Friday, December 13, 2013

Most Valuable Player? Brady has closed gap on Manning

Brady for Most Valuable Player?  Just like the Patriots, never count him out
In the National Football League, things have settled in.

Excitement has given way to trepidation, what once was invincible is now vulnerable and what once was mediocre is - well - still mediocre, but with renewed hope.

The only consistent entity is the New England Patriots, but no one seems to know how.

The team with the second most cap dollars sitting on the shelf in the form of season ending injuries and, by subtraction, the most rookies seeing playing time in the league, the Patriots suddenly find themselves in control of the American Football Conference by virtue of the once seemingly invincible coming back to earth.

But it is not time for celebration, rather, it is time for focus and execution - or the Patriots will end up scrambling for playoff position like everyone else.

There are three games left in the season for New England, and while all are games in which the Patriots have the capability of winning, they are also games which could easily be lost - which is exactly how their 2013 season has been defined thus far - their 10-3 record, with a dropped ball here and a misplayed onside kick there could just as easily be 3-10...or 13-0 for that matter.

Five different Patriot starters are on the season-ending Injured Reserved list and seven others have missed games as recently as last Sunday's improbably victory over the Cleveland Browns.  Their running game is footnote, the offensive line resembles a turnstile and their receiving corps is a walking triage unit...

...the interior defensive line features rookies and no-name free agents, while the back end is hit or miss, depending on how athletic the opposition's tight end is.

So, how the hell are they doing it?

The offense begins and ends with quarterback Tom Brady, who has played his way into the league MVP discussion with a second half of the season in which he has been as clutch as clutch can be.  The three consecutive come-from-behind wins are what is getting all of the headlines, but in the second half of this season, Brady is putting up better numbers than anyone else in the NFL - including Peyton Manning.

In fact, taking into account that when considering the MVP the statistical edge always seems to be with the winner, Brady's numbers blow Manning's out of the building in the second half of the season.

Manning had a clear edge in every statistic and intangible that can be conjured to determine a Most Valuable Player in the first half of the season, and still carries an edge going into the final three regular season games - two for Manning, as his Broncos were stunned by San Diego on Thursday night dropping them to 11-3 after starting the season 6-0.

Submitted got your approval: Starting in week 9 - and not counting Thursday night's loss - Peyton Manning is a decent 129 of 206 for a completion percentage of 63%, accounting for 1,603 yards (321 yards per game) with 15 touchdowns and three picks - not bad, right?

More realistic than the astronomical 71% completion percentage, 30 touchdowns and 388 yards per game that he posted in the first half, and certainly ions above Brady's 55%, nine touchdowns and 199 yards per game while he struggled breaking in rookie receivers.

But since the midway point of the season, Brady's numbers have rivaled Manning's first half totals, completing 147 of 216 attempts - a 68% clip - throwing for 372 yards per game, 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions with three games to go.

Many will argue that Brady getting back Rob Gronkowski in week seven can account for some of that positive increase, but it also must be remembered that Brady was without three of his primary weapons in the first half of the season - Gronkowski, third down back Shane Vereen until week 11 and Danny Amendola who suffered a groin injury and missed several games and was limited in all of the others - while Manning was fortunate enough to have all of his weapons...

...and Manning still has all of those weapons - sans slot receiver Wes Welker - and his numbers are still regressing as matter of the playing field becoming leveled as teams have come to understand how the Broncos have been operating on offense.

Even with Gronkowski now gone, Brady still has his other weapons plus a capable running game, and with games remaining with the floundering Baltimore Ravens sandwiched between division rivals Miami (7-6) this Sunday and Buffalo (4-9), the best record in the Conference - along with a first round playoff bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs - is his for the taking.

It won't be easy, it seldom is with Baltimore and never is in division games, but Brady and the Patriots know that if they stumble along the way, the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and Denver will be right behind them and more than happy to take that top seed away from them.

Yes, there are other candidates for the MVP besides Manning and Brady, and even though Manning is still the odds-on favorite to take the hardware home, names like Seattle's Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Calvin Johnson and Cam Newton are mentioned in the same sentence - and where the Most Valuable Player award is supposed to go to the guy who is most responsible for the success of a candidate's team, any would be deserving.

But this race is between Manning and Brady, and if the Patriots hold on and secure the top seed in the conference for the third time in four years, there can be only one choice - and that's the player who has led five fourth quarter comebacks, and has done so despite all of the injuries, turnover and attrition...

...which is also the reason why coach Bill Belichick should win Coach of the Year honors - but the only shot either one has at the awards is by winning out and taking the top AFC seed.

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