Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
“Fight amongst yourselves, boys. Y’all ain’t got nothin’ on Edward Fucking Asner and this SAG Life Achievement Award!”
(Note: This was intended to be posted earlier in the week but other things took precedence. MVP and Comeback Player of the Year aren’t playoff-based awards anyway, so just take the regular season into consideration when reading and not anything from this weekend, which is the same thing the voters do. Voting results traditionally start to leak out in the next week or so, and this is my take on two of the more contentious debates.)
Drew Brees is not the MVP. Alex Smith is not the Comeback Player of the Year. Can we just stop with these nonsensical time-killing pseudodebates?
Poor Aaron Rodgers. First, he was getting marginalized in MVP talks by the it’d-be-absurd-if-people-weren’t-serious argument that a guy who hasn’t taken a single snap all season is somehow the most valuable player of 2011. The Peyton Manning for MVP talks thankfully have dissipated, because we have since learned that shitty roster construction by the ousted Polians and a veteran team that’s more washed-up than we realized were just as culpable in the Colts’ downfall as #18’s absence. It’s foolish to argue you have any idea how the Colts would’ve performed with Manning in the huddle this season. We think they’d have been much better, they probably would’ve been much better, but we still have no idea. If you want to use the logic that Manning is MVP, then Barrett Ruud, formerly of the Bucs, should also get some votes considering his old team’s 6-win drop-off from 2010 to 2011 after his departure.
The other slight to Rodgers came after Matt Flynn’s 6-touchdown performance, which initiated questioning of Rodgers’s value over a replacement player (and I mean that expression literally, not in the stat geek way). Flynn, whom we all knew was serviceable but had no idea of his long-term NFL potential, put together one monster game in Week 17. Yet rather than applauding Ted Thompson for doing what Bill and Chris Polian didn’t do by having a backup in place who wouldn’t cause the team to completely self-destruct, the talking heads decided to question Rodgers’s sustained greatness. But facts are facts: over 15 games, Rodgers only threw 6 interceptions. It’s one thing to try and extrapolate Flynn’s numbers, but Rodgers actually went out and put up those numbers week after week.
After the Flynn game, the calls started to come for Brees to win MVP. But by that logic, we’re simply rewarding Sean Payton for playing Brees all 16 games. Had the Saints locked up the #2 seed, they probably would’ve played backup Chase Daniel the final week, and who knows what we would’ve seen from the third-year quarterback out of Missouri? He could’ve been uber-Flynn for all we know! But the point is we don’t know anything. Daniel was 4 of 5 in his brief action on the field this season, which is fine. Does that mean Brees’s insanely high completion percentage is more suspect because Daniel completed 80% of his passes? For crying out loud, not at all! Daniel has given us about one series to evaluate; Flynn’s given us one game. Neither stat-line provides enough data for us to then change our opinions about the guys those two sit behind on the depth chart. It’s not insane that with the hundreds of quarterbacks vying for jobs every year, a team can have one good one and one elite one. And the drop-off from elite to good might be greater than we realize.
As for Comeback Player of the Year, Smith isn’t coming back from a career nadir or serious injury; he’s gone from mediocre to average. An improvement, sure, but you don’t need LL Cool J to tell you to not call it a comeback. Proponents of Smith cite San Francisco’s 7-win improvement from last season—which is undeniably huge—but ignore the rather marginal improvements Smith personally contributed that were conducive to that improvement. All Smith did was play competently and effectively enough so his running game, defense, and special teams (David Akers and Andy Lee are the real MVPs of the team) could win them their games. Last year, Smith started 11 games, completing 59.6% of his passes for 2,370 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions; this year, Smith started all 16 games, completing 61.3% of his passes for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. His yards per attempt also went up from 6.93 to 7.07. Harbaugh made him better, but not by leaps and bounds, and certainly not enough for 7 additional freaking wins! The best argument Smith fans have is he went 13-3 with a truncated offseason to learn new coach Jim Harbaugh’s system. But the fact is, so did everyone on the roster! And the most important fact is that Smith wasn’t in the UFL in 2010 or rehabbing double knee surgeries; he only missed 5 games. This season, he played all 16, and did so as a slightly better version of the Alex Smith we thought we knew.
The closest we’ve seen to someone like Smith winning this award was when the AP named Drew Brees Comeback Player in 2004. Brees went from an 11-to-15 touchdown-interception ratio in 2003 to a 27-to-7 touchdown-interception ratio in 2004. Yet he started 11 games in 2003 and 15 in 2004, which should sound an alarm that this wasn’t a comeback. Also, it’s not like he started all 16 games without ever throwing a touchdown; all he did was make the leap from below average in his second season to above average in his third—the same thing all athletes worthy of starting do. Brees didn’t deserve the award then, Smith doesn’t deserve it now, and two wrongs don’t make a right. Like Smith, Drew Brees didn’t come back from anything that year; he just wasn’t very good, and then happened to play better the next season. If we want to make this the equivalent of the NBA’s Most Improved Award, fine, but name it that and change the criteria.
Meanwhile, Matt Stafford may have won three fewer games than Smith, but he also had to come back from surgery on his throwing shoulder. After playing in only 13 games the past two seasons, Stafford started all 16 in 2011, throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns; he also led the laughingstock Lions to their first playoff berth since the Clinton administration.
I’m not a voter (they don’t give upstart blogs a say, imagine that?) but If I were, I’d only be able to go by what I actually saw with my own eyes on the field in the 2011 regular season; not hypotheticals, not specious comparisons, not dubious parallels, and not arcane interpretations of what the award signifies. Aaron Rodgers is the MVP. Matt Stafford is Comeback Player of the Year. And Ryan Braun should keep his MVP regardless of what the drug test shows! (Wait, wrong argument.)