Cam Newton deserves plenty of praise for his play this season, but he doesn’t deserve the NFL’s MVP award.
That’s not a statement many will agree with, given that his Carolina Panthers are 12-0, that he has scored 32 total touchdowns this season, that he often seems to be flying solo when the Panthers have the ball. On the surface, Cam’s 2015 season has been a revelation – but upon closer inspection, a lot of it (the team’s perfect record included) loses its luster.
Newton’s 32 total touchdowns (25 passing, 7 rushing) rank second in the NFL, behind only Tom Brady’s 34. However, the rest of his passing stats fall somewhere between completely average and completely awful. His 58.4 completion percentage ranks 30th among quarterbacks. His 7.5 yards per attempt is lower than rookies Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. His passer rating of 93.2 is 15th, behind Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown.
Many will look at those numbers and repeat that Newton doesn’t have anyone to throw to. Well, besides Greg Olsen (who, by the way, is on pace for the sixth-highest total for receiving yards in a season by a tight end ever) you’re right. Ted Ginn is barely suited to be a number three, and if Newton had Antonio Brown instead of Philly, his numbers would certainly get better.
But I shudder to think what those numbers would look like if he compiled them while playing against an average strength of schedule. Instead, Newton’s stats have come against the 29th-easiest schedule of defenses in the NFL this season, according to Football Outsiders. Seven of his touchdown passes have come against the New Orleans Saints, who have arguably the worst defense of the past 30 years.
Midway through the season, he had 14 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 81.4. A month ago, Newton probably wouldn’t have even been in the MVP conversation, yet four games later, he may very well be the frontrunner (well, either him or Carson Palmer). A big reason for that is that many of the usual suspects – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck – have fallen off, leaving folks grasping at straws for a replacement. So why not just go with the quarterback of the league’s only undefeated team?
Well, for starters, there’s the fact that more than half of the Panthers’ 12 wins have come courtesy of the two worst divisions in football. Carolina is 7-0 against the AFC South and NFC East – neither have which feature team with a winning record. Both of their wins over the 4-8 Saints came down to the wire, including a September game that saw New Orleans start Luke McCown in place of the injured Brees. This is not to say Carolina doesn’t have impressive victories; their win over the Seahawks in Seattle – in which Newton overcame two interceptions to lead a fourth-quarter comeback – looks better as the season heads into its final stanza, and their dismantling of the Packers was a statement in every sense of the term. But the Panthers have not played any other teams this season that currently have a winning record, and their expected win-loss record right now based on scoring differential is closer to 9-3.
The second reason for Carolina’s perfect season is quite obvious, and will become even more apparent when Pro Bowl nods are announced: They have the most talented defense in the NFL, a squad ranked second in DVOA, compared to 11th on offense. In fact, passing the ball is the worst thing that Carolina does besides some of the play on special teams.
In short, Newton may not even be the MVP of this team. What about Luke Kuechly, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year and the leader on their great defense, even if he did miss three games? Or Thomas Davis, the veteran having the best season of his career? Or Josh Norman, arguably the top shutdown corner in the league this year? Safety Kurt Coleman is second in the NFL in interceptions. Kawann Short is a defensive tackle with seven sacks. If this is the most stacked defense in the NFL this year, then why is the most valuable player the quarterback?
Because giving credit to the quarterback is what we do. And in most cases, this should be true, but maybe this is the year voters think outside of the box for an MVP in a season that has been anything but ordinary.
Why not Kuechly, if anyone on the Panthers? Or J.J. Watt, the best defensive player in football, who again leads the NFL in sacks and tackles for a loss? How about Antonio Brown, for keeping the Pittsburgh Steelers afloat while Ben Roethlisberger was hurt, putting up big numbers and returning punts for the hell of it?
And if has to be a quarterback, why not Carson Palmer, the guy who is top-three in nearly every major category for quarterbacks this year, and leads a 10-2 team that may be the best in the NFL. Or Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher, who has kept the Minnesota Vikings in the playoff picture?
The truth is that Cam is just the right guy in the right place at the right place at the right time. That’s not a slight against him, or a criticism of anything he’s done this season (leave dumb shit like that to the experts), it’s just that, in this wide-open, WTF season, perhaps we need to shake-up the MVP narrative. It’s been 29 years since Lawrence Taylor won the award, and every winner since has been either a quarterback or a running back. If the best candidate of 2015 is a good quarterback on a team with a great defense and a fortunate schedule, maybe it’s time that changed.
I’d dab to that.