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Matt Ryan wins NFL MVP after a career-defining season

9500011-matt-ryan-nfl-preseason-atlanta-falcons-miami-dolphins-850x560After his first eight seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan had forged a reputation as an above-average quarterback who would never manage to break into the elite tier. He obliterated that sentiment this season by setting career bests in passing yards (4,944), passing touchdowns (38), interceptions (7), completion percentage (69.9), yards per attempt (9.3), and quarterback rating (117.1).

By extending his remarkable performance into the postseason, he has the Falcons on the doorstep of their first NFL championship. And on Saturday, Ryan was rewarded by being named the league’s Most Valuable Player, earning 25 of the 50 votes by media members. They were the first MVP votes of his career, and the fewest by a winner since Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander captured the 2005 award with 19 votes.

The other players who received MVP votes this season were Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (10), Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (6), Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (6), Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (2), and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (1).

Ryan was also named Offensive Player of the Year in an extremely split ballot. For the first time since 2000, eight players received votes (Ryan, 15.5; Rodgers, 11; David Johnson, 8; Brady, 7; Elliott, 5.5; Le’Veon Bell, 1; Carr, 1; Drew Brees, 1).

Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack edged Broncos linebacker Von Miller for Defensive Player of the Year honors (Mack, 18; Miller, 17; Landon Collins, 9; Aaron Donald, 3; Sean Lee, 2; Eric Berry, 1) after recording 11 sacks and forcing five fumbles for an Oakland team that made its first playoff appearance since 2002.

Brady was trying to become the fifth player to earn three MVP awards. He has now received MVP votes in eight seasons, trailing only Peyton Manning (10) in that category. Brady also passed Joe Montana (123) for the third-most MVP votes in NFL history, with 130, and trails Manning (227) and Brett Favre (161).

Ryan and Brady face off in Super Bowl LI tomorrow, and although 14 MVPs have won NFL championships, none have since Kurt Warner led the St. Louis Rams to the title after the 1999 season.

Here are some Associated Press voters’ selections for MVP:

Matt Ryan (25 votes)

Ira Kaufman: “Ryan has been my pick as MVP for a while, and he never faltered in leading Atlanta to the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed. And to think, a year ago many Falcons fans were ready to move on from Ryan, who was admittedly disappointing in 2015.”

Boomer Esiason: “I voted for him because he had 16 great regular-season games. The numbers are off the charts. He certainly deserves it. I know that Aaron Rodgers had a late-season run. The second half of the season for Aaron was about as good as anybody had. And certainly Tom Brady in the 12 games that he played put up great numbers, especially only two interceptions.”

Jarrett Bell: “Was engine behind NFL’s most prolific offense, getting the edge over Tom Brady because he played the entire 16 games. He distributed the ball so well and significantly reduced his turnovers in producing the best season of his career.”

Mark Craig: “His season was one of the best ever in terms of a quarterback combining efficiency, explosiveness, consistency and success.”

John McClain: “He was the best player in the NFL last season.”

Tom Brady (10 votes)

Vic Carucci: “The Brady/Patriot haters will be quick to point out the team went 3-1 as he served the silly four-game suspension for #Deflategate. It’s a compelling argument, but it quickly loses steam when you see what Brady has done since his return. Working with new third, fourth, and fifth receivers and without tight end Rob Gronkowski for more than half the season, he managed to post his best completion percentage and passer rating since 2010, when he last was named MVP. He’s 39 years old and playing as well as at any point in a career that has well established him as the greatest quarterback and maybe player at any position in the history of the game. Others have had MVP-like seasons, but no one matches Brady for the overwhelming value he brings every time he steps onto the field.”

Tom Curran: “Brady wasn’t unavailable because he was injured. He wasn’t there because the NFL ran a sham investigation trying to prove something happened. They failed in that so they instead settled for reputation assassination in order to save face. Brady sat four games so the NFL could justify its mistake. And I decided that holding that against Brady would only further validate the NFL’s suspension of him. So I voted for Brady.”

Jenny Vrentas: “This year was a tough choice. But when I went to vote, I thought about the true letter of the award, who is the most valuable player in the NFL to have on your football team, and I couldn’t make an argument that anyone was more valuable to a team having success than Brady.”

Derek Carr (6 votes)

Gary Myers: “He took what has been the most dysfunctional team and won 12 games, the most for the Raiders since 2000. Going into this season, they were 63-145 since their Super Bowl appearance in 2002 and never finished above .500. Ryan has been spectacular but has won two fewer games. Brady has been Brady, which means he’s just adding to his legacy as the best QB of all time. Although he was punished unfairly for Deflategate, he was suspended for one-quarter of the season, which makes it hard to pick him.”

Adam Schein: “No player in the NFL was more responsible for his team’s achievement — and overachievement — this year than Carr. His numbers (28 touchdowns against just six picks, with 3,937 passing yards) were excellent, though he was clearly outpaced by other quarterbacks. But Carr’s year wasn’t about stats. It was about value. It was about fourth-quarter play and carrying the Raiders to 12 wins. If you watched the games, you know Ryan and Brady were arguably more dominant. Rodgers’ final six weeks were dreamy and iconic. Zeke gave the Cowboys’ offense and defense a huge lift, leading Dallas to the No. 1 seed. But Carr meant everything to a Raiders team that was in major need of a great player and leadership at quarterback.”

Ronald Borges: “I voted for Derek Carr because I am a strict constructionist when it comes to MVP. To me it means not the best player or the one who had the best season but the one most valuable to his team. Brady gets the nod if its simply best player/player of the year. But team went 3-1 without him. That is why I voted for Derek Carr. At time of his injury I said Raiders would not score another TD. They barely did.”

Ezekiel Elliott (6 votes)

Rick Gosselin: “The Cowboys announced they were hitching their wagon to Elliott when they took him with the fourth overall pick of the 2016 draft last April. He was going to be the guy who got the DeMarco Murray workload, which would allow the Cowboys to protect both the health of an aging quarterback (Romo) and a defense that lacked playmakers. His legs became even more important in August when they suddenly became the protector of a young, inexperienced quarterback (Prescott). And Elliott delivered, claiming an NFL rushing title for himself and powering the Cowboys to an NFC East title and top seed in the NFC playoff bracket.”

Charean Williams: “Cowboys went from 4-12 to 13-3. They had best record in the NFC. Either Zeke or Dak deserved it considering Brady missed four games.”

Aaron Rodgers (2 votes)

Dak Prescott (1 vote)

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MVP win gives Newton yet another reason to smile

newton-new-orleans-usa-today-sports-590x900

On the eve of his first Super Bowl appearance, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton received his first MVP award, collecting 48 of the 50 votes by media members. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer each received one vote.

Despite losing no. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a torn ACL in the preseason, Newton helped carry Carolina to a 15-1 record. He finished with a career-high 35 passing touchdowns, a career-low 10 interceptions, and 3,837 passing yards — the fewest by an MVP quarterback since Steve Young in 1992. Like Young, Newton created additional value on the ground, adding 636 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Newton, who had not received an MVP vote before this season, was also named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt received his third career Defensive Player of the Year award after a 17.5-sack season.

As reported by ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith, The Boston Herald’s Ron Borges voted for Palmer and NBC’s Fred Gaudelli voted for Brady. Several Associated Press voters revealed their vote for Newton during the NFL Honors show.

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It’s not an MVP smorgasbord

I promise I didn’t cheat when naming the top five traditional MVP candidates, but those were the only players mentioned in a roundup of ESPN.com predictions, SI.com predictions and NFL.com predictions.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers quarterback (11)
John Clayton, ESPN.com
Mike Sando, ESPN.com
Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com
Bill Williamson, ESPN.com
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com
Jason La Canfora, NFL.com
Pat Kirwan, NFL.com
Albert Breer, NFL.com
Don Banks, SI.com
Damon Hack, SI.com
Kerry J. Byrne, SI.com

Philip Rivers, Chargers quarterback (7)
Dan Graziano, ESPN.com
Adam Schefter, ESPN Insider
Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com
Peter King, SI.com
Jim Trotter, SI.com
Tom Mantzouranis, SI.com

Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback (4)
James Walker, ESPN.com
Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com
Steve Wyche, ESPN.com
Chris Burke, SI.com

Drew Brees, Saints quarterback (3)
Paul Kuharsky, ESPN.com
Michael Lombardi, ESPN.com
Andrew Perloff, SI.com

Michael Vick, Eagles quarterback (2)
Jeffrey Chadiha, ESPN.com
Ashley Fox, ESPN.com

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MVP = Most Very Predictable?

Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick was the digital MVP in a simulation for "Madden 12."

The NFL’s MVP race is as predictable as Mel Kiper Jr.’s hairstyle — which quarterback on a playoff team threw for 30-plus touchdowns and 4,000-plus yards while avoiding interceptions? But regardless of the result, it’s definitely a fluid process. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was considered a legitimate candidate most of 2010 before Patriots quarterback Tom Brady became the award’s first unanimous winner.I’ll focus on compiling the mainstream media’s thoughts on MVP candidates this season — ESPN.com’s Mike Sando posted his always insightful preseason MVP Watch today — but other blogs may spark other ideas worth considering.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the top five traditional candidates and top five darkhorse candidates (in alphabetical order) for the 2011 MVP award. Because of Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning’s injury, it’s worth noting Brady is the only potential repeat winner unless Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson discovered the Fountain of Youth during the lockout.

TRADITIONAL CANDIDATES

Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback
MVP votes:
 Won in 2010, 2007; finished third in 2005, 2003

Brady has shown the ability to thrive with star receivers (Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007), dynamic tight ends (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in 2010) and a motley crew (Deion Branch, David Givens and Troy Brown in 2005). It doesn’t hurt that the Patriots could conceivably win 14 games again.

Drew Brees, Saints quarterback
MVP votes: Finished second in 2009, 2006

Brees is a superb candidate because he throws the ball a lot — breaking the 600-attempt barrier three times — and pretty efficiently, too. He is one of only two quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards (joining Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino) and is tied for the lead in completion percentage (70.6 percent with Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson).

Philip Rivers, Chargers quarterback
MVP votes: Finished third in 2009, sixth in 2008

Since Tomlinson signed with the Jets in free agency, the Chargers’ offense has revolved around the deep passing game — Rivers led the league in pass yards per attempt the past three seasons. But the Chargers’ underwhelming performances in 2010 (9-7) and 2008 (8-8) make it difficult for voters to select Rivers when quarterbacks with comparable statistics are leading dominant teams.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers quarterback
MVP votes: None

Rodgers certainly has compiled the stats worthy of garnering votes, but the Packers haven’t been awe-inspiring (6-10, 11-5, and 10-6 records) during his three seasons as a starter. He’s firmly in the national spotlight, however, after winning Super Bowl XLV and unoficially joining the group of elite quarterbacks.

Michael Vick, Eagles quarterback
MVP votes: Finished second in 2004, fifth in 2002

Vick wins in EA Sports’ annual “Madden 12” simulation, where he is projected to lead the Eagles to the NFC East title while throwing for career-highs in yards (3,876) and touchdowns (29) and making contributions on the ground. That’s where Vick can impress voters — he has unparalleled physical ability to turn negative plays into positive ones that show up on “SportsCenter.”

DARKHORSE CANDIDATES

Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals wide receiver
MVP votes: None

Wide receivers rarely receive MVP votes, but Fitzgerald has a quarterback (Kevin Kolb, whom Vick usurped in Philadelphia) talented enough to get him the ball but not dominant enough to attract votes. In his physical prime, Fitzgerald has the potential — he’s averaged 87 receptions for 1,172 yards and nine touchdowns — to pile up head-turning statistics in the miserable NFC West.

Antonio Gates, Chargers tight end
MVP votes: None

Gates would truly be an upset because only three tight ends have received MVP votes — Mark Bavaro in 1986, Kellen Winslow in 1981 and John Mackey in 1968 and 1966 — but he could put up huge numbers. And it would be hard to ignore the leading receiver on the league’s most explosive offense if everything falls into place for Gates, who has scored at least eight touchdowns the past seven seasons.

Chris Johnson, Titans running back
MVP votes: Finished sixth in 2008

Although there are several running backs with MVP potential, Johnson is the most explosive option in the running and passing game (think Marshall Faulk in his prime) and is the centerpiece of his offense. An anemic passing offense forces the Titans to rely on Johnson, who has averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his career and piled up 2,509 yards from scrimmage two seasons ago.

Ndamukong Suh, Lions defensive tackle
MVP votes: None

Suh terrorized offensive lines as a rookie, running away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year award after compiling 48 tackles, 10 sacks and one interception. He could be more dominant with the addition of defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Detroit’s first-round draft pick. And Suh has crashed award voting before, finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a Nebraska senior.

DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys linebacker
MVP votes: None

Ware flirted with Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (22.5) in 2008 with 20 sacks and would certainly draw attention if he breaks the mark. Even if he only gets close, Ware could sway voters with more highlight-reel plays — he has 25 forced fumbles but only one career interception — for America’s Team, which ties the NFL high with five primetime games this season.

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