We’re less than a month away from learning who the NFL MVP will end up being, but there is still massive uncertainty as to who will win. The general consensus seems to be that Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning are the finalists to win the award, but one name has been washed over this season and its high time he get recognized.
The Atlanta Falcons were one of the only teams this season to show something that is massively important to winning a Super Bowl: consistency. While top teams like the Texans, Packers and 49ers were in flux for large parts of the season, the Falcons always seemed to come out of things on top of things, save for a few anomalies.
When choosing an MVP, one of the most classic ways of picturing the race is to see what a team would look like if you took the candidate off the roster. All of Atlanta’s success comes down to one man and one man only: Matt Ryan.
The argument can be seriously made that if Adrian Peterson is taken off the Vikings roster, there is no way that they win the final Wild Card spot in the NFC. But the same case can be made for the Falcons and Ryan, while less of an argument can be made for the sentimental choice: Peyton Manning. The more intoxicated crowd will argue that the Broncos got as far into the playoffs this year with Manning as they did last year with Tim Tebow as their quarterback, and while that’s a foolish argument to make, it’s painfully valid.
Take Peyton Manning off the Broncos and replace him with even someone like Tebow, and you have a playoff team. Take Peterson and Ryan off their teams and you see a serious decline in production.
By all accounts, Peterson deserves to win the MVP, but it should be Ryan and not Manning that comes in at a close second. For starters, Manning was beaten head-to-head back in Week 2 by Ryan and the Falcons. But that’s just an interesting fact, and not the reason Ryan deserves the credit he’s not getting.
In that Week 2 loss, the Broncos failed to come from behind to win a massive game. With very few exceptions, when the Falcons needed to come from behind to win games this season, Matt Ryan was there to lead them, while Manning was surprisingly average when it came to comebacks.
We don’t count postseason performances into the MVP race, but while what we saw out of Ryan on Sunday was nothing short of amazing, it wasn’t an isolated case of heroism.
Against Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Arizona, the Falcons trailed in the fourth quarter and needed to come back to win. Take Matt Ryan out of the equation and insert another quarterback and you likely don’t get the same results. Insert any other quarterback into the various comebacks the Broncos made (and didn’t make) and you likely get the same result.
This season, Manning produced but one memorable comeback: Denver’s week 6 win against the Chargers. Ryan produced as many as five, including a 70-plus yard drive from his own 1-yard line to beat the Panthers earlier in the season.
In the clutch, it seems Ryan can do no wrong, and if that’s not an MVP right there then I’m not sure what is. The MVP isn’t decided by comeback wins, but clutch ability should play a major factor in who is considered a finalist.
Manning finished with a higher quarterback rating than Ryan did this season, but Ryan finished with a higher completion percentage and a higher yardage total. Not only was Ryan more accurate than Manning, but he threw the ball more as well, proving that the Falcons relied more on Ryan to get the job done than Denver did Manning.
Some could say that Manning’s lower yardage total stems from the fact that he had already done his job and didn’t need to throw. While that’s a valid argument, you have to ask yourself how many of Ryan’s yards came when the game was on the line and he needed to make plays to get the Falcons a win? I’ll tell you how many: 289 yards (64 yards against Arizona, 59 yards against Tampa Bay, 43 yards against Oakland, 51 yards against Washington, and 72 yards against Carolina).
So on more than one occasion this season, Matt Ryan has had to drive more than half the length of the field to win a game for the Falcons and only three out of the Falcons 16 games this season did Ryan fail.
What we saw out of Ryan on Sunday was the stylings of a true MVP candidate, but he had been doing it well before then and we should have seen it coming. Peyton Manning is a deserving MVP candidate, don’t get me wrong, but he’s the third horse in the race when you break it all down. Simply put, you can’t take the clutch out of Matty Ice, but you can take Matty Ice out of the Falcons and if you do that you don’t have the same football team by any stretch of the imagination.
If you take Matt Ryan off the Falcons, you not only lose in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, but you likely lose against Washington, lose against Tampa Bay, lose against Arizona, lose against Oakland and lose against Carolina. Take Matt Ryan off the Falcons and you go from a 13-3 No. 1 seed in the NFC to an 8-8 team that barely makes the playoffs this season and only makes the playoffs by default.
If that’s not MVP-caliber talent, then nothing is.