During my 2015 campaign against Cam Newton for MVP -- or more accurately, my campaign for people to take a more objective look at Newton and realize that more goes into value than just "he's a QB that weenz" -- some have suggested that my Seattle background makes me "biased." Which is odd since the Seahawks and Panthers do not play in the same division and I've never mentioned that Russell Wilson, or any other player in Seattle, should be the MVP.
Like many of the arguments made for Newton's MVP worthiness, these claims are also without merit.
That's not to say that Newton's candidacy isn't obviously valid and worth consideration. Without a strong collection of wide receivers, Newton has posted career-highs in touchdowns (33) and passer rating (96.8), while leading the league in touchdown percentage. He's also rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns, making him the league-leader in touchdowns this season.
As far as Carolina's 14-1 record goes, the best response I can muster is "I get it." I get why winning matters and why the MVP trophy shouldn't go to a player who is on a team that's 8-8 (for example, I don't have any particular player in mind) and should go to someone on a team that's won a lot of games. If Newton is the guy that must represent the Panthers, and not Josh Norman or Luke Kuechly because that's far too non-traditional, then so be it. But any argument should at least have more strength than, "He's the QB for the team with the best record, he's charismatic, he can make some good plays, and he's productive despite not having a great wide receiver."
However, people have been telling me at length now that those aren't the only arguments. That there are other reasons to vote for Newton. What are they? Let's take a look.
An article on the Charlotte Observer yesterday noted that in a survey of some MVP voters, 19 of 25 said they were leaning towards Newton. Of the other six, five were undecided and one was for Carson Palmer. It's pretty clear that regardless of what happens on Sunday, Newton is the MVP; and we've know that for a few weeks now. Once the narrative started getting pushed after the Panthers were the only undefeated team left, the end was nigh.
Here are some more arguments for Newton over Palmer:
"Voters said the Panthers' 14-1 record and Newton's success despite losing No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin make him worthy of becoming the first Panthers' player to win MVP."
Carolina's record is now just one game better than Arizona's and by Sunday, they could be even. This might be enough to sway a couple of voters, but 19 of 25 is a landslide that won't be unsliding. Which makes it seem unfair that so many voters are citing record before the season is over. It's also possible that the Panthers will finish only one game better than the New England Patriots, and Tom Brady didn't get a single vote in the survey.
And what does Carolina's record really mean?
They've won 14 games on the back of a schedule that Football Outsiders ranks as the second-easiest in the NFL. How does that compare to a team like the St. Louis Rams going 7-8 on the second-hardest schedule in the league? If you switched their SOS, would the Rams be 10-5 and the Panthers 11-4?
Or in a less extreme example, the fact that the Cardinals SOS is ranked 18th and they're 13-2 or that Seattle's is 15th and they're 9-6? People need to accept that Carolina is a very good team in a very bad division. The only reason that the NFC South is being propped up at all is that the Atlanta Falcons started 6-0 on a really weak schedule and the other two teams have won six games, so you don't see a stinker in the bunch but that doesn't mean they aren't stinkers; The Bucs are 21st in DVOA, the Falcons are 24th, and the Saints are 28th with the worst defense we've ever seen.
The Panthers almost went 16-0 in that division, but I'd argue that the Patriots or Cardinals absolutely would have cruised to a perfect record and could be on their way to being named the best team of all-time. Rewarding Newton for a 14-1 record is almost like telling your teenager and your first-grader that the winner of a bare-knuckles brawl will be the one that gets dessert.
The other half of that argument is that Newton has had success despite losing Benjamin. That's a word I want to focus on here: "Despite." You're going to hear it a lot when people talk about why Newton is so obviously the MVP. When your numbers aren't very good, that's when excuses have to come into play.
I don't know, I just feel like the NFL MVP should carry the least amount of excuses of all? But let's play that game for a second.
Brady has Rob Gronkowski, who has "only" missed one game this year due to injury. However, Newton has Greg Olsen, that Pro Bowl tight end with 1,088 yards that people rarely mention when discussing Newton's lack of weapons. Brady's number one receiver coming into the year was quite obviously Julian Edelman, and he's going to miss his seventh game of the season this week. His number two receiver, Danny Amendola, is questionable this week and could miss his third game of the year. He also happens to be not all that great, and probably less value than Ted Ginn, Jr; Amendola has three touchdowns, Ginn has 10.
(By the way, Ginn is not that garbage player he's described as when people talk about Carolina's receivers. He drops too many passes, he's not reliable in the long run, and is best-served as a number two option, but he's hardly bad. You don't catch 10 touchdowns by accident and in watching many Panthers games this season, I've seen him save Cam more than once.)
Brady's number three, Brandon LaFell, was out for the first five games of the season. Dion Lewis, a running back that was on pace for about 900 receiving yards, tore his ACL after seven games. Keshawn Martin and Aaron Dobson have gotten far too many snaps this season, yet Brady is having another stellar season, leading the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes with a passer rating of 103.1.
If anything, this is the prime year for Brady to win MVP, but he's probably not going to finish in the top two. Why not? Because Carolina started 14-0 on one of the league's easiest schedules, and the Patriots only started 10-0, then lost at Denver (best defense in the NFL), against the Eagles (without Gronkowski), and at the Jets, one of the hottest teams in the league.
"Newton has raised his level of play this season, and who knows how many touchdown passes he would throw for if he had Palmer's receiving corps," said Fox Sports' John Czarnecki. "I'm not convinced Carolina would even be a .500 team without him."
Did he raise his level of play this season? Yes. Do we know how many touchdown passes he would have if he had Arizona's receiving corps? No. Do you know how many hot dogs you could eat if you had four stomachs like a cow? Probably 83.
Czarnecki says that Newton is the MVP because he believes in the multiverse, basically. We see here that Czarnecki is citing Palmer's team around him as a negative. Palmer has Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown::Palmer can't be the MVP.
However, this also assumes that their numbers are somewhat comparable.
Palmer's long career has established certain truths about him that can't be ignored. That he's accurate (career 62.8% completion percentage working with many different receivers and coordinators) and that he's an excellent deep passer. Palmer has always been one of the best passers in the NFL and Newton has always been one of the least effective regular starters, at least when it comes to passing. He has a career completion percentage of 59.2% and he's worked with Steve Smith, Olsen, LaFell, Benjamin, Ginn, two of the better running backs in the league, and even Gary Barnidge! (Okay it was before his time, but he had Barnidge.)
You wanna play in the multiverse? Okay, fine. If Newton had Palmer's receiving weapons -- therefore we're also switching Olsen for Darren Fells -- how many touchdown passes would he throw? I don't know ... 34? That's what Palmer has. Are you actually telling me that you think Newton, despite years of being able to watch Palmer throw and Newton throw, that he's a better passer? That he could do more with this than Palmer has?
Newton has 33 touchdown passes in large part because he faced the Saints twice (seven touchdowns) and the Giants (he threw five touchdowns against New York, a defense that gave up seven to Drew Brees in one game.) That's 12 touchdowns in three games to some horrible pass defenses. Palmer's been more consistent and done more against tougher defenses, like throwing three touchdowns against the Seahawks, two touchdowns against the Rams in Week 13, and four touchdowns against the Bengals.
How many touchdown passes would Newton have with Arizona? I don't know because that's an imaginary scenario and I don't know why imaginary scenarios are coming into play for MVP voters -- maybe just try and focus on what's actually happened this season.
Oh and part two: "I'm not convinced that Carolina wouldn't be .500 without him."
That's also a real argument by someone granted power to vote for the MVP. First of all, who are we replacing him with? Aaron Rodgers? Derek Anderson? Jimmy Clausen? Kathy Griffin? Just not having a quarterback at all?
Well, not that they would be 14-1 or even above .500, but the Panthers were 2-0 with Anderson last season. Hey guess what, they're actually a good team. They've got like eight great players on defense. They've got four other Pro Bowl players on offense besides Newton. I'm convinced they would be .500 if they had a serviceable quarterback; I know this in part because they're 14-1 with a good one. Also, because they have such an easy schedule, I'm not convinced they wouldn't be 12-3 or so right now with Jay Cutler.
That's the whole thing, I'm not convinced because nobody has actually tried to convince me. It's another fantasy scenario rather than the one that actually exists. Czarnecki, like so many others that think the MVP voting is cut-and-dry this year, is dabbling in the "what if's" rather than the "what happened's."
Here's another common argument:
"If the season ended today, Cam Newton would get my vote for MVP," [SI's Don] Banks said. "And my rationale would be this: I don't always know how to define the parameters of what an MVP is, but I know one when I see one, and Newton consistently has been the biggest difference-maker in the NFL this season."
This is really common: I know Newton is the MVP because he is.
I just don't have time for that.
"Newton has played at a high level and one off-game doesn't change my thinking," said Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com. "But if Palmer lights it up this week, and Cam struggles, I might change my thinking. Right now, it's a two-man race for me."
Prisco somehow gives me exactly what I expected and then somehow redeems himself by at least keeping an open-mind this weekend as Palmer faces the number two team in the NFL by DVOA and Newton takes on the 21st-ranked Bucs. However, Prisco is still way off.
"One off-game" being the important part of the quote here.
Again an example of overvaluing "Wins" as a statistic, people are acting like Newton's loss to the Falcons last week was his first slip-up of the season. Not what he did against the Jaguars (71.3 rating), Texans (71.3 rating), Seahawks (65.6 rating), Eagles (59.2 rating), Colts (76.8 rating), or Cowboys (79 rating.)
Newton has seven games this season with a passer rating under 80, which is tied for the most in the NFL with Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles. What's that I hear in the background just now? "MVP!" chants for Bridgewater?
I'm not convinced the Panthers wouldn't win 12 games with Teddy Bridgewater.
Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News, however, is the one guy in the poll going for Palmer:
"I understand that you kind of have to look at Cam through a different lens because of the running ability and the leadership he has brought to that team," Domowitch said. "But I just can't get past (Newton's) pedestrian passing numbers, particularly the completion percentage. Going with Palmer."
And even with me agreeing with Domowitch on which way he's leaning, it still irks me that anyone would cite "the leadership he has brought to that team" as an actual indicator of greatness? I mean, fuck. I mean, fuck fuck fuck. Show me a quarterback going to the playoffs this year isn't bring leadership to his team? I mean, what the fuck does that even mean? It's so fucking wrapped in bullshit hyperbole that it has completely lost all meaning. I mean ... fuck.
Nobody can cite numbers. NOBODY. And they'll tell you that numbers are "overrated" until Newton throws five touchdowns against the worst pass defense in the NFL, then suddenly strength of schedule is overrated.
But nobody can give a statistical argument for Newton that goes beyond "touchdown passes + rushing touchdowns = the only reason a team is 14-1" and yeah, that really bothers me. Because dating back to 1989, every single quarterback that has won MVP has been ranked in the top four in DYAR -- and really all but one was in the top three, with Joe Montana winning it in 1990 with the fourth-ranked DYAR, while winning the award for the second-straight year.
For those unfamiliar with DYAR, it means Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. Take a look at all the plays a QB has made during the season, adjust for the defense he's facing, compare it to what a replacement-level quarterback would do in the same situation, and you've got DYAR. Palmer is first with 1,636 DYAR. Brady is second at 1,315. Andy Dalton is third at 1,088. Wilson is fourth at 1,070.
Newton has 427. He's behind guys like Kirk Cousins, Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Carr, Alex Smith, and Tyrod Taylor.
I'm not convinced the Panthers wouldn't get a bye week with Taylor.
Okay, so Newton also has a running game, right? Well, he's got 153 rushing DYAR. Add the two totals together and he'd move up the scales a couple of spots only. Can anyone in the world give me a valid argument that explicitly states how Newton is a comparable, let alone better, passer than any one of Palmer, Brady, Dalton, or Wilson? Given the same schedule, same group of wide receivers, in which dimension does Newton not finish fifth among them?
Carolina is 14-1 but per Football Outsiders' "estimated wins" stat, should be more like 10-5. Did Newton elevate them by four wins or is the record more of an illusion than an indicator of "MVPiness" and "Leadership" and "Not convincing me that the team wouldn't be .500 without him"?
Cam Newton will win MVP when it is announced and will be the worst passer to win the award in the last 25 years. But MVP winners are often forgotten about a few years after the trophy is awarded, if not a few days. Who won the 2002 MVP award? I don't know, but the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Who won it in 1992? Maybe it was Emmitt Smith, I'm not sure, but the Cowboys did win the Super Bowl. That's what will matter at the end of the day.
If Newton does that, and plays his best football of the season, then yeah, maybe he actually is the MVP. But considering that I do not believe that will happen based on everything we've seen in the regular season, I think the true MVP will reveal himself in the coming weeks. My gut tells me that person is Palmer or Brady, two guys I actually don't want to see win the Super Bowl.
Tell me again how that makes me biased?