By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady has not been able to maintain his blistering start to the season, and the 40-year-old was not completely excellent on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Nevertheless, he’s still probably the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Or, to put it more accurately, he may be the Last Man Standing. Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending injury last week. Antonio Brown appears to be done, too. Russell Wilson, a longshot to win the award, turned in a dreadful performance on Sunday at home in a 42-7 loss. The other QBs of top teams — in descending order of worthiness from Drew Brees, Jared Goff, Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Blake Bortles and Case Keenum — don’t have the statistics to hang with Brady.
And the Patriots are in position to finish the year as the best team in the AFC — possibly the NFL — with Brady turning in an excellent season at quarterback. The award is likely his.
After Sunday’s performance (22-for-35, 298 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), Brady remains first in the NFL in passing yards, first in yards per attempt, third in touchdowns, and third in passer rating. Though another interception Sunday upped his total to seven on the season, his 4-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio is still better than Brees’ 3-to-1, Goff’s 3.43-to-1, Wilson’s 2.72-to-1, or Roethlisberger’s 1.86-to-1. Among the league’s active top QBs this year, only Alex Smith’s 5-to-1 ratio is better.
But all of that statistical analysis may be overkill. What the award often comes down to is the quarterback of the best team in the NFL, provided that quarterback has put up excellent numbers. Brady has done that.
He’ll finish the season with 12 or, more likely, 13 victories. He’ll rank in the top three of every statistical category, and he’ll have completed one of the finest seasons of his Hall of Fame career.
Brady hasn’t won the award since 2010, when he was the first-ever unanimous selection. He may not be the runaway winner this year like he was then, but a third MVP award will put him in rare company. Only Peyton Manning, Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Brett Favre have won the award three or more times.
Of course, as has been well-publicized in the past year, a quarterback winning the MVP has often spelled doom for his team. An NFL MVP quarterback has not won the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner in 1999. Since then, Warner (2001), Rich Gannon (2002), Brady (2007), Manning (2009, 2013), Cam Newton (2015) and Matt Ryan (2016) all went on to lose in the Super Bowl. Other QB MVP wins in that span — Manning and Steve McNair in 2003, Manning in 2004 and 2008, Brady in 2010, Aaron Rodgers in 2011 and 2014 — all had their seasons end before reaching the Super Bowl.
In that sense, the award has proven to be somewhat of a curse for quarterbacks in the new century. But based on what we’ve seen out of Brady at his advanced age, if anyone can break the streak, Brady would be the leading candidate.