Given to only the NFL's elite players, the league's MVP award is the most prestigious award a player can receive. The mere presence of the award brought up in conversation typically inspires heated debates, emotional arguments, and sensationalist pleas.
It's not hard to understand why the mainstream media is prematurely hailing Cam Newton as the award's future recipient - as he is the leader of an undefeated Panthers team. However, within this argument, lies a double standard. Whenever Russell Wilson's name is brought up among QB win stats, any records set by Russell are immediately dismissed because "QB wins aren't a stat". You know exactly what I'm talking about. You've heard this before.
Fair enough. I'm on board with that logic. However, then when comparing quarterbacks in any conversation - it would be intellectually dishonest to attribute wins to any other quarterback as a stat (and solely exclude Russell Wilson - just because he's Russell Wilson). Thus, when comparing Russell Wilson to Cam Newton in the context of the MVP award, an undefeated record cannot be applied to Newton's record for his MVP bid. Instead, we must directly compare their contributions to their team while measuring their overall production and efficiency.
What I love about the MVP award is that it can be interpreted in so many different ways. Is it the most productive player in the NFL? Is it the most valuable player relative to his team? Is it the most productive player - while maintaining a high level of efficiency? WHAT IS THE MVP AWARD?! Views vary and that's okay. I believe you can view the award in many ways - and even in a combination of these ways. For me personally, I believe it's a combination of all of them. A combination of stats, efficiency, value relative to the team, and their impact as a leader of their team.
Since many have already hailed Cam as the automatic MVP, we're going to exclusively compare his stats and relative context to Russell Wilson's. I actually believe that better arguments can be made for why Tom Brady and for Carson Palmer should receive the award over Cam. However, we're just going to focus on Russell and Cam for now.
The one area that Cam does absolutely lead Russell Wilson in is touchdowns. Cam has a total of 35 touchdowns on the season (28 passing and 7 rushing) and Russell has a total of 27 touchdowns (26 passing and 1 rushing). This should be duly noted when comparing the two. However, beyond this, Russell leads Cam in nearly every statistical category. One stat alone is insufficient to compare the two - as context and additional, contributing stats are essential. All year, Cam has had an elite defense, with a very good running game, and a very decent offensive line. Wilson, on the other hand, has had an elite defense (for the most part), with a good running game (despite the inconsistency at the position), and a below average offensive line. Here are four stats to consider when considering the two for the MVP award.
Stat #1: Russell Wilson is the highest rated passer in the league with a rating of 110.0. Cam sits at #9 with a rating of 96.6
The passer rating formula consists of four numbers: completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns per attempt, and interceptions per attempt. In 2011, Sports Illustrated wrote a great article defending the passer rating, stating:
"Put most simply, you cannot be a smart football analyst and dismiss passer rating. In fact, it's impossible to look at the incredible correlation to victory of passer rating and then dismiss it. You might as well dismiss the score of a game when determining a winner."
However, passer rating should not be used exclusively to evaluate a quarterback. It is not sufficient, as there are very clear limitations to this statistic. Passer rating does not account for the talent around a quarterback - mainly the offensive line and the quality of his receivers. It also does not account for rushing yards, sacks, and fumbles. It focuses exclusively on passers. Once again - passer rating is helpful and indicative of a quarterback's contributions to a team - as long as it is considered with the context around him and additional stats.
Stat #2: Russell Wilson currently averages 8.57 yards per pass attempt (#3 overall). Cam, sitting at #6, averages nearly a full yard less at 7.75 YPA.
Personally, YPA is one of my favorite stats to evaluate quarterbacks with. YPA reveals the amount to which a quarterback is responsible for with his completions. YPA gives analysts an insight into whether quarterbacks are making more difficult throws or simply doing check-down passes every play. Russell is doing a lot to help his team - and YPA reflects that.
Stat #3: Among qualified quarterbacks, Russell Wilson has the 8th lowest interception rate at 1.82%. Cam sits at #21, with an interception rate of 2.53%.
This stat is pretty self-explanatory. Simply put, Russell Wilson has done a better job (on average) of protecting the ball than Cam Newton.
Stat #4: According to Football Outsiders, Russell Wilson is their 5th ranked QB in DYAR. Cam Newton sits at #16.
DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards above Replacement) is a complete statistical tool to analyze quarterbacks. DYAR is defined as the following: "the value of the quarterback's performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage." DYAR takes into account situational awareness and attempts to reveal how much lost offensive production would occur if the player was removed and replaced with an average, replacement level player. To read more into this stat, read this. I highly encourage you to read more into DYAR and DVOA on the Football Outsiders' website - as they do a really great job analyzing efficiency and player contributions to teams.
We've looked at the numbers. We've looked at the context. The easy solution is to fall into line with the media's narrative of an already won MVP award just being delayed in distribution to the already-now-winner. However, after a closer look, maybe Cam doesn't deserve the MVP award. This is not a knock on Cam - as he's played phenomenal all season. But Russell has played better than Cam - and that's a statistical fact. Here's a graphic of notable stats that I've been keeping among the MVP candidates:
Here's something I've been keeping track of. Don't really understand why people are hailing Cam as the already-MVP. pic.twitter.com/1DFVsJb77q— Evan Hill (@evan_hill1) December 16, 2015
The race is closer than you may think.