particular season. Make no doubt about it -- this award is less about a popularity contest and more about acknowledging an easy-to-tell story of greatness from that season. Whether or not you agree with Cam Newton winning the MVP in 2015, the 14-0 start by his Carolina Panthers was one of the dominant headlines throughout the season.

Most MVP seasons are obvious from an early point in the year because of the record-setting performances that speak for themselves. Think of the dominant quarterback seasons from Dan Marino in 1984, Peyton Manning in 2004 and 2013, and Tom Brady in 2007. When a running back has won the award in the last two decades, it's been for a nice milestone like 2,000 rushing yards (achieved by Barry Sanders in 1997, Terrell Davis in 1998, and Adrian Peterson in 2012), or the breaking of the single-season touchdown record (done by Marshall Faulk in 2000, Shaun Alexander in 2005, and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006).

The voters like an easy, obvious candidate -- which has made the 2016 MVP race so difficult. One candidate was suspended for the first four games of the season. Two more candidates are rookies who share the same backfield behind the league's best offensive line. Another candidate is trying to run the table to make the playoffs after he drew a lot of heat for performance below his usual standard during a 4-6 start. Two more candidates are using a record number of fourth-quarter comebacks for two of the league's usual doormats as their main argument -- and one of those just broke his leg, while the other may fail to qualify for the postseason.

Then there is the candidate who should be running away with the award as we head into Week 17, yet has garnered very little attention throughout the last four months.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the best choice for the 2016 MVP award, and it is about time that his story gets the attention it deserves.

The MVP Case for Matt Ryan

Let's be honest. The main argument working against Matt Ryan for MVP is that his name is Matt Ryan. He's not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, and his reputation in NFL circles, at best, has been "poor man's Peyton Manning." However, in his ninth season, Ryan is producing at a level just below what these other quarterbacks achieved at their peaks. That is lofty company to say the least, given the caliber of those MVP seasons.

The most statistically dominant quarterback on the league's best offense is always a strong MVP candidate, if not the favorite, and no one fits that bill better in 2016 than Ryan. He leads the NFL in passing yards per attempt (9.26), yards per completion (13.3), and touchdown pass percentage (6.8 percent), and his 115.5 passer rating would rank fifth in NFL history. If you scoff at passer rating, then Ryan's 8.90 adjusted net yards per pass attempt is also currently the fifth-highest season in league history.

Ryan's Falcons lead the NFL in scoring (502 points), rank first in offensive DVOA (24.8%), and average a league-best 3.01 points per drive. Only two other offenses (2007 Patriots and 2011 Packers) since 1997 have averaged at least 3.0 points per drive.

You could easily make the argument that Ryan is quietly having one of the best passing seasons in NFL history. Of course, one could also argue that passing stats are inflated in today's era, but we have plenty of stats that adjust for that context. Also, to win the MVP award, Ryan just has to be the most deserving candidate in 2016. The argument on where his season stacks up all-time is entirely different and more appropriate for the offseason.

Pro Football Reference has an index for adjusted net yards per pass attempt that adjusts for era. Ryan is currently one of 10 quarterbacks to have an index above 140, where 100 is considered average. Among the previous nine quarterbacks, seven won the MVP award that season. The exceptions: Nick Foles lost out to a record-setting Peyton Manning in 2013 for obvious reasons, and Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien quarterbacked the most dominant team in the DVOA era in the 1991 Redskins.

Of course, some will argue intangibles over statistics when it comes to a quarterback's true value. That is fine, but it is also undeniable that a high volume of successful plays that put points on the board are very valuable to a team. We have plenty of metrics to show this as well. After all, the "V" in DVOA stands for value. Threading the needle on a 15-yard pass on third-and-12 should have more value than slapping a teammate on the butt to show your "leadership," but I know that is preaching to the choir here.

Advanced stats love Ryan's season as well. He is pulling off the trifecta of leading the league in passing DYAR, passing DVOA and ESPN's Total QBR. In fact, when you compare Ryan and the other 2016 quarterback candidates to the 21 quarterback MVP seasons since 1989 in advanced stats, Ryan's season holds up extremely well. I also included Carson Palmer's 2015 season to show that the voters quite arguably got things wrong a year ago by going with Newton, who received 48 votes to Palmer's one. Let's not repeat that mistake by denying the best quarterback since Week 1 this season again.

Quarterback MVP Winner: Advanced Stat Rankings (ESPN & FO)
Year Quarterback QBR Rk Pts Added Rk PASS DYAR Rk PASS DVOA Rk Pass YPA Rk Yds/Dr Rk Pts/Dr Rk
1989 Joe Montana - - - - 1,381 1 39.0% 1 9.12 1 - - - -
1990 Joe Montana - - - - 1,098 4 20.5% 7 7.58 6 - - - -
1992 Steve Young - - - - 1,608 1 45.1% 1 8.62 1 - - - -
1994 Steve Young - - - - 1,634 1 38.8% 1 8.61 1 - - - -
1995 Brett Favre - - - - 1,507 3 27.5% 3 7.74 2 - - - -
1996 Brett Favre - - - - 1,090 2 18.0% 4 7.18 9 - - - -
1997 Brett Favre - - - - 1,117 3 19.4% 6 7.54 4 31.99 5 2.12 3
1999 Kurt Warner - - - - 1,586 1 36.9% 1 8.72 1 34.72 1 2.45 1
2001 Kurt Warner - - - - 1,805 1 36.7% 1 8.85 1 37.15 1 2.66 1
2002 Rich Gannon - - - - 1,470 1 22.8% 4 7.59 3 37.02 1 2.48 2
2003 Peyton Manning - - - - 1,891 1 37.1% 1 8.04 1 34.74 1 2.48 1
Steve McNair - - - - 1,298 3 36.3% 2 7.54 4 30.20 8 2.17 5
2004 Peyton Manning - - - - 2,434 1 58.9% 1 9.17 1 39.83 1 2.93 1
2007 Tom Brady 88.2 1 96.2 1 2,674 1 54.1% 1 8.31 1 41.63 1 3.37 1
Year Quarterback QBR Rk Pts Added Rk PASS DYAR Rk PASS DVOA Rk Pass YPA Rk Yds/Dr Rk Pts/Dr Rk
2008 Peyton Manning 78.0 1 59.9 1 1,554 2 30.0% 2 7.21 13 37.40 2 2.41 4
2009 Peyton Manning 82.8 2 71.2 2 1,771 3 34.0% 5 7.88 10 36.84 2 2.43 4
2010 Tom Brady 81.3 1 56.9 2 1,918 1 46.7% 1 7.93 5 36.11 2 2.90 1
2011 Aaron Rodgers 85.5 1 84.0 2 2,059 2 46.6% 1 9.25 1 39.43 3 3.05 1
2013 Peyton Manning 82.2 1 85.0 1 2,475 1 43.2% 1 8.31 3 38.22 2 2.98 1
2014 Aaron Rodgers 81.3 2 66.8 1 1,564 2 32.2% 1 8.43 2 38.39 3 2.73 1
2015 Cam Newton 65.1 12 41.8 7 630 11 7.6% 12 7.75 7 32.08 12 2.57 1
2015 Carson Palmer 78.6 1 57.9 1 1,698 1 34.4% 1 8.70 1 38.62 1 2.52 2
2016 Matt Ryan 82.2 1 63.3 1 1,727 1 38.3% 1 9.26 1 39.95 2 3.01 1
2016 Dak Prescott 81.9 2 63.0 2 1,275 4 31.3% 2 8.05 4 36.68 5 2.54 3
2016 Tom Brady 81.9 3 50.6 4 1,118 6 30.9% 3 8.22 2 35.52 7 2.39 6
2016 Aaron Rodgers 77.5 4 62.0 3 1,110 7 16.6% 8 7.23 14 36.40 5 2.57 4
2016 Matthew Stafford 70.9 8 43.2 8 670 9 6.2% 13 7.20 15 36.07 6 2.13 13
2016 Derek Carr 61.9 16 20.4 15 1,179 5 20.2% 6 7.04 17 31.65 15 2.22 11

Note: "Pts Added" is an ESPN stat (explained here) related to QBR and points added above that of an average quarterback. The drive stats include all drives for a team in that season regardless of who was at quarterback. No, this is not ideal, but it's the best we can do in a late-season time crunch for research.

Only a No. 2 ranking in yards per drive is preventing a clean sweep of Ryan leading each category. Before Newton's 2015, all seven MVP winners in the QBR era were first or second in QBR and Pts Added, and every MVP winner since 1989 was in the top four in passing DYAR. A dozen MVP seasons were first in passing DVOA, and eight MVP winners pulled off the trifecta of leading in DYAR, DVOA and YPA. Ten times since 1997 the No. 1 offense in points per drive produced an MVP-winning quarterback.

If voters uphold the usual standards for an MVP quarterback season, then Ryan should be the obvious choice at this point. He would really have to lay an egg at home against the Saints to not finish on top in so many key categories.

What Is Ryan Doing Differently?

Ryan has been one of the league's better quarterbacks since his rookie season, but career years come in a variety of ways. After missing the playoffs for three years in a row and suffering arguably his worst season yet in 2015, there was no hype for Ryan entering 2016. Early hype is usually a prerequisite for a successful MVP campaign. Ryan had to prove he could effectively run Kyle Shanahan's offense in his second year under the offensive coordinator and head coach Dan Quinn. Atlanta bolstered its lineup with two Cleveland players in center Alex Mack and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, while also bringing over wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from Cincinnati. These have been fine additions, but Ryan has mostly been working with a familiar cast from the offense that finished 23rd in DVOA a year ago.

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The improvement to the best offense in football has been spearheaded by Ryan, who has shown more mobility and elusiveness this season. Hey, if he is the poor man's Peyton Manning, then this makes sense. In his ninth season in 2006, Manning also improved his mobility and footwork to make plays under pressure following that disappointing playoff loss to Pittsburgh the previous season. Manning's 2006 ended with his first Super Bowl ring, and Ryan would certainly love to repeat that part as well, but let's focus on his numbers.

Ryan's 2016 sack rate is the highest of his career (6.7 percent), and it's not like he has turned into a "hold the ball forever gunslinger" in 2016. I am confident that when we publish our finalized pressure study in the offseason, his pressure rate will be the highest of his career and the highest of any of the MVP candidates this season. Ryan has done very well without an offensive line as strong as the likes of Dallas and Oakland.

Ryan has also done a masterful job of distributing the ball this season. In fact, Ryan is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass to 13 different players in a season. This record would be everywhere this week if a more popular quarterback did it. Taylor Gabriel (six) even leads the team in touchdown catches over Julio Jones (five). The yards are better distributed too. In 2015, Jones had 1,871 receiving yards while no other Atlanta player surpassed 657 yards, and only five Falcons had at least 200 receiving yards. This season, Jones has 1,313 yards, but nine Falcons have at least 200 receiving yards. So it really has been more of a team effort with Ryan the master conductor.

Like a great Akira Kurosawa film, Ryan is running a "high and low" passing offense this season. As Vincent Verhei showed in this week's Quick Reads, Ryan has the best DVOA on short passes (thrown within 5 yards of line of scrimmage) and the best DVOA on bombs (thrown 25-plus yards past the line of scrimmage). That success down the field is a big part of the reason why Ryan is turning in one of the greatest seasons ever in one of the game's most important statistics.

Ryan's Historic Consistency

This season, Ryan is 18th in pass attempts (498), but still third in passing yards (4,613). That is the very definition of efficiency. Not only is Ryan leading the league in passing yards per attempt (YPA) at 9.26, a full yard above runner-up Tom Brady (8.22), but he can make history on Sunday against New Orleans.

Ryan can become the first quarterback in NFL history to average at least 7.0 YPA in all 16 games of a season (minimum 15 attempts). It's even more incredible than it sounds when you consider that Ryan's lowest game this season was 7.91 YPA against Arizona. Aaron Rodgers (13 in 2011) and Dan Marino (14 in 1984) are the only other quarterbacks to have more than 11 games with 7.9 YPA in a season since 1950. The only other quarterback to even average 7.5 YPA in the first 15 games of a season was Peyton Manning in 2004. In his Week 17 finale, Manning threw two passes against Denver and rested for the playoffs.

The current benchmark for a minimum YPA achieved in each game of a 16-game season belongs to Kurt Warner at 6.87 YPA in 2001. So with a good game on Sunday, Ryan can raise that benchmark by more than a full yard to 7.91. That is incredible stuff, and explains why Ryan's 9.26 YPA is in line to be the highest season in NFL history (minimum 350 attempts).

The key to Ryan's season has been his week-to-week consistency. Even the greatest quarterback seasons always have that one "off game," and while Ryan certainly had some struggles with the Eagles and Chiefs, his YPA never suffered.

Ryan has also been consistent in other ways. He is the only quarterback to throw at least one touchdown in all 15 games this season, and can become the 21st quarterback to throw a touchdown in all 16 games of a season. Ryan can also join Drew Brees (2011) as the only quarterbacks to throw for at least 237 yards (his lowest game) in all 16 games of a season.

Ryan's Added Value

The statistics are glowing for Ryan, but he has other ways of showing his value as well. Again, the Falcons were afterthoughts in preseason predictions this year, but have already clinched the NFC South with a good chance to finish 11-5. Ryan's 503-yard passing performance against Carolina in Week 4 was one of the season's best performances, and made it clear that there was a shift in power coming in the division.

Ryan has achieved the season he has against what has been the hardest schedule of defenses for any offense in 2016. He has played in Seattle, Denver, and Philadelphia, three of the year's best defenses, and back when those units were closer to full strength before recent injuries. Ryan has played seven games against defenses currently ranked in the top 10 in DVOA.

Speaking of defenses, the Falcons have a bad one, ranked 27th in DVOA and 25th in points per drive allowed. The Falcons can become just the fourth team in NFL history to win at least 11 games while allowing at least 370 points in a season. In fact, if Sunday is a really high-scoring game, the Falcons could become the first team to ever win at least 11 games while allowing 400 points in a season.

The 2016 Falcons have already tied the 2000 Rams for the most wins in a season (five) in games where they allowed at least 28 points. Ryan has had to overcome a bad defense and four blown fourth-quarter leads to get to this point, a potential No. 2 seed and first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

Matt Ryan vs. The Competition

Ryan is doing great things that most players have never done, which sounds like a most valuable player season. The award is also typically geared towards quarterbacks for obvious reasons. So why have other players gotten more buzz throughout the season for this award? We're going to hit each major candidate and how Ryan stacks up.

Matt Ryan vs. Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott

Depending on what you make of the current MVP odds, Dallas rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott might be the favorite right now to capture the award. However, have we not spent many weeks this season touting rookie quarterback Dak Prescott as an MVP candidate in his own right? And have we not spent a couple of years pretending that the Dallas offensive line could cure cancer if it wasn't busy trying to win football games? All of these parts have led to Dallas (13-2) claiming the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but doesn't the presence of each part limit some of the value from the other? If you are not clearly the most valuable player on your own team, how can you be the most valuable player in the whole league?

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Dallas still had a fantastic offensive line in 2015, and the No. 9 run offense, but was 32nd in passing DVOA with Tony Romo missing the majority of the season. Not to mention that the Cowboys finished 4-12. This is why I am more impressed with what Prescott has done this season, because we know success as a rookie quarterback is far less common than success as a running back. The back has a much easier learning curve. Elliott has been great, but so have veterans Le'Veon Bell (Pittsburgh) and David Johnson (Arizona) this season at that position, with arguably less help around them. Of course, Bell has entered the MVP discussion very late after he was suspended for three games, but he will sit out this weekend's finale. As for Johnson, even though he has been the most consistent back in the league this year, his Cardinals are going to miss the playoffs after Carson Palmer declined and Chandler Catanzaro choked a few times. It is virtually impossible to say a player is MVP if his team has a losing record and misses the playoffs. And shouldn't an offensive player who wins MVP be leading one of the league's top offenses? The Cardinals currently rank 22nd in offensive DVOA.

Prescott and Elliott have been a dream duo, but separating their value is very difficult. This is like in 1987 when San Francisco's Jerry Rice (30) and Joe Montana (18) split the 49ers vote, allowing John Elway to win the MVP with 36 votes. Something similar happened in 1993 when Emmitt Smith (26 votes) beat out San Francisco quarterback Steve Young (21 votes) and Rice (15).

While Elliott does lead all running backs in rushing DYAR, Prescott is right there at No. 2 in passing DVOA and QBR behind Ryan. If not for that three-game stretch where Prescott failed to throw for 200 yards and only had three touchdowns to two interceptions, the rookie quarterback might be leading everyone for the MVP right now. While the Cowboys likely would have had another fine running game with Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden in the backfield, Prescott has done an incredible job of taking over for an injured Tony Romo and sparing us a season of Mark Sanchez. How many quarterbacks could keep Romo on the bench the way that Prescott has? Hopefully he will get proper credit for this season, even if it doesn't come in the form of the MVP award.

Week 17 outlook: With the Cowboys locked into the top seed, there is no real reason to play Prescott and Elliott much on Sunday, if at all. That should not really deter from their candidacies, but it is hard to see how they can do anything more to bolster their cases.

Matt Ryan vs. Tom Brady

Well, Tom Brady is definitely a better 39-year-old quarterback than Peyton Manning was a year ago, but when someone says Brady should be the 2016 MVP, I feel like quoting Ricky Watters with a "for who, for what?" Personally, I do not feel that suspended players should be eligible for awards for that year, but they are, so let's look at the merits of Brady's season.

While Brady is having one of his better statistical seasons, the Patriots have not needed MVP quarterback play to clean up in a soft AFC this season. The fact that New England has the No. 1 scoring defense (15.7 points per game) and went 3-1 to start the season when Brady was suspended should all but invalidate his MVP case for 2016. Out of the 32 quarterbacks to win MVP since 1970, only Brett Favre (1996) and Terry Bradshaw (1978) had the No. 1 scoring defense on their side. Atlanta has lost five games by a combined 22 points this season, while the Patriots have allowed 33 fewer points than the next closest team in the NFL.

It's not like the Patriots were winning games by a score of 13-9 in Brady's absence. Jimmy Garoppolo had excellent statistics (league-leading DVOA- and QBR-level stuff) in the six quarters he played to start the season, and the team waxed Houston 27-0 with third-string rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett. The Bills shut New England out 16-0 in Week 4, but Brissett was forced to play that game injured, and Bill Belichick's mastery is not undefeated. Still, having the best coaching in the NFL does always factor into the question of just how valuable Brady really is in any given season. The Patriots still went 11-5 without him in 2008 with Matt Cassel, a quarterback who had not started a football game since high school. Many expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to get another shot at a head coach job in 2017.

As for comparing Brady's season to Ryan's, the four-game suspension should matter a lot. No player has won MVP after missing a quarter of the season like that. Joe Montana missed three games in 1989, but his season was also historically record-setting in passing efficiency with some high-profile comebacks against playoff teams like the Eagles and Rams. His competition for the award was also much weaker: Green Bay quarterback Don Majkowski on a non-playoff team and Minnesota defensive tackle Keith Millard. Brady has much stronger competition this year, and his season is not on the same historical level as what Montana did in 1989's less-prolific passing climate.

While Ryan has played the toughest schedule of defenses this season, New England's ranks 22nd out of 32 teams. The Patriots as a team have had the easiest schedule in football. Brady's season started in Week 5 with a Cleveland team that lost its first 14 games. He then played a Cincinnati team that has won only five games all year, a Pittsburgh team missing Ben Roethlisberger and Cameron Heyward, and a Buffalo team missing LeSean McCoy. In his prime-time moment against Seattle, the only team to top 25 points on the Patriots this year, Brady failed to lead a game-tying touchdown drive in the final minute, and did not throw a touchdown in the game. Since then, Brady has beaten up on the poor 49ers, Jets (twice), and Rams, and also shredded a proud Baltimore team before a meager 16-3 win in Denver. The Seattle game was the one where Brady really needed to deliver like an MVP, and he did not come through.

There are also the games in which Brady and Ryan faced the same competition (at Denver and the NFC West). Ryan inarguably got the better of those matchups.

The argument that Brady (10-1) has as many wins as Ryan (10-5) in four fewer starts is ridiculous on the basis of just how different the defenses have been for these teams this season. As mentioned above, only Seattle scored more than 25 points against the Patriots this season. Meanwhile, the Falcons have had nine games allowing more than 25 points with a respectable 5-4 record. Between the differences in schedules and defense, there is no way one could put the quarterback's starting records on equal ground this season. Ryan has had to do more for his team to win 10 games, and he put them in good position for several more victories.

(Ed. Note: There's also been a special teams difference here. The Patriots' strengths on special teams are kickoffs and punts, leading to better field position and less scoring by opponents. The Falcons' strength has been placekicking, which only tangentially affects the opposing offense by impacting the game script. -- Aaron Schatz)

Finally, there is the bad argument used against Ryan that Julio Jones is simply too good for Ryan alone to be MVP. Since when is Rob Gronkowski chopped liver? The stud tight end only played six games (basically five excluding the Jets game he left early) with Brady, but if you look at how each quarterback has fared this season when targeting their stud versus everyone else, Gronkowski clearly had a bigger impact on Brady's numbers than Jones did on Ryan's. Ryan was dominant in two games against bad competition without Jones available, and Atlanta still won all four games this season in which Jones was held to 35 receiving yards or less.

2016 Targets: An MVP Quarterback's Best Friend
Quarterback Target Passes DYAR DVOA
Tom Brady Rob Gronkowski 36 339 138.6%
Tom Brady Others 377 779 20.9%
Tom Brady All 413 1,118 30.9%
Matt Ryan Julio Jones 125 592 64.2%
Matt Ryan Others 418 1,135 30.8%
Matt Ryan All 543 1,727 38.3%

Gronkowski has accounted for just 8.7 percent of Brady's passes, but 30.3 percent of his DYAR. Jones has accounted for 23.0 percent of Ryan's passes and 34.3 percent of his DYAR. If having Jones is too much of a help to Ryan, then what do you call having even a little Gronkowski?

In fact, there is an argument that Jones should have made some more plays this season. Jones has been the main culprit on a few of Ryan's interceptions this season, tipping the ball to the defense like he did on a huge play in the 26-24 Seattle loss. Jones also had an ugly drop on third-and-12 against the Eagles after Ryan was trying to lead another go-ahead drive in that game, the only game in which Atlanta failed to score at least 23 points this season. It is ridiculous to hold Jones against Ryan for the MVP. Most quarterbacks who won the award had at least one stellar receiver that season.

Week 17 outlook: Brady has had some wild adventures down in Miami in his career. He is questionable with a thigh injury, so he likely won't throw five touchdowns to finish with a ratio of 30 touchdowns to two interceptions. But look out if he does, because the name recognition alone always impresses voters.

Matt Ryan vs. Aaron Rodgers

After the Packers slumped to a 4-6 start, Aaron Rodgers felt his team could run the table and make the playoffs at 10-6. Well, they are a win in Detroit on Sunday night away from doing exactly that, and Rodgers has returned to the usual high-efficiency level we are used to seeing from him. However, wouldn't giving him the MVP award based on a six-game hot streak be a major slap in the face to the players we weren't questioning early in the season about why they weren't playing up to their usual standards?

Through Week 11, Rodgers averaged just 6.73 yards per pass attempt, and looked lost for quarters at a time in several games. Since Week 12, his average is back up to a lofty 8.49, and he has 11 touchdowns to zero interceptions. This has been a great stretch, but it would just not be fair for Rodgers to take the award over Ryan when Ryan has been better since Week 1. When the two met in Week 8's showdown, Ryan led a great game-winning drive to beat the Packers 33-32.

The "run the table" comment will live on if Rodgers delivers on Sunday night, but this isn't like 2014 when he made his R-E-L-A-X statement after another slow start. That year, Rodgers had an extended stretch of dominance to win his second MVP award. One could argue that Tony Romo was the more consistent quarterback for all of 2014, but Rodgers still had him beat in volume. This season, Ryan has great volume too, and it is hard to ignore the difference between 9.26 yards per attempt and a 7.23 average for Rodgers. Rodgers also is not faring as well in DYAR and DVOA as he usually does.

Rodgers (36) has two more touchdown passes than Ryan (34) to lead the NFL, but he has also thrown 73 more passes against a middling schedule. Also, the Packers only have 11 rushing touchdowns, including four from Rodgers himself. Atlanta has 19 rushing touchdowns, and Ryan has a league-high 11 touchdown passes of 30-plus yards compared to only three for Rodgers (20 quarterbacks have more).

Week 17 outlook: Rodgers gets the league's worst pass defense in Detroit with a chance to win the NFC North in the final game of the 2016 regular season. If that's not a perfect national spotlight to literally steal an MVP, then I don't know what is. Adrian Peterson basically convinced enough voters with a Week 17 win over Green Bay in 2012 to take the award from Peyton Manning, so Rodgers could do the same, even if it's totally irrational.

Matt Ryan vs. Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford

Finally, there are the cases of Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford, who have led a combined 15 fourth-quarter comebacks to help annual doormats Oakland and Detroit dream about postseason glory again. The numbers in the first table above show that Carr and Stafford would each lower the bar for several standards that we have come to expect from a quarterback's MVP season. Their performances this season are closer to what we have seen from the likes of Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger rather than the other quarterbacks mentioned here.

Carr's comebacks have been impressive at times, but he did get the benefit of multiple, questionable fourth-down calls to extend games against the Saints and Buccaneers. Think Ryan would have liked a certain pass interference penalty on Seattle in Week 6? While Ryan threw nine points back to Eric Berry in a loss to the Chiefs, we know Carr struggled even more against that same defense. Still, Ryan did lead an 11-point comeback late before a most unusual pick-two, and his defense was unable to get the ball back. Not many of Carr's seven comebacks were done in the final minutes of the game, which is usually when Oakland's defense came through with the final stop to secure the wins.

As for Stafford, the record eight fourth-quarter comebacks are impressive, especially the three in the final 65 seconds, but seven of them were from a deficit of four points or less. Only one comeback, against the Rams, was from a 7-point deficit, and the eighth against Chicago was a SICO (self-imposed comeback opportunity) after Stafford threw a pick-six. Stafford had a chance to earn MVP honors with a strong finish against the Giants, Cowboys, and Packers, but so far he's 0-for-2.

Week 17 outlook (Carr): Well, it's not that unlikely that backup Matt McGloin stinks it up in Denver with the No. 2 seed on the line. Of course, Carr himself has struggled with Denver in his career, so we'll never know how that would have gone down on Sunday. But Carr really cost himself any real shot at an MVP after a total stinker against the Chiefs on a Thursday night in Week 14. Hopefully he'll have a healthy return in 2017 and can improve on this season, which just wasn't as MVP-worthy as some wanted to believe it to be.

Week 17 outlook (Stafford): A great game on that national stage against the Packers in what is essentially the biggest game of Stafford's career (it would clinch a home playoff game for the Detroit Lions, people) would help for sure. But you have to think Stafford is way too behind everyone at this point.

Conclusion

Yes, it is a lot of discussion over an individual award, but isn't it really much more than that? Just through this recap we sparked discussions on what really qualifies as the best offense this season, the best defenses, the best quarterback, the impact of coaching, teammates, health, officiating, luck and the schedule. Understanding the MVP race is largely understanding the 16 weeks we just devoured, and ignoring big chunks of that when players were slumping or suspended is just silly.

The player who was the most valuable from Week 1 through Week 17 should be the player who wins the award every time. Predictions of what may happen in the postseason should be irrelevant, because this is a regular-season award voted on before the playoffs begin. Ryan's 1-4 playoff record is irrelevant to what he has done this season, when he has played the best football he ever has in leading the Falcons to the doorstep of a first-round bye again.

Voters usually get the MVP right, because it usually is an easy choice. When it's a harder choice like 2016, will rational thinking win out, or will Ryan's season go down as one of the most underrated in NFL history?

Comments

76 comments, Last at 04 Jan 2017, 4:05pm

1 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

Scott Kacsmar says Tom Brady doesn't deserve the MVP award. Gee, where have I heard that before?

The chart showing performance against common opponents conveniently excludes all of Brady's best games. I agree Ryan should win the MVP, but it's much closer between the two than Kacsmar will concede.

Technical note: The per-drive stats should not be presented as individual numbers. If you filter out the play by New England's backups, the Patriots offense ranks as 2nd best in the league to the Falcons.

8 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

Most New England fans (at least on the major Patriots fan boards) view Ryan as either the better choice for MVP, or an equal choice, largely because he's played the four extra games while putting up a similarly impressive performance. We just really hate the idea that Brady should be DQ'd because Herr Roger and his bootlickers wanted to avoid having to admit they made a mistake.

34 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

nebulous criteria for award in geenrla. so what I do is look at definition of valuable and go from there. other people, Scitt Kacsmar, A. Schatz, Peter Kong, Gary Myers, Tim Layden and whoever votes (not sure if those five just mentioned all hagve official nfl mvp vote) may look at different thiongs to determine who to vote for.

For one quarter of season Soft Balls Brady provided no value to tema due to suspension- fair or not.

team oplayed .750 football without him.

signs were pointing to the Pates being good without Brady.

if team was .250 without Brday, then would say "Hey, look at hwo much better the bottom line was when Bardy returned."

55 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

What if Brady's threw for 8 TDs and 3 Ints in those 4 games, on a 16-game pace of 4760 passing yards, with 7.12 ANY/A (which would rank 8th best in the NFL this season)? What if the Patriots lost those 4 games by an average score of 24.2-28.0, while blowing 3 4th quarter leads?

If Brady did that, then his stats for his 5 losses would be the same as Ryan's stats for his 5 losses.

27 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

Ryan is pretty much the only candidate I could accept over Brady, largely because I'm hard-pressed to see any argument for any other candidate over Ryan. If he shits the bed this weekend and the Falcons lose the bye, that will hurt him badly. But I've been waiting all season for him to regress to his career levels, and he's yet to do so.

The argument for Brady is based on a few things
a) the suspension was b.s., and shouldn't be held against him
b) whether his replacements went 3-1 or 1-3 shouldn't be held against him. (And anyone who thinks Brady hasn't made a difference to the team or that any QB could win with the Pats is just, well, stupid. It's not like they have a monster defense or a killer running game - both are league average or slightly above. They win because of the passing game.)
c) his passing stats have been as good as most of the competition when he's been on the field
d) PFF rates him as the #1 QB this season
e) He's 10-1 as a starter, which outpaces the other QBs
f) His TD:INT ratio of 25:2 is much better than any other QB's

The problem is (c) - Brady has not been able to keep up his passing stats since Gronk went down. Basically the only stats where Brady > Ryan are W-L and the low INT count. But I'm sure people understand that voters just love basing their MVP selections on W-L.

32 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

The author's position that all suspensions (of the same length, I assume) are equal seems ludicrous to me, as if incredibly squishy evidence about possibly squishy footballs is on the same plane as domestic violence, DUI, and drug violations. And while the Ryan candidacy is well supported by the numbers shown, the extended belittling of everything Brady (even going back to 2008) struck me as overkill. One might conclude from the article that TB's 2016 is the most overrated QB season in the history of the NFL. (Hyperbole is intentional.)

46 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

Sure that argument is flawed, I agree. And I think Brady's suspension is garbage and a discredit to the NFL. However I also think suspending players for DUIs or domestic violence shouldn't be viewed in the same light as say, PEDs or other things which affect play on the field. The reality is though modern sports don't adjudicate based on justice but on mob rule. Take a look at what happened to Ray Rice. He was already very guilty of domestic violence. then a video came out and the sheeple revolted and all of a sudden the Ravens and NFL decided to take action. There are a ton of Ray Rices in the league who didn't get caught on video, or Tyreek Hill'd before they got drafted and they get to run around and play. The NFL should be about the integrity of the game, they pretend to be about running a moral organisation but in reality they're just a narcisisstic organisation that cares about image ahead of everything

19 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

Agree - it's a little silly when your primary statistic is supposed to be defense adjusted to only look at the defenses they've both played against. The statistic exists so you don't have to do exactly that.

Which makes me think that he's using only common games because looking at all games doesn't align with his bias as much - IE, he's cherry picking.

33 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

(FTR, I think Ryan should win it.)

Scott cherry-picking?? Hoodathunkit?

I've come to the conclusion that Kacsmar only has a job here because of Schatz's fear of being called a homer. Because it certainly can't be for the quality of his "analysis". His blatantly agenda-driven, cherry-picking, statistically dishonest stuff is a big steaming dump on everything FO is ostensibly about. They could do so, so much better and I wish they would.

48 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

I also think Ryan should win it.

I also agree with everything you said about Scott and his "analysis". If there is any statistics based average NFL viewer narrative guy there: it is Scott, chucking-it-deep is good quarterbacking. Coming back to win (who put you in that hole BTW) is good QBing. Not an outsider-hidden stuff analysis.

It is funny for someone who invented ALEX and QB comebacks -two statistics that have no correlation to team success and context, playcaller and teammate dependent, but are attributed entirely to QBs- to say "Really, this much debate over an individual award in the ultimate team game?"

25 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

"The chart showing performance against common opponents conveniently excludes all of Brady's best games. I agree Ryan should win the MVP, but it's much closer between the two than Kacsmar will concede."

Okay - so let's assume that FO thinks their DVOA stat is perfect, so we don't just compare 'common opponents'.

Ryan is #1 in DVOA at about 38%. Brady is #3, at about 31%. In other words - Kacsmar's argument still stands; Ryan has had a much more MVP-caliber season that Brady.

Honestly, hearing folks from the greater Boston region b!tch about 'Brady being disrespected' is almost as tiresome as hearing them b!tch to the nation about the fact that they're getting some winter snowfall. And I say that as someone who actually admires Brady as a player.

36 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

You're ignoring the fact that by other metrics like ANYPA+, QBR, Total Adjusted Yards per Play, and Pro Football Focus grade, Brady is either ahead of Ryan, or behind him by a small margin.

I agree with what PatsFan said, and I've long wondered why Kacsmar is still allowed to engage in his blatant cherry-picking. The theory that Aaron, who is a Patriots fan, wants Kacsmar as a counterweight is an interesting one I hadn't considered. However, I think it's probably just that Aaron doesn't care that much about what's in the articles, as long as he's generating clicks and page views.

43 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

I don't get the hate for those other stats.They are attempting to isolate qb play from the rest of the team. Its fine to point out the shortcomings in each, but they still point in a general direction that is meaningful. If you really feel they are worthless, it might help to detail which specific areas you think they are completely wrong in and why those areas completely overwrite the good things they do.

44 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

langsty may not be aware that QBR has been significantly revamped since last season, and I much prefer the new version to the old one. I don't think any one statistic, including DVOA, stands alone as the past. That was the point of what I said. When you look at a series of stats instead of just one, Ryan and Brady are close overall.

51 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

I honestly don't see the value of QBR. It's a function of several different base statistics, but the transformation from a simple statistic to a "comprehensive function" necessarily loses information, and I'm not sure it's worth it. I'd much rather see an array of simple stats for a QB: yards/attempt, completion percentage, interception rate, TD rate (though I think TD is itself an overrated stat for any individual player), sack rate, etc.

That QBR tries to incorporate "clutchness" inspires a facepalm.

57 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

QBR hasn't included the prior, laregely reviled, "clutchness" part since 2011. From ESPN :

As we know, amassing yards and points in a blowout does not tell you too much about a quarterback’s true skill. When the game is out of reach, which is measured by a team’s win probability at the start of the play, a quarterback receives less credit than on an otherwise “normal” play. Unlike the initial version of QBR released in 2011, plays are no longer up-weighted for “clutch situations,” but we felt it was important to keep the down-weighting feature.

The full description is here : http://www.espn.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/123701/how-is-total-qbr-calculated-we-explain-our-quarterback-rating

As pointed out above, not everyone may be aware that ESPN is actually trying to improve the stat and make it meaningful, and has changed it almost every year.

58 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

The clutchness issue has been raised below. But, the point of qbr was to come up with a summary statistic that incorporated charting level data into the aggregate statistics.

Some of these are pretty uncontroversial - like drops, pressures, tipped interceptions, etc. Others are more so, incorporating a correct discount for win probability and yac. But I like the attempt. I can't verify what methods they use so to that extent, we're relying on faith, but that's true of dvoa as well. Aaron never mentions exactly what statistical procedure hes using for dvoa.

76 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

You can make that argument but the chart showing performance against common opponents also leaves out Ryan's best games, against better rated pass defenses.

Every week we heard how Ryan was going against the top this or that defense in the league until he shredded them and they dropped several spots.

And if you get into filtering out the play of backups you should keep in mind that Matt didn't play the 4th quarter in games against the Rams or 49ers. In addition the offense took their foot off the gas in several games when up by multiple scores.

Let me add a few things that the author left out.
TD passes to 13 different receivers (NFL record)
At least 2 TD passes to 10 different receivers (NFL record)
He's also sitting on the NFL record for most consecutive games with at least 200 yards passing (54 games) but that's over multiple years. He broke Dan Fout's old record of 45 games mid season.
So it's not all because he has Julio Jones.

Brady has been the preeminent QB of this generation, but Ryan earned that award THIS year.

2 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

It's agreed that Ryan should be the MVP but I am puzzling as to why Rodgers comes up short against Prescott when Rodgers has significant more yards and TDs against a tougher schedule without having Elliott in the backfield. (By contrast, using one non-ESPN/FO index, New England had the 2nd-easiest schedule and Atlanta the 9th-easiest schedule.)

5 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

This is what's been missing from the MVP convo for weeks - a case by case analysis that actually looks at common opponents and head-to-head performance. It's the only rational approach to a tight race.

The bottom line about the MVP award is that sports writers want to protect themselves and the narratives they've spent years pimping - they want to look like authorities, and their authoritative consensus for a few seasons now has been that Ryan is an afterthought. There were even idiots saying in preseason that Ryan was the worst starting QB in the division, despite the fact that his worst season to date wasn't actually that much worse than Cam Newton's best. There was a stunning dearth of public advocacy for Ryan's case before the Falcons clinched a playoff appearance last week, because nobody wanted to look stupid if the Falcons missed the playoffs again. And then in the days since, suddenly everywhere you see that the Falcons need to be taken seriously, Ryan's candidacy is so strong, etc.

I'm not ragging on you Scott or trying to put you in that group - you've written a great piece that I consider the definitive overview of this race. The debate that's been driving this award would be a lot less heated if more writers had as scrupulous an approach as yours towards shaping the conversation.

23 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

Rodgers should have been DQed six weeks ago. If you want a QB for the award, it should be either Ryan or Brady. There are good arguments for either. But the argument against Brady (he missed four games! has been less productive overall than Ryan) also holds for Rodgers, but it's worse, since Rodgers was actually on the field, being unproductive, as opposed to being held out for a b.s. suspension.

60 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

he was unproductive in three of the 6 losses--- the other three were defensive disasters...

And what is the definition of value anyway? Packers without Rodgers probably go 5-11 or worse.. would Falcons be that bad/ I'd vote for Ryan too but it is a close call over Rodgers...

13 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

I am in Packer country and it was pointed out this week that no QB has won the MVP when their team has lost six (6) or more games. That would seemingly DQ Rodgers, Brees, Stafford, etc.
What some forgot is that during the four-game losing streak, it wasn't that Rodgers was so bad as much as the defense stunk to high heaven, giving up more points in those four games than any Packers team had done in such a stretch since the 1950's.

26 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

The case for Rodgers, like the case for Stafford before it, is based on being distracted by shiny things like "clutch performances" which hide the inferior prior play that got the team in jeopardy to start with.

No, I don't blame Rodgers personally for the fact that his team's offense stunk for half the season. But his team's offense stunk for half the season, and that should matter when it comes to MVP voting.

Would I listen to an argument that Rodgers is still the best QB in the NFL? Sure, and there's a good case to be made for that. But that's not what the MVP is for.

14 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

I think it's Ryan, too. He's been underrated because of the schedule. Even mediocre teams like Carolina and Tampa Bay are pretty tough, defensively. It's probably not one of Julio Jones's better seasons, and the receiver corps isn't stacked like it was when he had White and Gonzalez, but the offense has never been scarier. Really, in 2010 and 2012, they lost coin-flip playoff games to the conference champions, or he'd already be regarded as a top tier guy (I sorta feel that he's not even as well regarded as Rivers, another guy who just a little more postseason success would do wonders for, in terms of rep)

18 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

The Packers fan in me would love to see AR win a third MVP. But I agree that Ryan deserves it more and felt that way even before this analysis. I think it's either Ryan or Elliott because they've been the most dominant at their positions. Both have also raised the level of players around them. That Elliott is a rookie should be a non-factor. I'd still vote for Ryan if I had a vote.

28 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

I think Ryan has to be the MVP. I don't think a running back should be the MVP unless he is carrying the team and succeeding in spite of a bad QB and/or bad offensive line, and that's not Elliott's situation. I think Rodgers has had a much better second half of the season, but starting as poorly as he and the team did should disqualify him from MVP talk. I think when a player misses a quarter of the season for any reason, he would have to be so far ahead of everyone else in the league in his other 12 games to be MVP. And I think placing more emphasis on fluky comebacks than on statistics is not the way to pick an MVP, so Stafford's out.

29 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

Listening to Mike and Mike this morning, and they were talking MVP. One of the guests (either Mark Schlereth or Mike Golic Jr - not sure which) said he thinks Brady is far and away the clear MVP.

Trey Wingo sounded surprised, but I'm afraid that that might be the media's general feeling, as I think it should be Ryan.

31 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

I feel like people just don't realize how good this Atlanta offense has been as a whole, including obviously how great Ryan has been. The Falcons have scored 65(!) more points than any other team in the league.

That's kind of bonkers. Maybe its just that there are no real other great offenses, but when was the last time we had this type of disparity aside from when the #1 offense was historic ('07 Pats, '13 Broncos).

I'm hoping that if they beat the Saints and get the #2 seed (which I think that itself people don't realize is about to happen - Mainstream media still seems to think its Seattle at the #2 spot) he'll have the team success to do it.

QBs rarely ever win the award for a team that doesn't have a great record/seed. The only one I can think of that kind of fits is McNair's co-MVP in 2003 and Manning's in 2008, both were wild card teams but went 12-4.

If the Falcons get the #2 seed in a really tough NFC this year, given the schedule, given the ridiculous Y/A stats, given his offense has scored over 500 points.

35 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

Putting aside Scott's feelings or agendas, he raises an interesting question - do suspended players merit discussion. Forget Brady in this discussion for a moment. Let's say player X was the best player, but only played 75% of the season - would we consider that person the mvp?

I suppose if that player was waaay ahead of everyone despite the 75% total, then yeah, but I tend to agree that missing such a significant chunk of time should be used against that person. That's also true of injury as well. Football is only 16 games and 4 games is a huge chunk of the season IMO.

37 Re: Matt Ryan Is the 2016 NFL MVP

To be the most valuable the player should provide the most value. Someone who misses 25% of the season, whether because of suspension, injury, wanting to drive a cab around Boston, whatever, rightfully has a significant handicap vs. players who played all 16 since they'd have to produce 133.33% of the value of the best of the 16-gamers.