The hay is now in the barn for the NFL MVP vote. All 50 votes had to be cast by the Tuesday morning after the end of the regular season, and we won't find out until the night before the Super Bowl just how much hay got allocated to each of the candidates.
The driving force behind a 4-1 finish that came within an "Oh crap, Connor Shaw is starting" game between Cleveland and Baltimore of ending with a playoff berth, J.J. Watt made a strong push at the end of the season. He finished with his second 20 sack season in four years, becoming the only player to finish the season with more than 20 sacks twice, and for you stat dorks, he broke his own record for highest Pro Football Focus score for an individual player ever.
Obviously, Aaron Rodgers is the main competition, having not only led the Green Bay Packers to an NFC North division title on the final day of the season against he Detroit Lions, but doing so limping around on one leg.
Unfortunately, voters tend to remember that stuff more than the off-the-radar stats like QB hits and QB pressures that Watt piles up.
HOWEVER (scream it like Stephen A. Smith...HOWEVAH!), the people of the United States have spoken, and their MVP is....
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Indeed, in a SportsNation poll on ESPN.com, the people were asked, "Who should be named NFL MVP this season?" and the people spoke loudly that J.J. Watt is two percentage points more deserving than Aaron Rodgers! Here is the map of the United States and the voting breakdown by candidate:
(SIDE BAR: These map polls on ESPN.com might be one of the most underrated inventions of the sports consumption evolution in the internet age. There is nothing more hilarious than the confirmation of geographic bias in a SportsNation poll. This one is actually a little more split. I'm talking more about the ones where the question is something like "Should Jameis Winston have been suspended?" and the only state that's a different color is Florida. Those are the best.)
So let's examine this map and raise a few fun factoids:
1. The popular vote went to J.J. Watt by the slimmest of margins -- 29 percent to Rodgers' 27 percent and Tom Brady's 24 percent, which raises an interesting talking point that I've been bringing up on my radio show for the past six weeks. I get the sense that most of the people who cover football (and I will transpose their thoughts to assume that the 50 who voted for MVP feel proportionally similar) see J.J. Watt as the clear-cut best player, but maybe not the most "valuable." That word "valuable" muddies the water and hurts Watt because his team didn't make the playoffs. (Conventional, flawed wisdom being "How valuable can a guy whose team didn't make the playoffs be?") So I think Watt is battling a line of thinking more than he is battling Rodgers specifically, and that is "Can anyone be more valuable than a QB?"
So what if the "QB thinkers" vote gets split between Rodgers and Brady? And enough of the other voters have come around on voting for the "best player" and vote for J.J. Watt? Like this SportsNation poll, J.J. Watt may not need a majority of the votes to win, if enough "QB voters" see Brady as being more valuable than Rodgers. Still, a long shot, but this poll illustrates a tangible example of what I've been espousing for a couple of months.
2. Of course, how revealing can a poll be that, again, shows ridiculous geographical bias. Brady carried the entire Northeast, Rodgers carried the entire heartland states, Watt carried pretty much everywhere else.
3. Only two of the five candidates in the poll won the state in which they played college ball, and it's not a huge surprise -- DeMarco Murray won Oklahoma and Peyton Manning won Tennessee. Surprisingly, Manning also won California, which is where Rodgers played college ball and Brady grew up. And don't ask me to explain how Manning won West Virginia. Honestly, I didn't even know they had Internet access there.
4. Speaking of home states, in Wisconsin? Yeah, J.J. Watt got destroyed. It's not depicted on this map, but the vote was like a 90/10 split in that state for Rodgers versus Watt, proving that adopted Packer citizenship trumps actual "grew up in the state and played for the state school" citizenship.
5. Bringing the dork-out over this thing full circle, I actually went and calculated the electoral votes of each of the states that these guys won, and you'll be pleased to know that if this were a presidential election, J.J. Watt would be a mere 13 electoral votes shy of becoming the next president of the United States! Can you imagine?!? We wouldn't have to deploy troops anymore, we could just send the actual Commander-in-chief overseas and he could squash the bad guys with his bare hands! (Then cook the new leaders of those liberated nations a nice big meal with some H-E-B products!)
If you're into this sort of thing, here is my legwork on the electoral vote count for President Watt....
WATT (29%, 257 electoral votes): WA, MT, ID, WY, CO , UT, AZ, KS, TX, LA , MS, AL, GA, NC, VA, DC, MD, NJ, PA, OH, IN, MI, AK, DE RODGERS (27%, 92 electoral votes): OR, NV, ND, SD, MN, NE, IA, IL, WI, MO, KY, HI BRADY (24%, 91 electoral votes): ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, FL MURRAY (17%, 18 electoral votes): NM, OK, AR MANNING (3%, 80 electoral votes): CA, TN, SC, WV
ALABAMA (9): WATT ALASKA (3): WATT ARIZONA (11): WATT ARKANSAS (6): MURRAY CALIFORNIA (55): MANNING
COLORADO (9): WATT CONNECTICUT (7): BRADY DELAWARE (3): WATT FLORIDA (29): BRADY GEORGIA (16): WATT
HAWAII (4): RODGERS IDAHO (4): WATT ILLINOIS (20): RODGERS INDIANA (11): WATT IOWA (6): RODGERS
KANSAS (6): WATT KENTUCKY (8): RODGERS LOUISIANA (8): WATT MAINE (4): BRADY MARYLAND (10); WATT
MASSACHUSETTS (11): BRADY MICHIGAN (16): WATT MINNESOTA (10): RODGERS MISSISSIPPI (6): WATT MISSOURI (10): RODGERS
MONTANA (3): WATT NEBRASKA (5): RODGERS NEVADA (6): RODGERS NEW HAMPSHIRE (4): BRADY NEW JERSEY (14): WATT
NEW MEXICO (5): MURRAY NEW YORK (29): BRADY NORTH CAROLINA (15): WATT NORTH DAKOTA (3): RODGERS OHIO (18): WATT
OKLAHOMA (7): MURRAY OREGON (7): RODGERS PENNSYLVANIA (20): WATT RHODE ISLAND (4): BRADY SOUTH CAROLINA (9): MANNING
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SOUTH DAKOTA (3): RODGERS TENNESSEE (11): MANNING TEXAS (38): WATT UTAH (6): WATT VERMONT (3): BRADY
VIRGINIA (13): WATT WASHINGTON (12): WATT WEST VIRGINIA (5): MANNING WISCONSIN (10): RODGERS WYOMING (3): WATT
WASH D.C. (3): WATT