There are 50 of us who vote for the Associated Press’ NFL Most Valuable Player award. I can’t speak for the other 49, but, sheesh, this is a tough one.
Usually, the ballots have been decided and we’re waiting to hit send. As for this year, I know of at least one vote that needs Week 17. In fact, it might even come down to the last pass in the final seconds of the last regular-season game on Sunday night.
And knowing Matthew Stafford’s grit, vision, fast-twitch brain, sublime arm strength and ability to will his team from defeat to victory time after time, the Lions quarterback could capture at least that one vote at Ford Field with a ninth fourth-quarter comeback to beat the surging Packers and win the NFC North.
Sure, there are players with better statistics. Stafford’s numbers didn’t get him into the Pro Bowl. But in the true definition of the award, it will be hard not to strongly consider Stafford if he leads the Lions to a 10-6 record and carries them past the Vikings and Packers to win Detroit’s first division title since 1993.
The Lions have no running game, no third-down defense and no Calvin Johnson. They rank 30th in rushing, 29th in third-down defense and 29th in yards allowed per play. They’re 18th in sacks allowed per pass play and 26th in average yards per carry.
But they have Stafford. His eight comebacks broke the NFL record previously held by Peyton and his little brother.
Twice in three weeks, Stafford torpedoed the Vikings’ season. The Vikings made critical errors, but someone had to pounce in MVP fashion.
Stafford did that with 23 seconds left, no timeouts and the ball on his 25-yard-line at U.S. Bank Stadium. Two weeks later, Stafford trailed with his back to the goal line late in the game. He escaped. The Vikings lost.
And those were just two instances. Stafford’s five game-winning touchdown passes in the final 30 seconds are the most in a season since the merger in 1970.
But his only chance at getting MVP votes is to lead the Lions past the Packers on Sunday night in a winner-take-all battle for the division. At least one vote might hang in the balance to see what Stafford does in the final quarter of the 2016 regular season.
Other candidates in a tight race are …
Matt Ryan, Falcons QB: According to NFL.com, he’s on pace to become the first player in NFL history to average more than 300 yards with a passer rating of 115 or higher. His 9.26 yards per attempt is the highest ever among players with at least 400 attempts.
Tom Brady, Patriots QB, and Le’Veon Bell, Steelers RB: Brady is Brady: 10-1 and outscoring the opposition by 150 points. Bell is the best all-around back with some of the sweetest footwork the league has ever seen. He’s averaging 181.8 yards from scrimmage during Pittsburgh’s six-game win streak. But it’s hard to vote for Brady or Bell since they started the year serving suspensions of four and three games, respectively.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB: Those of us who don’t overreact back and forth, up and down, and all around 17 times every fall figured Rodgers would be OK. He’s more than OK when it matters most. He, too, would have to win Sunday to even be considered.
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys RB: He needs 178 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record. He’s 363 yards ahead of the league’s No. 2 rusher. He’s outstanding and amazingly polished in all facets needed to play the position.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys QB: The NFC’s best team has a rookie fourth-rounder with 13 wins, a 68.1 completion percentage, a 23-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 105.6 passer rating. He made the impossible possible. But, looking at these two Dallas candidates, shouldn’t we vote for the Cowboys offensive line? Can we?
Derek Carr, Raiders QB: An outstanding year for an organization that was lifeless since 2002. But how much will the two losses against Kansas City followed by last week’s season-ending broken leg hurt him? The Raiders have 12 wins but don’t have the AFC West locked up in part because Carr played his worst game of the year with control of the division up for grabs in Kansas City.
David Johnson, Cardinals RB: Yeah, he has 20 touchdowns and has topped 100 yards from scrimmage in all 15 games. But the Cardinals are 6-8-1. Six wins does not a most valuable player make.