Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 11

In Sunday’s losing effort, Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson rushed 16 times for just 62 yards (although he did catch 5 passes for 93 receiving yards). One of his non-runs included a somewhat perplexing decision by Norv Turner to have LDT pass on fourth-and-two late in the game and San Diego trailing by a touchdown; the ploy failed. For the year, Tomlinson is projected to rush for 543 fewer yards than last season—a 30% decrease. He’s also on pace to score 15 fewer touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s Shaun Alexander missed his second straight game and has played in only 8 overall, gaining a paltry 492 yards on a whispy 3.3 average gain per carry. Interestingly, his team has won both of those games without him and has looked its strongest all season.

Finally, Baltimore’s Steve McNair also did not play this weekend, due to an injury that is widely believed to be a PR move that spares him the embarrassment of a formal benching. McNair has the 6th worst passer rating among starters and presides over the 21st-ranked passing team in the league.

What do these three have in common? Along with Peyton Manning, they are the most recent MVPs. Consider the winners of the past 10 years:

2006 LaDainian Tomlinson
2005 Shaun Alexander
2004 Peyton Manning
2003 Peyton Manning, Steve McNair
2002 Rich Gannon
2001 Kurt Warner
2000 Marshall Faulk
1999 Kurt Warner
1998 Terrell Davis
1997 Brett Favre, Barry Sanders

Of this group, only five (Tomlinson, Favre, Manning, Warner, Alexander) are still playing, and only three (Favre, Manning, and Tomlinson) are performing at a high level. Sanders, Davis, Faulk, and Gannon are long gone, and Warner’s playing time and efficacy over the past few years has been highly sporadic. Now contrast this list with that of the last ten years’ worth of baseball winners:

2006 Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau
2005 Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez
2004 Barry Bonds, Vladimir Guerrero
2003 Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez
2002 Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada
2001 Barry Bonds, Ichiro Suzuki
2000 Jeff Kent, Jason Giambi
1999 Chipper Jones, Iván Rodríguez
1998 Sammy Sosa, Juan González
1997 Larry Walker, Ken Griffey, Jr.

Only two of these recipients, Walker and González, are completely retired, and the latter has been attempting a comeback (and Bonds and Sosa might be retiring this offseason). Moreover, every single one of the others is still a great-to-elite player, and one of them, A-Rod, has just won this year’s MVP again. A similar situation exists for the last ten NBA MVPs:

2007 Dirk Nowitzki
2006 Steve Nash
2005 Steve Nash
2004 Kevin Garnett
2003 Tim Duncan
2002 Tim Duncan
2001 Allen Iverson
2000 Shaquille O'Neal
1999 Karl Malone
1998 Michael Jordan
1997 Karl Malone

Only the two furthest back, Malone and Jordan, have retired, while the rest—except for Shaq, I guess—remain perennial MVP candidates.

The difficulty of sustaining superlative individual achievement in the NFL is a product of three factors: the extreme brutality of the sport that shortens careers through injuries, the highly-specialized positions that effectively minimize any one player’s impact, and the salary cap and revenue-sharing plans that promote parity.

Offensive Player of the Week: Tom Brady, Patriots. Speaking of MVPs, Brady could justifiably win this award every week. But this seemed like the best time to pick him because a) he passed for 373 yards, completed 31-of-39 of his attempts, threw 5 touchdowns, had no picks or sacks, and rated 146; and b) the alternative would have been Terrell Owens (8 receptions, 173 yards, 4 TDs).

Defensive Player of the Week: Antrel Rolle, Cardinals. 3 interceptions, 2 of which were touchdowns, led to a big win on the road in Cincinnati. It’s been a tough couple of years for the former Miami Hurricane, but as he points out, “I never pouted, never ranted and raved, never became a cancer to this team.” This is what it’s come to: players praising themselves for not becoming cancers--well done!

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