If Matt Stafford can win the NFL’s MVP award, here’s how…
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Sep 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) reacts to throwing a touchdown pass to running back Ameer Abdullah (21) in the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Lions won 39-35. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
People have been throwing around some fresh names in terms of the MVP award this season for a number of reasons. One, Tom Brady was suspended for four games. Two, Peyton Manning retired. Three, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, and Aaron Rodgers have all struggled along with their thought-to-be contending teams. Lastly, Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford and some young guns in Dallas have been all-time good this year. So, while the Stafford MVP talk was fun for a week, realistically, it’s something that more people should have expected for reasons that I wrote about before the season.
The Lions haven’t won a division title since 1993 when Stafford was just 5-years-old. He’s been in Detroit for 7 and a half seasons, but the 16-year drought before he arrived is more of an indictment on the Lions organization
Stafford had 100-1 odds to win the award before the season (which I stupidly talked myself out of betting my small life savings on). Those odds have gone up by about 75 percent, as even the wise guys are seeing a Detroit QB make a legit push for the award. It all comes down to the narrative created by Johnson’s departure. Johnson, despite being a top-3 wide receiver of all time, hindered a QB like Stafford – who thrives when getting rid of the ball quickly and spreading it around. When there’s poor protection, and you have to wait for Megatron to beat the two or three guys that were usually covering him, it raises the likelihood of something bad happening. Turnovers are more likely when a QB holds onto the ball or is forcing it to one guy.
Stafford, while he’s always had touch issues, is remarkably good at fitting the ball into tight windows. He was so good at it, that it made his ability to get the ball to Calvin Johnson underrated at times. The narrative on Stafford has shifted since Johnson’s departure because most expected him to regress but instead, he’s looked an elite QB. That brings us to our first thing that must happen for the 2016 MVP award to go to Detroit’s 28-year-old signal caller.
1. Keep Up Elite Production Without Calvin Johnson
Dec 27, 2015; Detroit, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) celebrates with teammates including quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) after a touchdown reception during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Ford Field. Lions win 32-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Stafford has put up elite numbers before (41 Tds and 5,000+ passing yards in 2011) but never hasn’t gotten the national recognition. He didn’t even make the Pro Bowl in that 2011 year. This is mostly because of the assumption that Johnson was making him better than he actually was, as I alluded to above. With Stafford playing the best football of his life (18 TDs, 2,373 yards, and a 101.6 QB Rating), there’s nothing anyone can point to as a reason to write off his production this season. The interceptions are way down too, with just 5 in the first nine games. For a guy that was always considered turnover prone, to have become one of the best decision-makers at the position has helped spearhead the MVP talk around Stafford.
2. Must Lead Lions to NFC North Title
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass under pressure from Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) during the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Detroit won 18-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Matt can obviously still be in the MVP race with a Wild Card Playoff berth, but he won’t have any chance of winning the award unless the Lions bring home the NFC North crown. This is another key factor playing into his MVP narrative. The Lions haven’t won a division title since 1993 when Stafford was just 5-years-old. He’s been in Detroit for 7 and a half seasons, but the 16-year drought before he arrived is more of an indictment on the Lions organization. The MVP goes to the best player on one of the top contending teams most years. Nobody will confuse Detroit for a contender if they limp in as a Wild Card. MVPs win their division, it’s as simple as that!
3. Spread the Ball to ALL of Detroit’s Weapons
Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin (80) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Andre Roberts (12) during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
As I wrote on Tuesday, the Lions don’t have a clear number one receiving option, despite Marvin Jones’ hot start. This one is crucial to change the perception that Stafford’s success was because he played with a great player rather than seeing him as a great player himself. The media likes to give most of the credit for a team’s success to the QB, fairly or unfairly. And once that QB is an established name, they go out of their way to shower praise. Look at Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and all of his struggles getting blamed on Mike McCarthy. Meanwhile, Rodgers’ success is perceived as more evidence of his greatness. With Tate, Ebron, Boldin, and Jones each getting lots of targets, it helps the narrative that Stafford is carrying this team by himself, true or not. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are great players, but nobody confuses them with Calvin Johnson.
4. Lead More Clutch Drives
Oct 25, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) slides during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Stafford has led 4th-quarter comebacks in all five of Detroit’s wins this season. This last-second drama has helped Detroit become one of the most exciting teams to watch in the entire NFL (seriously). People want to see what kinds of crazy odds Stafford can overcome. Obviously, the Lions cannot keep winning if they continue to blow leads late in games. But if Stafford does have another comeback or two left in him for these final seven games, it can help give voters a sort of “Heisman moment” where he can cement himself as the best late-game QB of 2016. Lions fans should hope they aren’t in so many tough situations, but this is about how he can win the MVP, not what is best for the team.
5. BEAT THE DALLAS COWBOYS!
Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) calls signals at the line of scrimmage Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Like Stafford, Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is also somewhat of a surprise MVP candidate. Elliott has ridden behind the best the offensive line in football to a league-leading 1,005 rushing yards. He, along with fellow rookie-sensation Dak Prescott, have the Cowboys at an NFL-best 8-1. Prescott is darkhorse MVP candidate himself, so in some ways they could cancel eachother out. The Cowboys must lose a few games, though, otherwise it’s all but over. As I wrote earlier, those “Heisman Moments” will stand out if it’s a close race. If Stafford can do something like he did against Dallas in 2013 (arguably the greatest of his 25 comebacks), it will go a long way. Beating Elliott and Prescott in Dallas on Monday Night Football would make a loud MVP statement. If all of these things can happen together, Stafford will have a damn good chance at winning.