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Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals

Should Joe Burrow Be The NFL MVP?

  • Jack McKessy
  • January 7, 2022
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As the 2021-22 NFL regular season draws to a close, Aaron Rodgers continues to extend his lead in Las Vegas’ odds for NFL MVP. With all due respect to the odds-on favorite—and at risk of him calling me a bum—there’s a really solid case to be made for a younger quarterback after a late-season surge. Of course, I’m talking about the Cincinnati Bengals’ sophomore quarterback, Joe Burrow. The Bengals have already clinched the AFC North with last week’s win, and Burrow is taking the opportunity to rest in Week 18 before his first playoff start. His regular season is over, so his résumé for the award is set. So, let’s start by taking a look at his final statistics from his first full year in the league. For starters, Burrow is the NFL leader in completion percentage, standing at 70.4%—he’s the only NFL quarterback completing passes at a higher than 70% clip. In addition, Burrow leads the league in accurate throws. His on-target throw percentage, which excludes spikes and throwaways, is 82.8%, nearly a full percentage point higher than Justin Herbert’s, who is second. If that wasn’t enough, Burrow’s completion percentage above expectation also leads the league according to Next Gen Stats, meaning he completed harder throws more than any other quarterback this season. Statistically speaking, the Cincinnati sophomore was the most accurate gunslinger in the NFL this season. Burrow has also been among the top producers at quarterback in the NFL this season. He leads the league in yards per pass attempt (8.9) and adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.96). He’s also among the top five in passing yards with 4,611 and tied for sixth with Josh Allen with 36 passing touchdowns. A big key to Burrow’s success in production this season has been the talented receiving corps around him and his propensity to spread the ball around. While rookie Ja’Marr Chase has been his quarterback’s favorite target, it’s not by a wide margin. Fellow receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are both within 15 receptions of Chase’s team-leading 79. Higgins and Chase have also passed 1,000 receiving yards each, making the Bengals one of just three teams in the NFL to have such a duo through 16 games. Spreading the ball around the way Burrow did this season has made the Bengals a hard team to defend in the air, which could make them a big problem in the playoffs. In his last two games of the season, we got to see exactly how big of a problem it can really be. Cincinnati’s final two games with Burrow in the regular season were against the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs. One team was still vying for a playoff spot, one was trying to lock down the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Burrow didn’t care. He just put on two of the best performances of his career, absolutely dominating the defenses of two playoff-caliber teams. His stats from those last two games combined included his 971 yards on 67-of-85 passing (78.8 percent completion rate), plus eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Again, that wasn’t against bottom-feeder teams, that was against Baltimore and Kansas City. Adding more to that point, Burrow led the Bengals to a 10-6 record and first-place finish in a tightly-contested AFC North division after Cincinnati finished last in 2020. Entering Week 18, the combined records of Cincinnati’s divisional opponents is 23-24-1. If we compare that to, I don’t know, the NFC North and the 15-32-1 combined record of the Packers’ divisional opponents, the Bengals have a clearly more impressive division championship. All the while, Burrow kept up in his passer rating, with a final rating of 108.3, just under three points behind the NFL leader: Rodgers’ 111.1. With all of those positive stats, it might seem like Burrow should be the one running away with the award, so why isn’t he the leader in Vegas’ odds? Well, the Cincinnati quarterback also had some very sobering net negative plays for his team. For one, his league-leading 51 sacks taken and 370 sacked yards lost aren’t likely to be surpassed, even with his week off. That is way too much negative yardage to be taking, poor offensive line or not. What’s more, Burrow is tied for fifth in the NFL with his 14 interceptions, trailing league leader Trevor Lawrence by only three. While the Bengals’ signal-caller did turn around his turnover problem in the last four weeks—he’s had none since his lost fumble and two picks in Week 13—the early issues are a big knock against his MVP case. Taking all of that into account, it’s unlikely Burrow wins the 2021 NFL MVP award. His high interception and sack total, along with his team’s 10-6 record, hold him back from having the résumés of guys like Tom Brady and Rodgers. But the young quarterback’s final two games this season gave us a small taste of what might be to come from Burrow. His future is bright, and he’s someone many will be looking out for in the MVP races to come.

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Jack McKessy