By: Edward Egros

MVP

Who is the NFL MVP?

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This year's NFL MVP race is uniquely interesting. Many believe New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady deserves this honor, despite missing four games for a controversial deflated football scandal from a few years ago. No matter your opinion as to if Brady deserved to be suspended, it is worth noting, few MVPs have missed games during the regular-season. Players like Emmitt Smith and Aaron Rodgers missed a game or two, but four games is a full quarter of the season and requires a number of assumptions as to if Brady would have played as well as anyone during the stretch he missed.

Before going over these assumptions, let's first look at the history of the award and who else are viable candidates this season. Since the Associated Press began handing out MVP honors, 18 of the recipients were running backs, 40 were quarterbacks and 3 played other positions. The most accomplished running back this season was Ezekiel Elliott. Not only does his 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns outshine other running backs this year, they outdo others who were proclaimed MVP. Because no one at any other position seemed to stand out, Zeke is the only "non quarterback" worth mentioning.

As for the gunslingers, if you go by passer rating, QBR (
quarterback rating), yards per pass attempt (as well as net yards and adjusted net yards per pass attempt), and passing touchdown percentage, the winner is Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan. New Orleans Saints' QB Drew Brees does have an edge over Ryan in terms of total passing yards and completed passes, but efficiency metrics almost always list Ryan higher than Brees. Brees also did not "lead" his team to the playoffs, something nearly every MVP has done in the past. But this exercise is about Tom Brady and if his numbers would have been superior to Ryan's had he played the entire season.

The simplest way to answer this question is to take proportions of Brady's stats and add them to what he did accomplish and see how they measure up:


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By these proportions, Ryan would've still had more passing yards and touchdowns than Brady, though the Patriot would've still had fewer interceptions. However, this exercise assumes opponents are of equal quality, which we know is not true. What we should do is examine the opponents Brady did not play and project what his numbers would have been in those games. New England's first four opponents were Arizona, Miami, Houston and Buffalo. Their combined records are 33-30-1 (Atlanta's first four opponents were Tampa Bay, Oakland, New Orleans and Carolina, with a combined record of 34-30, just one tie better). Brady missed out on the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 15th best passing defenses in the NFL, using passing yards defended as the barometer. Averaging their defensive numbers, that group allowed 219.5 yards and 1.4 touchdowns. To put those numbers in perspective, for the dozen opponents Brady did face, that group allowed 233.4 yards and 1.6 touchdowns.

In other words, the foursome Tom Brady did not play featured significantly better passing defenses than the dozen he did go up against. Given this logic, it is safe to lower Brady's numbers even more than what was projected, which was worse than Matt Ryan's.

Two more things to consider when comparing these two quarterbacks. First,
Pro Football Reference says the Falcons' strength of schedule was significantly tougher than the Patriots' (18th vs 32nd, respectively). It also has its own way of determining Approximate Value of each player as an attempt to show how important they were to a team's overall success. Without getting into the specifics, Ryan led the NFL with 21, Brady was 13, and he would have had to achieve a lot to make up that ground in the four games he missed.

Again, no matter if you believed Tom Brady was unjustly punished for Deflategate, it is unlikely he would have posted better statistics than Matt Ryan. Even though Ezekiel Elliott did have a stellar rookie campaign, his numbers were not historic for any running back. It is Matt Ryan who deserves to be this year's Most Valuable Player.