Who are the Super Bowl MVP favorites?
With early season sure-things out of Super Bowl LVI, we take a detailed look at the likely candidates for taking home the Pete Rozelle Trophy
What a ride this season’s playoffs have been. All of the top seeds are gone. The bottom of the pack are the last ones standing and the Cincinnati Bengals will face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI. That statement feels unreal to even write. The NFL’s most underrated team will face what is perhaps the most overhyped team. For the Rams, it will be a strange situation that will see them be the visiting team at a game played in their own stadium.
A little background
Apart from being the NFL championship game, the Super Bowl is chock full of traditions, some to do with the off-field antics of the crowd, some to do with its unique halftime show, and some on the field itself. One of these is the presentation of the Most Valuable Player award. The Pete Rozelle Trophy, to give it the formal title, is awarded by a panel of 16 football writers and broadcasters, whose vote makes up 80% of the tally, and the fans, whose electronically-cast votes make up the other 20%.
One of the other traditions around the MVP award is that, all things being equal, the award will usually go to the winning quarterback. There is some method to this apparent madness, in that the quarterback is intimately involved with every play, is the only player apart from the Center to touch the ball every play, and must distribute it to the backs or receivers before they can work their own magic. Even an ordinary quarterback will get the nod as long as he is competent.
Position players must be truly outstanding to win the award. 31 out of the 55 Super Bowls have seen the winning quarterback get the nod. The only time that the MVP was chosen from the losing side was in Super Bowl V in 1971, when Dallas Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley won the award despite the Cowboys' loss to the Baltimore Colts. Super Bowl XII saw another unique moment when Harvey Martin and Randy White were named co-MVPs.
Like everything in life, the MVP award seems to run in trends. The first 12 Super Bowls saw only five quarterbacks named as MVP, whereas the last 15 Super Bowls have seen 11 quarterbacks named. Apart from the quarterback, the only position players to have ever won the award are receivers, backs, defensive linemen and linebackers. Four awards have gone to other positions: two safeties, a cornerback and a kick returner, but no offensive lineman or kicker has ever won the award.
Super Bowl LVI
On the face of it, given the history and trend of the winning quarterback taking the MVP award, we would seem to be discussing the merits of Matt Stafford vs Joe Burrow. And that is definitely a good place to start the conversation. If the award were for the season itself and not simply the Super Bowl game, then there is no argument at all, Joe Burrow is far and away the more valuable of the two. Not to say that Matt Stafford is not outstanding, he is. But without him, the Rams still have a formidable side. Without Joe Burrow, the Bengals are a bottom tier team. No team in the history of the NFL has been more indebted to a single player like the Bengals are to Joe Burrow right now. But the award can only be for the performance on the night itself, and anything can happen in the Super Bowl.
Other possible players to consider, depending on how the game goes, would be the receivers and backs. Los Angeles has one real standout in their receiving corps in Cooper Kupp. He has been Stafford’s go-to guy throughout the back end of the season and the playoffs. Other players are magical to watch, I’m looking at you Odell Beckham Jr., but have not had the consistent game impact that Kupp has had. If LA win, he could be a major factor in that. Cam Akers and Tyler Higbee round out the Rams who are capable of bringing a next-level performance on any given day.
On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati has Ja’Marr Chase. Already the best rookie receiver since Randy Moss, with records and awards to boot, Chase has the talent and ability to be a game-changer. His runs after the catch are almost Matrix-like. Everyone freezes and he just blows past them. In the words of Joe Burrow, “F- it. Ja’Marr’s down there somewhere. Just throw it up to him, he’s gonna make a play.”
With CJ Uzomah questionable for the Super Bowl, the Bengals’ second level threat may be either running back Joe Mixon or Tee Higgins.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams definitely have an edge on individual playmakers. Aaron Donald and Von Miller can cause mayhem upfront against a pedestrian Bengals offensive line, and Jalen Ramsey is a big-time playmaker in the secondary.
The Bengals defense highlights the problem with the entire MVP concept, namely that football is team sport. The only true standout individuals are Eli Apple and Vonn Bell in the secondary, but with no big-name stars, the Bengals defense is the best in the NFL at halftime adjustments. They seem average in the first half, even below average, and then adjust better than everyone else in the game and shut offenses down in the second half. They have done it week in and week out, against every opponent in any situation. If anyone on this defense wins the MVP, it should be the coordinator Lou Anaroumo.
Of course it is always possible that this game, like so many others at the tail end of the season and playoffs, will go down to the wire and ultimately come down to a last minute kick. Although it would be something that has never happened before, it is just within the realms of possibility that the kick will be so impressive that the kicker gets the MVP. It is a real stretch, but if that happens, it is very unlikely to be Matt Gay for the Rams. He has struggled mightily in recent weeks with relatively short kicks, his longest in the postseason being 46 yards. The real threat is over in Cincinnati with Evan McPherson. He is 12 for 12 in the playoffs and with three over 50 yards and his longest at 54 yards.
All of this discussion about backs and receivers, defensive threats and kickers, has been in the realms of the hypothetical. Bringing the discussion back to planet earth, though, the ultimate MVP vote will stick to form and go to the winning quarterback. Matt Stafford could well be that guy, unless there is justice in the universe, where Joe Burrow will be acknowledged for what he is: a true game changer.