The NFL MVP chatter has become like the Heisman Trophy talk: It's never too early to discuss it. It's fun to debate, but the discussion usually comes down to who is the hottest player at the moment. Nobody is hotter than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger threw 12 touchhdown passes in an eight-day span, an NFL record for a two-game stretch. That has some wondering if Roethlisberger should be considered the MVP at what is roughly the midpoint of the season.
Roethlisberger’s unbelievable run has given him an argument. After another great game Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens he finds himself second in the NFL with 2,720 yards. He has a 110.6 rating. He’s tied for second with 22 touchdowns. The Steelers are 6-3. It all looks pretty good. (Even better for those who thought he was a good bet at 50-to-1 odds before the season.)
The problem with the midseason MVP conjecture is we rarely look at the whole body of work. It’s a textbook case of recency bias. Look at San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Rivers was almost as good in September as Roethlisberger has been for the past few weeks. Good luck finding Rivers on an MVP list now that the Chargers have lost three games in a row. If you flip his season, with the bad streak in September and the great play the past few weeks, he'd be in the MVP discussion like Roethlisberger is now. Through six games, Roethlisberger had eight touchdowns and three interceptions for a 3-3 team that somehow lost to Tampa Bay at home. Should we weigh his recent three-game streak more heavily than the six weeks that came before it? What about September when Roethlisberger was good but not great? A 522-yard performance and a couple six-touchdown games have a way of changing the look of the overall stats.
I wouldn’t have Roethlisberger on top of my MVP list. That’s still Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Since voters ignore anyone but quarterbacks and sometimes running backs, I’d take Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as the top candidate among those who are realistically eligible. In fact, I’d take Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, Texans running back Arian Foster, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady over Roethlisberger. I might add New England tight end Rob Gronkowski to that list pretty soon, too. There's an argument to be made that Roethlisberger isn't even the Steelers' top MVP candidate since receiver Antonio Brown is having an insane season. And I don't think Roethlisberger will keep up an MVP pace either – though he's a very good quarterback and the Steelers look like a new team lately.
At least that’s my list right now. If Roethlisberger keeps up with the six-touchdown games, he’ll clearly move up. But not yet.
However, most people give more weight to what we've seen most recently. So if Roethlisberger shows up in MVP buzz this week, it wouldn't surprise me much. If his incredibly torrid pace lingers on for another few weeks, he might actually win it too.
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