Sunday, March 31, 2019

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What Was the (Statistically) Worst NFL MVP Season of All Time?

In analyzing MVP winners, I found a few that seem off based on their stats that year.

Statistical Outlier Score

I looked at this a few different ways. The first was to use the score described here. Using that, here are the winners each year that a QB or RB won the MVP and the league had at least 14 games. The number in parentheses is the score described in the link referenced above.

YearWinnerBest QBBest QB or RB
2018Patrick Mahomes (1.64)Patrick Mahomes (1.64)Patrick Mahomes (1.64)
2017Tom Brady (0.98)Alex Smith (1.12)Todd Gurley (1.70)
2016Matt Ryan (1.74)Matt Ryan (1.74)Matt Ryan (1.74)
2015Cam Newton (0.94)Russell Wilson (1.10)Russell Wilson (1.10)
2014Aaron Rodgers (1.57)Aaron Rodgers (1.57)Aaron Rodgers (1.57)
2013Peyton Manning (1.83)Peyton Manning (1.83)Peyton Manning (1.83)
2012Adrian Peterson (2.02)Aaron Rodgers (1.44)Adrian Peterson (2.02)
2011Aaron Rodgers (2.11)Aaron Rodgers (2.11)Aaron Rodgers (2.11)
2010Tom Brady (1.40)Tom Brady (1.40)Arian Foster (1.53)
2009Peyton Manning (0.69)Drew Brees (1.27)Chris Johnson (1.84)
2008Peyton Manning (0.54)Philip Rivers (1.35)DeAngelo Williams (1.81)
2007Tom Brady (2.08)Tom Brady (2.08)Tom Brady (2.08)
2006LaDainian Tomlinson (2.16)Peyton Manning (1.66)LaDainian Tomlinson (2.16)
2005Shaun Alexander (1.75)Peyton Manning (1.20)Shaun Alexander (1.75)
2004Peyton Manning (2.02)Peyton Manning (2.02)Peyton Manning (2.02)
2003Peyton Manning(1.22)
Steve McNair(1.36)
Steve McNair (1.36)Steve McNair (1.36)
2002Rich Gannon (1.10)Rich Gannon (1.10)Priest Holmes (2.14)
2001Kurt Warner (1.35)Kurt Warner (1.35)Marshall Faulk (2.27)
2000Marshall Faulk (2.31)Jeff Garcia (1.20)Marshall Faulk (2.31)
1999Kurt Warner (1.89)Kurt Warner (1.89)Kurt Warner (1.89)
1998Terrell Davis (2.34)Randall Cunningham (1.38)Terrell Davis (2.34)
1997Brett Favre(1.12)
Barry Sanders(2.28)
Brett Favre (1.12)Barry Sanders (2.28)
1996Brett Favre (1.42)Brett Favre (1.42)Brett Favre (1.42)
1995Brett Favre (1.29)Brett Favre (1.29)Emmitt Smith (2.29)
1994Steve Young (2.25)Steve Young (2.25)Steve Young (2.25)
1993Emmitt Smith (1.87)Steve Young (1.51)Emmitt Smith (1.87)
1992Steve Young (2.05)Steve Young (2.05)Steve Young (2.05)
1991Thurman Thomas (1.57)Mark Rypien (1.20)Barry Sanders (1.66)
1990Joe Montana (0.69)Warren Moon (1.33)Barry Sanders (1.62)
1988Boomer Esiason (1.44)Boomer Esiason (1.44)Boomer Esiason (1.44)
1985Marcus Allen (1.12)Boomer Esiason (1.30)Boomer Esiason (1.30)
1984Dan Marino (1.96)Dan Marino (1.96)Dan Marino (1.96)
1983Joe Theismann (1.20)Joe Theismann (1.20)Eric Dickerson (1.28)
1981Ken Anderson (1.37)Ken Anderson (1.37)Ken Anderson (1.37)
1980Brian Sipe (1.15)Brian Sipe (1.15)Earl Campbell (2.12)
1979Earl Campbell (1.22)Roger Staubach (1.37)Roger Staubach (1.37)
1978Terry Bradshaw (1.18)Roger Staubach (1.32)Roger Staubach (1.32)
1977Walter Payton (2.55)Bob Griese (0.88)Walter Payton (2.55)
1976Bert Jones (1.63)Bert Jones (1.63)Bert Jones (1.63)
1975Fran Tarkenton (1.05)Fran Tarkenton (1.05)O.J. Simpson (2.59)
1974Ken Stabler (1.42)Ken Stabler (1.42)Otis Armstrong (1.65)
1973O.J. Simpson (2.17)Roger Staubach (1.21)O.J. Simpson (2.17)
1970John Brodie (1.47)John Brodie (1.47)John Brodie (1.47)

Most years, the results look about right. There are a few that seem way off though. Digging into one of them, compare Rivers and Manning in 2008.
2008:
  • Peyton Manning: 250 yd/g, 1.7 td/g, 0.75 int/g, 7.2 yd/a, 95.0 rating
  • Phillip Rivers: 251 yd/g, 2.1 td/g, 0.68 int/g, 8.4 yd/a, 105.5 rating
Rivers outperformed him in every statistical category. Rivers' team also went further in the postseason than Manning's did that season and did so by beating Manning's team.

Regression Analysis

Another way I looked at this is by making a model to predict winners, and seeing which winner was least likely to win. The model is logistic regression using the following factors:
  • score: outlier score defined above
  • QB: 1 if you're a QB and 0 if you're an RB
That's it. I used all years since 1970. I dropped all years with any of the following:
  • multiple MVP winners
  • fewer than 14 games
  • a non-RB or QB winner
The pseudo-r^2 is 0.50.

For a given season, the total probability of winning has to be 1 for all players, so I just divided each player's score in each season by the sum of scores in that season to normalize it. As an extreme example, if two players have an individual score of 90% and the rest of the league has a combined score of 0%, those two players effectively each had a 50% chance of winning in that season.

Using this to generate % chance of winning for each season, I get the following as the 5 most obvious MVP winners and 5 'luckiest' MVP winners (won with the lowest % chance of winning). I've also added 'unluckiest' which is the list of players with the highest chance that ended up not winning that season.

Obvious:
  1. 1976, Bert Jones, 85% chance
  2. 1977, Walter Payton 83% chance
  3. 1992, Steve Young, 78% chance
  4. 2007, Tom Brady, 78% chance
  5. 2016, Matt Ryan, 75% chance
Luckiest:
  1. 1985, Marcus Allen, 1.4% chance
  2. 2008, Peyton Manning, 1.8% chance
  3. 2009, Peyton Manning, 2.3% chance
  4. 1990, Joe Montana, 3.0% chance
  5. 1979, Earl Campbell, 3.1% chance
Unluckiest:
  1. 1975, OJ Simpson, 77% chance
  2. 1979, Roger Staubach, 64% chance
  3. 1995, Emmitt Smith, 58% chance
  4. 2002, Priest Holmes, 55% chance
  5. 1993, Steve young, 54% chance
This model is extremely crude, but it works pretty well to spot outliers. I previously walked through Manning's 2008 season. Manning's 2009 was similar in that Brees beat him soundly statistically and their teams performed similarly. Montana's 1990 was interesting in that Moon outperformed him statistically but was on a much worse team. 1985 and 1979 were interesting in that an RB won the MVP with a worse overall statistical performance than the best QB. At least in recent history, QB's have had an advantage in MVP voting. This might be due to mixing time periods. 40 years ago, RB's were more valued, so by mixing old and new data I likely made the model inaccurate for really old or really new data.

Conclusion

Looking at only the statistical data and removing everything you pick up from watching the games (that is important but I can't capture here), I think Peyton Manning's 2008 season was the least deserving MVP season in the last 30 years. Statistically, Phillip Rivers, DeAngelo Williams, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner all had more impressive 2008 seasons. Manning's statistical score of 0.54 means that he was only half a standard deviation above the average starting QB that season which is the lowest ever for an MVP winner.




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