Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Here is a weekly formula for traditional NFL content: one dash of an offense playing better than expected, a tablespoon of that team having an unexpectedly good record, and for the pièce de résistance, a close win, hopefully punctuated by a comeback. Mix those ingredients together and create a column about how someone is a “serious” MVP candidate. We’ve had this piece written about Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr in successive weeks, and for all we know, Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins could be next.
That’s all well and good, but it’s hard to figure a way that Tom Brady isn’t the actual most valuable player in the NFL at this point. Voters may hold his suspension against him—not unlike Brady is surely holding it against the wider world—and his counting stats won’t be dramatically record-breaking. To which I’d respond: who gives a shit?
It’s a long season, and injuries can strike at any time, but in the four weeks since Brady has returned, Football Outsiders has Brady accumulating 580 DYAR. To put one MVP case in context: that’s more DYAR than Matthew Stafford has in eight games. The changes to the New England offense—bringing in Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan, plus finding a way to get offensive line coach Dante Scarnechhia to unretire—have made this unit ridiculous. There’s no real defensive counterpunch for a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Bennett in a two-tight end set. They’re too big to play with modern nickel and dime packages, and they’re too quick to play them with base formations.
Brady has exploited this to great effect. He’s been so spoiled for choice that most of his bad dropbacks this year have involved him waiting too long in the pocket. He took three sacks on third down this Sunday against the Bills. And, uh, went 8-for-8 for 149 yards when he wasn’t sacked. When the one weakness you can find on someone’s resume is that they’re taking two sacks a game—that’s a pretty good sign they’ve got a great resume.
And look at where the Patriots are right now. Their star quarterback was suspended four games, and they’re still 7-1. They’re basically the only good team left in the AFC when you take into account that the Raiders have a +12 point differential and the Broncos start Trevor Siemian. Things have only shifted further in that direction since Brady has been healthy. The Pats have dismantled every team they’ve played since Brady has returned, winning by 10+ points in each game and returning the Bills to the wasteland of AFC East mediocrity.
We often see people distort the argument for Most Valuable Player into a convoluted thing. Let’s keep it simple: the Patriots are on fire right now. They’re the best team in the NFL, and Brady is the best player. Injuries and an expected regression may change that by Week 17, but at this point it seems highly unlikely those two things won’t still be true when the season ends.
And boy, it really was predictable, wasn’t it?