Tom Brady’s MVP candidacy has been widely debated over the last few weeks. Although he seemed like a heavy favorite as recently as a few weeks ago, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has made the seldom seen transition from trendy, outside-the-box pick, to probable selection for the game’s highest individual honor.

As a resident Brady supporter, I’ve frequently felt compelled to make the case for TB12. After all, articles have been plastered across the home page of prominent websites of late arguing against “The Golden Boy”. The talking heads appear to be drifting away from Brady and towards Ryan (save for the PTI guys). But even I’m perplexed by Tom Terrific’s 2016 campaign. Should he win it? I’m not sure, but it seems necessary to lay the cards out for those who are unwilling or unable to dig a little deeper.

While a Ryan (or to a lesser extent Aaron Rodgers) MVP would well-deserved, the argument for Brady is much more complicated than just pulling up the stats on profootballreference.com.

• Although Ryan holds a significant statistical edge because Brady only played 12 games, his per game stats are extremely comparable to Ryan’s.

• It took Matt Ryan 16 weeks to win 11 games, while Rodgers needed 16 to win just 10. It took Brady a mere 12 games to win 11.

• While many feel Brady should be disqualified for missing the first four games of 2016, Joe Montana did earn MVP honors in 1989 while appearing in only 13 games, and Joe was subbed out early in the third quarter of the final game. If there’s an imaginary line for how much a guy needs to play to maintain MVP eligibility (and admittedly, a line needs to be drawn somewhere), why is 12.5 games played acceptable but 12 games isn’t? It’s all extremely arbitrary.

• When you account for the reason behind why Brady missed time — the impossible, bullshit reason — it really seems wrong to hold the time missed against him.

• Brady’s 28-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is an NFL record.

• Once again, he’s guided the Pats to the AFC’s top seed with a relatively new crop of backs and receivers, all of whom Brady’s made into a threat (Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Dion Lewis [returned from injury], and now Michael Floyd).

• Brady accomplished all this while his top target, Rob Gronkowski, was on the shelf for basically all but five games.

• To step in without any real practice time or contact with the team for a full month and deliver this performance could actually be viewed as more impressive.

Regardless, many won’t be able to shake the four-game absence, which is understandable. Brady’s ray of light lies in the body of work he’s exhibited over 16 years—unmatched in NFL history. We’ve seen the media intercede and present athletes with debatable credentials an award for their career accomplishments before (see Kobe, 2008). Tom Brady, 39, owns two MVP awards already, but hasn’t won it since 2010. In 20 years, it will feel silly if the greatest QB of all-time, who set the all-time wins record by a quarterback this year, only won the MVP twice. That’s why the media stepped in for Kobe; they might do the same for Brady, who could also be viewed as a sympathetic figure.

Tommy was in the driver’s seat for the honor last year until Cam Newton refused to go away, then rocketed past him. This year, Matty Ice will likely to do the same. But the MVP is funny, isn’t it? If Ryan gets the nod over Brady, it’ll be because of the numbers. How many times though did we see LeGarrette Blount score from five yards out or less? Twelve times, to be exact, on 24 attempts, each leading the NFL. Bill Belichick and Josh McDainels had no qualms with handing the rock to their ox of a running back every time inside the 20. Blount led the NFL in nearly every red zone rushing category, while Ryan and Rodgers ranked in the top three in pretty much every inside-the-10 passing category (is there a color for this?), most notably attempts and TDs. The Patriots QBs combined for 36 passes inside the 10, a figure way in the Rodgers/Ryan rear-view mirror (49 and 47 respectively).

If we hypothetically took away five of Blount’s 18 TDs and gave them to Brady, giving him a 33-2 TD-INT ratio (or if they actually gave the ball to Blount on 4th and 1 against Seattle to win the game, bringing Brady’s record this year to a perfect 12-0), we’re probably having a different discussion. By no way is this a means to build an MVP case — there’s several flaws to this game you don’t even need to point out — but it’s interesting to observe how gameplan factors into awards like this. When Ryan throws four TDs in the final game of the season, each inside the 10 in what was a blowout in the first three quarters, it sorta kinda seems like he (or Atlanta) was gunning for the award.

Maybe New England cared less about their QB’s stats than Atlanta did. Or it could be with games against the 49ers, Rams, Raiders, Panthers (twice) and Saints (twice) defenses, Ryan padded his numbers considerably. And that’s fine. Obviously, it’s difficult to bring such hypotheticals into year-end recognition discussions. So in spite of the fact that if you polled the voters who will likely give Ryan MVP over Brady on which QB they’d rather have next Sunday, nearly all would choose the pride of San Mateo, CA, Brady will have to settle for no MVP and the mythical title of “best player in football”.

It’s all good— Tom Brady typically handles getting slighted pretty well, don’t you think?

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