No, Tom Brady Isn't the NFL's MVP
Googling â€œTom Brady MVPâ€ gives you two different types of articles. The first, quite obviously, are columns that argue for Brady winning the NFLâ€™s Most Valuable Player Award. The others, understandably, mention Brady as a top candidate, but Peyton Manning as the clear favorite.
The reasons are pretty clear and straightforward. Bradyâ€™s led his team to one of the best records in their conference, doing so without his top Pro Bowl tight end for the majority of the season, without a pass-catching running back heâ€™s used to playing with, and with rookie wide receivers â€“ a lot of them.
Forget the other side of the ball, or the fact that quarterback â€œwinsâ€ are a flawed statistic. If not for Manning, Brady, to a lot of folks, is this yearâ€™s NFL MVP.
I couldnâ€™t disagree more.
I approached an article similar to this one â€“ instead of Brady it was Russell Wilson â€“ by looking at other top performers at the quarterback position, and comparing them to the play of the subject, Russell Wilson.
The conclusion wasnâ€™t so much â€œRussell Wilson is having an overrated season.â€ It was more â€œRussell Wilson is having a fantastic season, but if weâ€™re really looking at players who are contributing the most points to their teamâ€™s output, heâ€™s not the MVP.â€
This time around, Iâ€™m going to use just one other quarterbackâ€™s 2013 season to make the argument against Brady being a top MVP candidate. And this passer isnâ€™t Peyton Manning, and itâ€™s not even Drew Brees.
This quarterback is Philip Rivers.
Yes, Philip Rivers â€“ the leader of an average 7-7 Chargersâ€™ squad, and one who, quite frankly, isnâ€™t getting talked about nearly enough this season. When you bring up the NFL's MVP, it's never the Chargers' quarterback - it's mostly Manning with a little bit of Tom Brady and Russell Wilson sprinkled in. That's why I figured, if I could show you that Philip Rivers is actually performing at a higher level than Tom Brady this season, perhaps the 'Brady for MVP' talk will slowly fade away. At least for any of numberFire's readers.
Rivers vs. Brady, By the Numbers
As any returning reader knows, we use a metric at numberFire thatâ€™s referred to as â€œNet Expected Points" (NEP). Essentially, NEP looks at how many real points a player is adding for his team based on specific game situations and down and distances. For more on the statistic, visit our glossary.
If we forget about the Week 15 games that just occurred â€“ one where Philip Rivers won the game and one where Tom Brady lost (because, you know, thatâ€™s how we judge an MVP nowadays) â€“ you can see that Rivers is far outperforming Tom Brady within our passing metrics this season:
|Player||Passing NEP||Passing NEP/P||Success Rate|
The numbers above tell us that Philip Rivers has played nearly 140 points above expectation through Week 14 this season, while Bradyâ€™s sitting at about 62. On a per drop back basis, Rivers is adding 0.29 points to his teamâ€™s total output, while Bradyâ€™s adding 0.11. And from a Success Rate standpoint â€“ a metric that looks at the percentage of drop backs that result in a positive Net Expected Points play â€“ Philip Rivers has over 8 percentage points on the Patriotsâ€™ passer.
Philip Rivers, even if Tom Brady had a career game against Miami yesterday, is far outperforming Tom Brady, statistically, this year.
In fact, Riversâ€™ 139.54 Passing NEP is third-best in the league (behind only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees), while Bradyâ€™s is 9th-best. Riversâ€™ Success Rate among relevant passers is second behind only Peyton, while Bradyâ€™s sits as the 12th-best one.
From a team perspective, which adjusts for strength of schedule, San Diego has played 140.86 points above expectation this season offensively through the air (number similar to Riversâ€™ output due to an average strength of schedule). Conversely, New Englandâ€™s 71.28 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points total ranks number eight, similar to the individual quarterback rankings. Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, San Diego, New Orleans and Denver are all more efficient throwing the ball.
On a per pass basis, those rankings are the same.
In every advanced metric imaginable, Philip Rivers has been better than Tom Brady. And itâ€™s not even by a little â€“ Philip Rivers has helped add over 10 more touchdowns (more than 70 expected points) for the Chargers this year compared to Brady and his Pats.
But the argument for Brady isnâ€™t really numbers based. Itâ€™s â€œwinning without a supporting cast" based.
No Support In New Englandâ€™s Offense?
The discussion surrounding Brady usually starts with the carousel of offensive personnel, and ends with the fact that Brady has still managed to perform well without his top targets.
My argument starts with the carousel of offensive personnel, and ends with the fact that Tom Brady wasnâ€™t playing top-level football before Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski returned to the lineup.
Letâ€™s look at Bradyâ€™s season in three chunks: Pre-Gronk, With Gronk, and With Gronk & Vereen:
|Games||Passing NEP/Game||Passing NEP Rank||Success Rate|
From left to right in the columns above, youâ€™ve got the â€œchunkâ€, followed by the number of games played and Passing NEP per game in that chunk. Then, youâ€™ll find the Passing NEP Rank, as well as the Success Rate. Those two columns â€“ ranking and Success Rate â€“ are cumulative ones to show Bradyâ€™s season progression.
The biggest takeaway here, for me at least, is the impact that Shane Vereen has had on Tom Bradyâ€™s numbers. Bradyâ€™s playing 10.98 points above expectation per game with Vereen in the lineup, and thatâ€™s certainly been evident on the stat sheet. I wrote about this in depth before Vereen returned, too.
Whatâ€™s interesting about the above table is that, if we were to extrapolate Bradyâ€™s play with his weapons across 13 games (remember, weâ€™re not dealing with Week 15 data), youâ€™d get a Passing NEP total of 142.74. If you recall from above, Philip Riversâ€™ has a Passing NEP of about 140 on the season. In other words, Bradyâ€™s elite play this season â€“ his elite play chunk â€“ is nearly identical to what Philip Rivers has done all season long with his group of "nobodies."
But the weapons â€“ right. Bradyâ€™s made Julian Edelman a reception king, and is playing with no real backup tight end and a handful of rookie receivers. His running game, despite it being historically solid, has dropped to the fifth-worst in the NFL when adjusted for strength of schedule on a per run basis, too.
That, people say, is why Tom Brady struggled at the beginning of the season.
Wait a second though. What does Philip Rivers have?
You could count Keenan Allen as being a top target, but he, like many of Bradyâ€™s weapons, is still fresh and raw as a rookie. Heâ€™s better than the Pats wideouts, sure, but heâ€™s still a first-year player.
And outside of Allen, youâ€™ve got a wide receiver in Eddie Royal who hasnâ€™t been relevant since Randy Moss was a Patriot, and another pass-catcher in Vincent Brown who is one of the least-physically gifted ones in the league.
â€Antonio Gates though!â€ says someone who hates this article. Sure, I can give you Gates. Heâ€™s great. But heâ€™s also 33, and isnâ€™t nearly the same tight end he was a few years ago. In truth, he's been a mediocre one compared to other highly-targeted players at his position, performing about as effective as Dallas Clark and Zach Miller according to our metrics.
But no, letâ€™s complain about Bradyâ€™s lack of receiver talent.
And the crazy part about all of this is that Iâ€™m not even mentioning the offensive line play, where ProFootballFocus.com ranks New England as having the 15th-best in terms of pass blocking, as San Diego sits at 25.
Forget the records of New England and San Diego, just for a second. Now ask yourself, â€œDoes Tom Bradyâ€™s lack of weapons compared to Philip Rivers make up for his huge disparity in quarterback effectiveness this year?â€
If you answered yes, then you must have an irrational love for Number 12.
Why Are Their Records Different?
Winning matters to people, and being a winning quarterback certainly matters to MVP voters.
And Tom Brady has more wins than Philip Rivers this season. Since Iâ€™ve been dealing with data prior to Week 15, Tom Bradyâ€™s team has won four more games than Philip Riversâ€™ (though that's just three, in reality, right now). Thatâ€™s substantial.
This type of analysis is typically my biggest complaint about an MVP award. We all know that football is the ultimate team game, so why do we put such an emphasis on player (especially quarterback) wins?
The short answer is that, in order to be viewed as valuable, your team has to win. And San Diego, despite Philip Riversâ€™ play, is not a winning team (remember, Iâ€™m referring to before their Week 15 win.)
I just find it interesting that folks are making the excuse, â€œBut the season isnâ€™t over yet â€“ Tom Brady can come back and win this [MVP] thing.â€ Meanwhile, those same people are writing Philip Riversâ€™ Chargers completely off. What gives?
No, the Chargers chances of making the playoffs arenâ€™t high. But itâ€™s not because of Philip Rivers.
The defensive side of the ball is drastically different for these two quarterbacks, and if not for this inequality, perhaps weâ€™d be singing a different MVP tune.
According to the numbers, entering Week 15, New England had the 13th-best defense in the NFL, scoring an Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points total of 10.92. San Diego, on the other hand, ranked 31st, scoring 111.25 under that same metric.
What do these numbers tell us? Well, essentially, New England should have allowed 11 fewer points than they have this year. Thatâ€™s a fairly insignificant number when you consider thatâ€™s across the 13 games analyzed; less than one point per game.
The Chargers have given up 111.25 more points than they should have this season. 111 points, you guys. Divide that by 13, and youâ€™re talking 8.54 points per game.
Do you know how many of the Chargers seven losses were by 8 or less points? Six of them. Every single loss outside of their Week 5 game against Oakland saw the opposing team winning by 1-8 points.
Throw the Chargers defense in New England and see what you get. Hereâ€™s your answer: A Patriots team thatâ€™s not in the same position as they are today. Not even close.
Tom Brady Doesnâ€™t Deserve the MVP.
Yes, I will firmly say and conclude that Philip Rivers is having the far superior season compared to Brady. And while I donâ€™t think Rivers deserves to win MVP (Peyton Manning should, clearly), I think the comparison of Rivers to Brady should shed light as to why we shouldnâ€™t be putting Brady in the same conversation as a player like Peyton. Or, in my opinion, even a player like Drew Brees.
Bradyâ€™s had an unbelievable career and is one of the best passers of all time. This year, though? This year heâ€™s in a group with great passers â€“ passers who will make Pro Bowls, and, perhaps, win a Super Bowl.
Heâ€™s just not the MVP.