The man that deserves the 2016 NFL MVP award will be on the field on Championship Sunday. I’m not talking about Matt Ryan, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. I’m not even talking about Julio Jones, who had a nice case going until he missed some time at the end of the year. I’m talking about videographer-extraordinare Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Brown’s numbers are good—106 catches at 12.1 yards per catch, but those aren’t the reason he’s my choice in what’s been a watered down year. I’m picking him because of his overall value to the Steeler offense and his clutch performance.
The debate over whether the receiver or the quarterback should get more credit for passing numbers is a bit of the which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg variety. Obviously it requires both and more than any other sport, football is one where no man operates in a vacuum. But there are some statistical indicators we can look at and the most obvious is how much of a burden one particular receiver takes on his team’s passing offense.
Brown is overwhelmingly the top receiver for Pittsburgh. No one else has more than 75 catches and that’s Le’Veon Bell coming out of the backfield. The next receiver down on the Steeler list is Eli Rogers, who’s caught just 39 passes this season. And in spite of his smaller volume, his 12.4 yards-per-catch isn’t that much better than Brown’s.
The numbers, along with simply watching, also say that Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t had his best year. He hasn’t been bad by any means, but between missing a couple games and throwing 13 interceptions (on 2.6% of his passes, a high percentage of picks), he’s not an MVP candidate in his own right.
So we have Antonio Brown basically shouldering the burden for the Pittsburgh passing game, with that offense ranking 10th in the league in points scored and the team winning a division title and gaining the 3-seed in the AFC. We can’t factor in postseason performance since voting had to be done after Week 17. Just take my word for it, I had settled on Brown a couple weeks ago and am just getting around to writing about why.
If you want a signature play to remember, Antonio’s got you covered there too. How can anyone forget his memorable reach for the goal-line in the closing seconds against Baltimore late in the afternoon on Christmas Day. If he lacks the presence of mind to just barely get the ball over the plane of the goal line, the Steelers would have gone into Week 17 needing help just to make the playoffs. Instead, the lunge got them the AFC North title and created another memorable moment in a rivalry that’s produced more than its fair share.
I’ll admit that Brown’s statistical performance doesn’t scream “MVP!” at me. But Brady missed four games. Rodgers stunk the joint out for ten games (and yes Packer fans, he was primarily at fault for the 4-6 start). Matt Ryan and Atlanta have a similar situation to Pittsburgh in that one receiver bears top-heavy responsibility for the offense. In fact, a couple months ago, Jones was my frontrunner. But his missed time opened the door for Brown.
Antonio Brown’s film-making career might have taken a beating this past week, but his football career is alive and well. He won’t win the MVP, but he deserves to.