Wednesday, December 27, 2006

NFL MVP: Brees or LT?

The debate has been simmering for a couple weeks now, since Week 14 when LaDainian Tomlinson set the single-season touchdown record and Drew Brees orchestrated a thorough and ruthless demolition of the Dallas Cowboys in front of a national audience. The debate is fierce, and whichever of the two former Charger teammates wins (and this is only a two-horse race) will be well-deserving of NFL MVP. But who is more deserving?

The case for Tomlinson:
- He has always been an elite runner, but he has taken his game to an other-worldly level this year. After averaging 3.9 and 4.3 yds/carry in the last two seasons respectively, Tomlinson has bumped the figure up to a hefty 5.3 yds/carry this season. And of course the touchdowns - there was a reason he was in every fantasy draft's top 3 this year, but even the most knowing experts wouldn't have expected 31 touchdowns, a league record by 3, with a game still to play.

- Tomlinson has gotten better as the year has gone along. After starting the season well, he became downright dominant in November, when the Chargers took control of the AFC West after the struggles of the Broncos. His yards per carry average and touchdown tally spiked in that month, at 6.2 yds/carry and 12 TDs respectively.

- His imposing presence has helped to ease the burden on first-time starter at QB, Philip Rivers, who blossomed into a Pro Bowl selection. The loss of Brees to free agency didn't hurt as much as it might have because there remained a consistent source of offense in Tomlinson.

- LT will be productive anytime and anywhere. He is a model of high-level consistency, the likes of which the NFL has rarely seen. He can get his yards anywhere, behind the left side, right side, or middle of the offensive line, making it difficult for defenses to overplay to any one area. (Not to mention his superior receiving skills for which you have to account.) He gets his touchdowns in equal doses at home and on the road, with a remarkable 14 rushing TDs apiece. And most importantly, you know he's going to get the ball in the red zone and defenses still can't stop him. That is domination.

The case for Brees:
- The leadership qualities he brings to a team that was perhaps in more need of them than any other franchise after last season's Katrina-driven nightmare. Fellow players and coaches are unanimous in saying that he brought an identity and a confidence that were sorely lacking before he arrived. The Saints would follow him anywhere, and that can't be underestimated in the team's rise this season.

- He played big in crucial games. In three wins that looking back, were integral to the Saints getting to this point, against Atlanta (the first Superdome game since Katrina), and Philadelphia and Dallas (wins that gave them the tiebreak advantage they parlayed into a first-round playoff bye) he has a combined 850 yds, 8 TDs, and 71% completion percentage.

- In a league in which a steady hand at quarterback has been hard to come by, Brees has been the rare exception - a free agent acquisition who has not only met, but exceeded expectations. Compared against a lot of uneven play at the quarterback position this year, his play has stood out even more than it would have already.

Who gets the vote?
Tomlinson is commonly referred to as the best player in the game today, but that's selling him short. This season he's also the most valuable. He is the surest thing there is the NFL, and his play has made a good Chargers team great in the regular season - a step up that is arguably harder to achieve that going from bad to good, as the Saints have done.

Brees has been terrific this year, but you can argue that coach Sean Payton has actually been the team's most valuable addition. When you factor in the addition of super-rookies Reggie Bush and Marques Colston, a healthy Deuce McAllister, and a true slate of home games, the Saints improved in a lot of areas from last season to this. The Chargers' main personnel upgrade has been the Pro Bowl-caliber play of OT Marcus McNeill, which is not to be diminished, but the franchise hasn't had the overall upheaval that the Saints have experienced. Tomlinson is the main difference in turning the Chargers into the Super Bowl favorite, and for that he deserves MVP.

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