Fresh on the heels of three-straight comeback wins over teams with winning records, Detroit Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford is starting to gain momentum as a viable Most Valuable Player candidate. It’s about time No. 9 starts getting more of his due respect.
Despite the worst Lions’ defensive unit since the winless 2008 campaign, Stafford has all the pistons firing on the Detroit offense. Few passers can match the proficiency and prolific production Stafford’s posted over the last 16 games…
Those Matthew Stafford stats though ???? pic.twitter.com/6jpqqnAXIl
— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) October 24, 2016
This is an important line of demarcation, as it’s now been 16 games since Jim Bob Cooter took over as Offensive Coordinator. All this success begs the question, what took so long?
That’s an argument for another time. As far as Stafford’s MVP relevance in 2016, he’s built a decent case in the first seven games:
· Fourth in the NFL in completion percentage, 68.1
· Fourth in TDs with 15, and his 15/4 TD/INT ratio is better than two of the three above him
· Third in QB Rating at 105.7
· First in game-winning drives with 4. Nobody else has more than 2
It’s that final point which gives Stafford’s MVP candidacy real legs. MVP voters reward winners, and Stafford is the sole reason why the Detroit Lions are a surprising 4-3. His clutch play, fearless guile and consistent ability to raise the level of play of those around him are giant checkmarks in the intangible boxes. The fact he’s accomplishing all this despite a jumbled offensive line which starts two rookies on the left side, with top receiving tight end Eric Ebron out more than he’s in, and his receivers leading the league in drops, bolsters the hero factor. That’s catnip for MVP voters who typically only catch highlights of Lions games that are well out of the spotlight.
He will need the emerging groundswell of national support. When guys like Peter Schrager, who has been the sideline reporter for Detroit’s last three games as well as a fixture on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, trumpets his love of Stafford’s game and promotes him as an MVP candidate, more of the voting cognoscenti must take notice.
Even so, Stafford is still a longshot.
MVP winners almost invariably come from division winners, teams that rack up 12 or more wins. Detroit currently sits in third place in the NFC North and two of its losses, to Tennessee and Chicago, are major black marks. MVPs don’t lose to these Chicago Bears.
If the Lions can continue winning and finish at 11-5, with a couple more heroic comeback wins sprinkled in over the likes of the Packers and Cowboys, then it’s definitely time to take Stafford’s candidacy seriously. There are several guys ahead of him — notably Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson — who are much more likely to capture the honor, though.
Even if he doesn’t ultimately win the award, and he almost certainly will not, at least Stafford is changing the long-running national narrative that he’s more of the problem than the solution in Detroit. Respect comes slowly, but it is indeed coming. Stafford’s consistently improved play over the last 16 games under Cooter sure looks like it will sustain over time.
Even the most skeptical Lions fans, those who cried for Kellen Moore to bump Stafford or demanded the team draft his replacement, are coming around. It’s now a rarity for sports radio callers to complain about the 2009 No. 1 overall pick. It was formerly a talking point every day.
The rising tide buoys Stafford’s profile. It won’t help him overcome the steep MVP odds in 2016, but he should enter 2017 as one of the leading candidates.