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WHO WILL WIN SUPER BOWL LI?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

AFC WILD CARD 

(6) Miami Dolphins at (3) Pittsburgh Steelers

The only other matchup between the two teams this year was in Week 6, when Miami beat the Steelers 30-15 to begin their six-game win streak that got them into the playoffs. The Steelers team they'll be playing, however, has greatly improved from their early-season struggles. Plus, with Ryan Tannehill officially being declared out for the game, I doubt Matt Moore will be able to outscore the Steelers' triple threat of Ben Roethlisberger (pictured above), Antonio Brown, and Le'Veon Bell.

WINNER: Pittsburgh Steelers


(5) Oakland Raiders at (4) Houston Texans

The Texans haven't forgotten their controversial Nov. 21 loss in Mexico to the Raiders, and are looking for their third Wild Card Game victory in six years. If Derek Carr hadn't broken his fibula in the second-to-last game of the season, I would've handed this game to Oakland, but since we're getting the worst quarterback matchup in recent playoff history (Connor Cook vs Brock Osweiler), I'm actually giving it to Houston based on the their defense (statistically the best in the league) Raiders' cold streak, losing their biggest offensive weapon in Carr and getting blown out by Denver in Week 17.

WINNER: Houston Texans


NFC WILD CARD

(6) Detroit Lions vs (3) Seattle Seahawks

It wasn't the most impressive season for Seattle, and they still have some glaring issues that need to be fixed quickly in order for them to make their third Super Bowl (that offensive line is disgusting), but Seattle has been lethal in the postseason for the past half-decade for a reason. Detroit, meanwhile, limps into the postseason after thinking they'd sealed the NFC North, but three straight losses (including Week 17 to eventual division winner Green Bay) puts Detroit in the home of the 12th Man. It won't be pretty for Matthew Stafford and the Lions.

WINNER: Seattle Seahawks


(5) New York Giants at (4) Green Bay Packers

The most interesting Wild Card game by far, it's Aaron Rodgers vs. Eli Manning, both of whom have two wins each at Lambeau Field (fun fact: both of Eli's playoff wins at Green Bay occurred during his two Super Bowl-winning seasons). I originally saw these two teams as the ones to knock off the Dallas Cowboys, but only one will get the opportunity. I'm picking the Cheeseheads to get that opportunity.

WINNER: Green Bay Packers


AFC DIVISIONAL ROUND

(4) Houston Texans at (1) New England Patriots

Despite winning three out of their four Wild Card game appearances, Houston has never gotten out of the divisional round, and they've lost their last four games against New England, including their 27-0 Week 3 loss to Jimmy Garoppolo. What the hell are they going to do against Tom Brady?

WINNER: New England Patriots


(3) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Kansas City Chiefs

Even on a late-season hot streak, Pittsburgh will be challenged to win in Arrowhead, and against a Chiefs team currently running on all cylinders. The Steelers will only win if they take advantage of Kansas City's below-average defense (24th in the NFL), especially on the ground.

WINNER: Pittsburgh Steelers


NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND

(4) Green Bay Packers vs (1) Dallas Cowboys

Green Bay's offense will be air-based (Aaron Rodgers) and Dallas' offense will be ground-based (Ezekiel Elliott), and it will be a high-scoring affair. However, the edge goes to the team with a balance of passing and rushing attacks, over the team with an almost exclusively passing attack.

WINNER: Dallas Cowboys

(3) Seattle Seahawks at (2) Atlanta Falcons

The last time these two teams faced off in the playoffs, Atlanta dropped a red-hot Seahawks team that hadn't fully reached its peak. After four seasons and a two Super Bowl appearances, however, Seattle looks ready to return to the big game. Atlanta's high-octane offense will keep the game interesting, but Seattle gets revenge for 2013.

WINNER: Seattle Seahawks


AFC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

(2)Pittsburgh Steelers at (1) New England Patriots

This would only be the second playoff matchup between Brady and Roethlisberger, the first since the 2005 AFC Championship. Twelve years later, the two future Hall of Fame QBs square off for another Super Bowl berth, and it will go to the man who has won four out of five AFC Championships in Foxborough, where this game will be played.

WINNER: New England Patriots


NFC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

(2) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Dallas Cowboys

If this game was in Seattle, I would've picked the Birds in a blowout, and even in Dallas, I'm not sure Dallas' young offense will be able to penetrate the experienced Seahawks defense, even if their offensive line is a thousand times better than Seattle's.

WINNER: Seattle Seahawks


SUPER BOWL LI

New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks

The Patriots' only true loss this season (I discredit Buffalo's Week 4 win over Jacory Harris) came in a close game against the Seahawks, but more importantly, it will be Seattle's opportunity to get revenge for what should have been their second Super Bowl win. The Patriots' offense will have to fully take advantage of Seattle's weak O-line to shut down Russell Wilson. I believe they can do it, and I believe they can win their fifth Super Bowl in franchise history.

SUPER BOWL LI WINNER: New England Patriots

Who do YOU think will win Super Bowl LI? Comment below or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

WHO IS THE 2016-17 NFL MVP?

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

2016 is finally over, and the NFL postseason is about to begin. Before the twelve qualifying teams compete for the Lombardi Trophy, MS Blog is focusing on the regular season MVP race. So far, there are only five remaining players with at least a considerable shot at the MVP award, but before we cover the final five, we'll run through the players that were at one point seen as MVP candidates before dropping out of the race, for whatever reasons (injuries, poor play, lack of team success, the other candidates running away, etc.):

Raiders QB Derek Carr
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders

He's already accomplished more in three seasons than his fellow quarterback brother David did in ten, and I'm excited to see what he and Amari Cooper can do to rejuvenate Oakland (or L.A., or Vegas, or San Antonio, or wherever the Raiders will be in 2017 and beyond). This is not the season, however, for Carr (his Week 16 leg injury killed his chance to win the MVP and the AFC West) or the Raiders (who now have either Matt McGloin or Connor Cook leading them in Saturday's game against Houston). This does not, however, take anything away from Carr, who was voted into the Pro Bowl by throwing for 28 touchdowns and cutting his interceptions total from 2015 (13) by more than half in '16 (6).

Lions QB Matthew Stafford
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

I didn't expect Stafford to have this kind of season, especially after losing one of football's greatest wide receivers in Calvin Johnson. Still, Stafford (4,327 passing yards, 24 TDs, 10 INTs) made Detroit the new Comeback Kids by winning eight of nine games after starting the season 1-3, while also setting the record for most fourth-quarter comebacks in a single season (those 8 wins). With the Packers struggling mightily in the first half of the year, the Lions seemed to have the NFC North wrapped up, but losing their final three regular season games (including Week 17 at home against the Packers) dropped Detroit to a wild card spot and booted Stafford out of MVP discussion. He didn't even make it into the Pro Bowl, though it would have been difficult to get voted in over the three that did make it; those three quarterbacks are all still in discussion for the MVP.

Cardinals RB David Johnson
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Johnson is starting to creep out of his status of "The Best Running Back Nobody Talks About", especially after the year he had (1,239 rushing yards, 16 rushing TDs, 4.4 rushing average). He may be the number one offensive weapon for the Cardinals now that Carson Palmer is beginning to show his age and Larry Fitzgerald eventually will show his. Johnson was the high point on a team that underachieved in 2016 (7-8-1, three games behind Seattle in the NFC West, and losses to Buffalo and Los Angeles). The Cardinals' mediocre finish likely hurt Johnson's chances in the race, but with only two seasons under his belt, don't count Johnson out for the MVP in future seasons.

Cowboys O-Line (from left to right): Doug Free (RT), Zack Martin (RG), Travis Frederick (C), Ronald Leary (LG) & Tyron Smith (LT)

The Dallas Cowboys' Offensive Line (Ronald Leary (LG), Tyron Smith (LT), Travis Frederick (C), Doug Free (RT) & Zack Martin (RG))

I would have never included a candidate (or candidates) like this if they hadn't generated so much buzz for a period of time. After Dallas' Nov. 13 win against the Steelers at Heinz Field (the game that proved the Cowboys were for real), ESPN staff writer Bill Barnwell highlighted the O-line of the Cowboys for their great play, in protecting and creating gaps for two of my final four MVP candidates (one of which rushed for 209 yards and three touchdowns that day in Pittsburgh). Eight days later, Sports Illustrated wrote about the same unit and promoted the same message: the MVP award should go to the entire offensive line.

Let me say that again: Writers from ESPN and SI, two of the biggest sports media sources on the planet, believed that a football team's entire offensive unit should win the league's Most Valuable Player award. The idea of that actually happening is Greek to me, and thankfully, it doesn't look like it's going to happen. I am not going to sit here and say that the O-line didn't play phenomenally: Frederick, Martin, and Smith were voted to the Pro Bowl, Dallas' 26.31 points per game was fifth in the NFL, and two of my five MVP candidates flourished in their respective rookie seasons behind said line. 

That being said, it would be ridiculous for multiple players in a unit to win an MVP award. It's why the award is called the Most Valuable Player, not Most Valuable Players, and though the O-line is doing the dirty work, offensive and defensive lines come and go because they are made up of multiple players. Singular MVP players are one in a million. This would be like in Major League Baseball, an entire five-man pitching rotation - or worse, an entire bullpen - winning the Cy Young Award. I'm already against closers winning the Cy Young Award unless they are a transcendent pitcher (which is why Mariano Rivera should have a Cy Young Award and Eric Gagne shouldn't). 

To make my point, I will put the Cowboys' O-line on this list because many others would possibly do the same. But I can't seriously consider them for the MVP. I do wish them luck in the playoffs, however.


MS BLOG'S FINAL FIVE MVP CANDIDATES

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

311-459, 67.8% complete, 3,667 pass. yards, 23 pass TDs, 4 INTs, 81.7 QB rating

Record: 13-3, 1st in NFC South (1st in NFC)

After he was announced as Tony Romo's replacement at quarterback during Romo's recovery from a vertebral fracture, I realized I hadn't even thought about Dak since his days at Mississippi State, where he was hailed as the man who would bring the Bulldogs a national title after beating LSU, Texas A&M & Auburn in his junior year, making MSU the number one team in the country. Then he lost to Alabama and Ole Miss in two of his last three regular season games, dropping Dak out of the Heisman Trophy race (he finished eighth with two first-place votes) and Miss. State out of the College Football Playoff. In the Orange Bowl,  they lost to Georgia Tech, 49-34. For the season, Dak threw for 3,449 passing yards, 27 TDs, and ran for 986 yards with 14 rushing TDs.

Dak's senior year was better stats-wise (3,793 passing yards, 29 passing TDs, 5 INTs, 10 rushing TDs) but worse record-wise (8-4, 4-4 in the SEC). The Bulldogs actually won the Belk Bowl (51-28 over North Carolina State), and Dak won the game's MVP award by throwing four touchdown passes. Still, the Cowboys, in desperate need of a young quarterback to succeed Romo, missed out on Paxton Lynch (Denver) and Connor Cook (Oakland) and had to settle for Dak in the fourth round. Dak even struggled as a backup, sitting behind Kellen Moore and Jameill Showers before developing after being named the starter for the beginning of the year.

It turns out that Dak may have been a wise fourth-round steal. He has played so well in the Cowboys' high-octane passing-oriented attack that he became the first rookie to start a full season and lead his team to the playoffs since Russell Wilson in 2012. He hasn't just put the Cowboys back in the playoffs; he's been a part of the best team in the NFC (maybe the NFL) and established himself as one of the NFL's potential elite QBs, as well as one of the league's best dual backfield threats. He even made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, along with heavyweights like Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers.

THE CASE FOR DAK: Most veteran quarterbacks would yearn for the statistics the rookie Prescott put up this year, and most of those statistics became rookie records. Some of Dak's freshman accomplishments included the most wins (13, tied with Ben Roethlisberger), least interceptions thrown (4), highest quarterback rating (104.9), highest completion percentage (67.8%), and the most pass attempts without an interception (176) this may persuade the voters enough to make Dak the first rookie MVP since Earl Campbell in '78. Also, Dak made a huge impact on this Cowboys team; would you think Romo could post a similar record and statline with the same backfield, O-line, and receivers? I'm sure he'd be alright, but it would be hard to think he could pull off what Dak pulled off.

THE CASE AGAINST DAK: It's sort of like being a Heisman Trophy voter who picks a college football player that already won the Heisman. There's an uneasiness to making a rookie the Most Valuable Player in the NFL, especially when there's other veterans putting up numbers that make the rookie look like a high school freshman. I mean, 20-4 with 3,667 passing yards is great for a number of capable QBs and outstanding for a developing rookie, but when you have vets like Drew Brees throwing for 5,000 yards and Aaron Rodgers scoring 40 touchdowns, it's difficult to look away from those monster numbers. Dak's passing yards total was only 19th among starting QBs, and his touchdowns were only 16th.

MVP MOMENT: Dak's biggest game came in his biggest win of the season: Week 10 in Pittsburgh, a 35-30 come-from-behind win that originally looked like a Steelers victory with only 42 seconds left. Though his teammate stole the show with a game-winning touchdown run, Dak made up the bulk of Dallas' final drive, completing three of four passes for 28 yards (including a facemask penalty), but that doesn't fully represent the great game Dak had: 22-32, 319 yards, 2 TDs.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

373-534, 69.9% complete, 4,944 pass yards, 38 pass TDs, 7 INTs, 83.4 QB rating

Record: 11-5, 1st in NFC South (2nd in NFC)

I never truly envisioned Ryan as an MVP candidate, even this year. I think it had to do with him playing in Atlanta, a city that hasn't fully embraced its football team like it has with the Braves or even the Hawks (but certainly more than the Thrashers), even with the Georgia Dome being one of the city's crown jewels. Still, Ryan has made football life in Georgia at least somewhat interesting and competitive. I originally believed his peak came in two different years: his rookie season (when he made Atlanta forget about Michael Vick and got the Falcons back in the playoffs), and 2013, where he posted former career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage, and well as wins (the Falcons still lost to the 49ers in the NFC Championship). Other than that, I never saw Ryan as great. I saw him as really, really good, but not great. Even his 13-3 season in 2010 ended up with him practically crapping himself against Green Bay in the divisional round (186 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs).

Now, Ryan has rebounded from three consecutive non-winning seasons (a combined record of 18-30 from 2013-2015) with his finest statistical season yet. It also established him as one of the NFL's most consistent quarterbacks. Back in October, Ryan set the NFL record for most consecutive games with at least 200 passing yards (a record that is still running at 55 games). That doesn't mean he won't break out for the big game, however; he threw for 503 passing yards and four touchdown passes in a win over Carolina in Week 4, while also providing 12 throws worth over 300 yards for fellow Pro Bowler Julio Jones, a single-game record for receiving yards.

THE CASE FOR RYAN: Consistency is the key word here. It would be boring if Ryan had played on a Falcons team that went 4-12 or 8-8, but Atlanta's breakthrough in the NFC South has bolstered Ryan's odds to win. I've always believed that if the Falcons had been the San Antonio Spurs of the NFL and had much more postseason success (in a small football market, somewhat bland yet fully functional), Ryan's legacy would be greater than it is at this point. He'd be like the Tim Duncan of football. Regardless, Ryan's numbers were still fantastic in their own right: his 38 touchdowns were second in the league, as were his passing yards (4,944). One stat he did lead in, however, was QBR (83.4).

THE CASE AGAINST RYAN: His "boring" consistency hinders him due to the fact that he's the least attractive MVP candidate. He's going up against not one, but two Dallas Cowboys, Wisconsin's golden boy, and the man considered to be a football god in Boston. You're going to tell me you'd pick the vanilla quarterback from Atlanta, a team that never scratches at the postseason surface, before any of those other candidates? Fortunately for Ryan, the voting process is held after the regular season, so if he bombs in the divisional round, it won't affect the outcome.

MVP MOMENT: The Week 4 win over the Panthers (48-33), with Ryan's team-record 503 yards and 4 TDs. This was the game that showed Atlanta was ready to compete for the NFC South. Even though the Panthers were only at 1-2, they suffered an unexpected blowout loss, and worse, they had to endure Cam Newton's concussion, effectively hindering the rest of the year for a team that made the Super Bowl the year prior. Ryan proved he belonged among the NFL's elite in this game.

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

322 carries, 1,631 rush yards, 5.1 yards per carry, 15 touchdowns

Record: 13-3, 1st in NFC East (1st in NFC)

I was ecstatic when Elliott was drafted fourth by Dallas in last year's NFL Draft, an Ohio State alum going to one of the NFL's most famous franchises, even if the team was in a dire state at the time. I hoped that Elliott's pro career most resembled his legendary Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama, as well as his national title game-winning effort versus Oregon. 

So far, his career is looking more or less like those two games. Zeke's first year has resembled the freshman seasons of a few rushing greats, like Eric Dickerson in '83 and Barry Sanders in '89. Elliott hasn't reached the heights of those Hall of Famers quite yet, but with the pace he has set for a potentially long career, he could be on his way to Canton.

It also helps that he's part of the league's best quarterback-running back tandem under the age of 25. With Prescott being a young QB with time to develop, Elliott, being a first-round pick compared to Prescott (a fourth-rounder), Elliott has been able to dominate in what was originally a pass-heavy offense under Tony Romo. It's impossible to say if Romo would've affected Elliott's carry totals, but what we do know is that Dak and Zeke go together like PB&J in Dallas, and hopefully this duo dominates pro football for at least the next decade and a half.

THE CASE FOR ZEKE: Much like Prescott, Zeke is young with veteran-like stats. Unlike Dak, however, Elliott was high in many of his position's categories. Nobody in the NFL rushed for more yards, he finished 3rd in touchdowns (behind LeGarrette Blount and David Johnson), and he tied for fifth in yards per carry (5.1). The only time he rushed for less than 80 yards was in his first game, and in those other fourteen games, he rushed for over 100 yards seven times. He also runs the best Instagram page among all current/former/future NFL players, with crisp game shots highlighting his successes at Ohio State and in Dallas (okay, okay, this last stat doesn't affect his MVP chances. I just wanted to highlight his professional-grade photos. Have a look...)

THE CASE AGAINST ZEKE: We already covered this issue with Prescott, but Zeke has the same problem going against him: he's a rookie going up against veterans for the highest single-player award in pro football. You may be asking, "Didn't you say he led the league in multiple categories?" He did, but that's where the next issue comes into play: he's the only running back in an MVP race full of quarterbacks. Whether we like it or not, quarterbacks are always the most praised and most criticized position players at the same time. We will give our MVP attention to numerous quarterbacks unless an unbelievably skilled running back comes through, and even then, it may not be enough. We've only seen a handful of MVP backs over the past twenty years (Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Shaun Alexander, LaDanian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson), and they were all veterans with prime seasons. It's hard to give a guy the MVP in his first go at the NFL, but hopefully this banner year won't be Zeke's peak (at least, I hope).

MVP MOMENT: Same game as Prescott, the 35-30 win over the Steelers. Elliott was already progressing as a quality running back throughout the first half of the year, but his insane performance in Heinz Field cemented his status, as well as his team's. With 114 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, Zeke came up clutch and won the game with an epic 32-yard run with 0:09 to go, capping off Dallas' 33-second comeback drive. This game made everyone start to pay attention to "America's Team" (the title depends on who you ask).

Patriots QB Tom Brady
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

291-432, 67.4% complete, 3,554 pass yards, 28 pass TDs, 2 INTs, 82.8 QB rating

Record: 14-2, 1st in AFC East (1st in AFC)

It's getting more and more difficult to come up with more things to say about Brady that hasn't already been said. He seems to only get better with age, and the idea that Brady could play into his mid-forties is not as extreme as originally thought. That is why when he returned from his four-game suspension for his alleged role in Deflategate, it was barely a surprise when he racked up the numbers accumulated this year. At his age, and at the point of the season in which he returned, he shouldn't be able to throw only two interceptions while throwing for over 3,000 passing yards and nearly 30 touchdowns, but he did. He also quarterbacked the league's best team (by record), and with the lack of elite quarterbacks in the AFC playoffs (the only AFC QB remotely near his caliber is Ben Roethlisberger), he's likely to lead the Patriots to his seventh Super Bowl appearance.

THE CASE FOR BRADY: If you were to take Brady's passing yards and touchdown averages, multiply them by four, and add them to his season totals (as the four games he missed), his totals for a 16-game season would be 4,738 passing yards (4th in the league instead of 20th) and 37 touchdown passes (T-3rd instead of 7th). That may seem like a pedestrian Brady season, but it's still MVP-caliber, especially considering that only one quarterback reached 40-plus touchdown passes this season. It shows Brady's eliteness and establishes that there is no real standout for MVP this year, which is important, considering my biggest issue with Brady's chances....

THE CASE AGAINST BRADY: ....which is Brady's odds of winning the MVP award from a league that focused hard on his alleged actions during Deflategate and suspended him for a quarter of the season for playing with deflated footballs during a blowout AFC Championship. Whether you believe Brady or not, you can't deny there was a long struggle between the Patriots and the league throughout the offseason. I doubt the league would make themselves look bad by honoring a man they worked to expose as a cheater. Even Brady's allegations of cheating may hurt him solely because some voters will not feel comfortable voting for a cheat. The Patriots won those four games with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Harris, though those four games at Arizona, at home against Miami and Houston, and at Buffalo, four teams that Brady probably would've mowed through as well. Will the voters use the backups' record against Brady's value?

MVP MOMENT: Though there hasn't been many must-win games for the Patriots as they mowed through the league this year, I'll highlight the best game Brady had against a somewhat-quality opponent: 406 pass yards, 3 pass TDs in a 30-23 win versus Baltimore. I could have highlighted his 406 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Browns, but it came against the Browns.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Wm. Glasheen-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

402-610, 65.7% complete, 4,428 pass yards, 40 TDs, 7 INTs, 84.8 QBR

Record: 10-6, 1st in NFC North (4th in NFC)

With Green Bay's pass-heavy offense, I'm surprised they were able to slog their way to a 4-2 start to the season. Rodgers wasn't quite one of the liabilities, as he threw for 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, but he didn't reach at least 300 pass yards in a game until Week 6. The rest of the year saw Rodgers and the Packers look like Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, with Hyde (four-game losing streak) coming before Jekyll (six-game win streak to end the season, including a Week 17 win at Detroit to clinch the NFC North). Even during the four-game skid, however, Rodgers didn't look awful. Sure, he was losing to pretenders like Indianapolis and Tennessee, but he also fell to Washington (a playoff-bound team before falling flat on their face in Week 17) and Atlanta (actually made the playoffs). 

During the skid, Rodgers' TD-INT totals were 12-3, with his best passing game coming in Washington (351 pass yards). More important than his numbers, however, were the wins, which weren't expected to come so swiftly to Rodgers after losing much of his backfield (receiver/running back hybrid Ty Montgomery eventually took over the bulk of the running game). Rodgers came through, however, with a stretch that included 15 TDs and zero - count them, zero - interceptions. Though Washington's Week 17 loss to the Giants guaranteed the Packers a playoff spot no matter what happened in their game against the Lions, if the Redskins win their game and seal a wild card spot, Rodgers' epic run would still have gotten Green Bay into the playoffs with a home field advantage. 

THE CASE FOR RODGERS: Aside from everything I've already stated, he was consistently among the best in each passing category: passing yards (4th), touchdowns (1st), completion percentage (9th), completions (4th), passing attempts (4th), completion percentage (4th) and QBR (4th), among others. He also is probably the most valuable among all five players, as the Packers offense would be almost nothing without him.

THE CASE AGAINST RODGERS: If anybody is going to oppose Rodgers' candidacy, they'll target his four-game skid (which nearly got Mike McCarthy fired and led to some questioning Rodgers' leadership and character), and his off-the-field issues (involving his family, his relationship with Olivia Munn, his relationships with past teammates) that led to struggles on the field. 


WHO SHOULD WIN THE MVP? Rodgers. He has proven that he is the meat of Green Bay's offensive attack, and has come through even when his most loyal supporters began to doubt him.

WHO DO YOU WANT TO WIN THE MVP? Zeke. All I want to see is a national title-winning Buckeye get paid a lot of money from the richest franchise in football, get to an elite playing level, resonate with others so much that his fame rises to nationwide status (maybe even worldwide status), win Rookie of the Year, win the MVP, win Super Bowl LI and hopefully many more. Is that too much to ask?

WHO WILL WIN THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER? Rodgers. Normally I'd say Brady, but Deflategate will come back to bite him, even if some say he deserves it. Besides, Rodgers was better is value, numbers, and, depending on the Super Bowl outcome, team success.

Which player do YOU think will win the NFL MVP? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

Freshman Friday: Kris Bryant

The 2013 Major League Baseball Draft had 1,216 players selected by 26 teams, 39 of which came in the first round. Even though many of these prospects still have time to develop their young careers, only one of them has made it to the All-Star Game. It was the man selected with the number two pick in the draft, one spot behind Stanford pitcher Mark Appel (who was drafted by the Houston Astros and was traded to Philadelphia in 2015). Even as the number two pick, most scouts agreed he was the safest choice in the draft: a 6'5, 230-pound behemoth of a third baseman, one who would go onto become one of baseball's best young players, if not best overall. He had great success in college, being named All-America multiple times and setting a single-season record for home runs (31), while winning the 2013 Golden Spikes and Dick Howser Awards. He would also become a staple of his city's baseball infamous lore, though his story (unlike many before him) has a happy ending.

The pick? Kris Bryant, third baseman for the Chicago Cubs.


In just two short years since promoting him to the big leagues (controversially), the Cubs have reaped the benefits of their new face of the franchise, a popular player that in a few short years, could become the face of the sport. Bryant took baseball by storm even before he stepped into the major leagues. 2014 was the year where people began to take notice of Bryant, then with the Tennessee Smokies, the Cubs' Double-A affiliate. In 68 Double-A games, Bryant batted .355 with 22 home runs and 58 RBIs, before he was promoted to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and destroyed minor league pitching. He hit 21 homers and batted 52 runs in, totaling for 43 home runs and 110 RBIs while also posting a .325 batting average. The baseball world could not wait another minute to get Bryant into the big leagues.

That is, everyone except the Cubs. Even when Bryant was invited to Chicago's spring training the following March (where he hit .425 with 9 homers, more than any other player on the roster), the Cubs' front office decided to send Bryant back to Iowa, sparking backlash from the baseball world. A number of media outlets were suspecting the Cubs of purposely keeping Bryant in the minors due to a clause which meant if Bryant were to spend the first twelve days of the season in Triple-A, he would then be called up by the Cubs, who would be able to keep Bryant an extra year before he would become a free agent. It was a move by the Cubs that was described by Major League Baseball's Players Association as "a bad day for baseball."

Nevertheless, Bryant spent his nearly two-week term with Iowa (he hit 3 home runs and batted .321 in seven Triple-A games) before he was finally called up to Chicago on April 25, 2015. Though he started slow (going 0-4 with three strikeouts in his major league debut), Bryant quickly found his footing. After a homerless April (where he still batted .318), Bryant hit his first career home run on May 9 off Kyle Lohse of the Brewers. He was voted National League Rookie of the Month for May, batting .265 with seven homers, 22 runs batted in, and 16 walks. In July, Bryant was selected to the MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati as an injury replacement for Giancarlo Stanton, and he was picked to compete in the Home Run Derby (he lost in the first round to Albert Pujols, 10-9). On July 27, he hit his first walk-off home run, a two-run shot to beat the Colorado Rockies 9-8, and on September 6,Bryant hit the longest home run in all of 2015 at 495 feet.

Bryant's dream rookie season also paralleled with what became a breakout year for the Cubs. In their first year under new manager Joe Maddon, the Cubs youthful roster, which had been subject to multiple losing seasons since 2010, became one of the most powerful teams in all of baseball. Veterans like Jason Hammel and Dexter Fowler experienced bounce-back years, and the younger players (Bryant, Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Jake Arrieta) played like experienced vets, with Arietta shining the brightest in a Cy Young-winning season. The team was running like a well-oiled machine, even with its prized free agent pickup Jon Lester (who has more than rebounded in 2016) in a year-long struggle (11-12 in '15). Bryant, for the record, finished the year with stats that only an experienced veteran should have been posting: .275 average, 26 home runs, 99 RBIs (a Cubs rookie record and the most by a rookie since Pujols hit 130 in 2001), and 31 doubles, a Cubs rookie record. Bryant ended up winning the Rookie of the Year Awards from the Sporting News and Baseball America, and he became the 20th unanimously voted winner of the Jackie Robinson NL Rookie of the Year Award. At one point, some actually believed the National League's Most Valuable Player Award could go to Bryant (it went to Bryce Harper)

Kris Bryant on the cover of Sports Illustrated

The Cubs won 97 games, but only finished third in the NL Central, behind the Pittsburgh Pirates and the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals. They did manage to clinch a wild card berth, meaning they had to play the Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh. In a game that many did not think they would win, Chicago stunned the Pirates, 4-0, with Arrieta pitching a shutout. Bryant went hitless in the game, but the Cubs advanced to their first NLDS since 2003. By this time, everyone outside the North Side of Chicago was still writing the Cubs off, referencing past painful Cubs memories (Ron Santo and the black cat, Leon "Bull" Durham, Steve Bartman, etc.). However, the Cubs proved they belonged when they stunned St. Louis, the only 100-win team in 2015, in four games, sending Chicago into a frenzy as the Cubs made it to the NLCS. Bryant helped the cause by homering in Game 3.

The celebrating was short-lived, however, as the Cubs were swept in four somewhat uncompetitive games by the New York Mets, quickly killing the postseason buzz in Chicago. Bryant only went 3-14 in the series, striking out five times against Met pitching. Strikeouts were actually a common occurrence for Bryant, despite his outstanding batting. In 2015, Bryant struck out 199 times, more than any other rookie in a single season. He finished second in strikeouts behind Baltimore's Chris Davis. In 2016, however, Bryant would improve. The whole team would improve, as well.

Kris Bryant for Express

2016 was quite possibly the most bizarre year on record. A billionaire reality television star became our next President of the United States. The city of Cleveland won its first major sports championship in over five decades. Roves of people expressed complete disgust for a movie about women hunting ghosts and a first-person shooter video game about war in futuristic space. A deceased gorilla from the Cincinnati Zoo became a god to all that honored his memory. The 2016 season's end result for the Chicago Cubs may be up there as well. Though championship buzz died in Chicago after Game 4 of the NLCS, hopes in the North Side were actually high for once, with many Cub fans actually believing that this year was "the year" for the Cubbies to end 108 years of misery. With many of its young stars (including Bryant) returning, along with offseason pickups Jason Heyward, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist, the Cubs were ready to dominate baseball. They dominated.

Though the whole team worked well over the course of the season, team MVP would probably have gone to Bryant. Bryant proved 2015 was no "flash in the pan", improving his numbers to 39 home runs, 102 RBIs, increasing his batting average to .292, and reducing his strikeout total to 154, not even cracking baseball's top ten. Bryant made the All-Star team again, this time as the National League's starting third baseman, and hit a first-inning home run off fellow Chicago baseballer Chris Sale in a 4-2 loss. This was just a glimpse in Bryant's MVP-worthy season; he also went 5-5 against the Reds on June 27, ripping three homers and two doubles, becoming the first player in the modern era to do so. 

Chicago established itself as the winningest franchise in baseball, going 103-59 (the best regular season record since the 2009 World Series-winning Yankees). They won the NL Central by 17 1/2 games and headlined the baseball world almost every summer and fall night. Once the postseason started, Bryant and the Cubs did not stop. Bryant recorded at least one hit in all four games of the NLDS, helping the Cubs past the San Francisco Giants. Bryant's shining moment came in Game 4, when the Cubs trailed 5-2 in the 9th inning and looked to be heading back to Wrigley for Game 5. Instead, Bryant sparked a four run rally by singling and scoring on a Ben Zobrist double. In the NLCS, Chicago had to deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and their ace, Clayton Kershaw. Bryant produced in the series (6 hits with 3 doubles), but his teammates stepped up big. Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo each hit two home runs in the series, and Kyle Hendricks nearly pitched a complete game shutout in Game 6, helping the Cubs to their first World Series appearance since 1945.

It is here that the World Series became must-see TV, with the Cubs (the most miserable team in baseball) taking on a team that also knew what championship droughts felt like: the Cleveland Indians. After the Cavaliers took the NBA title in June, Cleveland ran the wave and won the AL Central, blazed through the Red Sox and Blue Jays with ease, and made their first Series since 1997, looking for their third title and first since 1948. Whoever won the series would break their respective losing streak, and the sports world was greatly intrigued.

It was a Series that included four games that Kris Bryant and the Cubs would most likely care to forget. Chicago found itself down three games to one against the Indians after being blown out 7-2 in Wrigley in Game 4. Bryant was nowhere to be found in the lineup, going 1 for his first 14 at-bats. He struck out five times, and neither he nor his teammates seemed to have an answer for the Indians' pitching, especially American League Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber and midseason pickup Andrew Miller, whose slider looked mystical throughout the playoffs. Chicago's last stand began in Game 5, and after an early Jose Ramirez home run, it didn't look good.

Kris Bryant's Game 5 home run

That is, before Kris Bryant stepped to the plate in the fourth inning and roped a line drive home run off Trevor Bauer to tie the game. Bryant's teammate and fellow All-Star Anthony Rizzo stepped up and ripped the next pitch to right field for a double, beginning a three-run rally for the Cubs that led to a 5-1 victory to send the series back to Cleveland. 

With an electric Cleveland crowd going into Game 6, forcing a Game 7 was not going to be easy. Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin (who shut out the Cubs in Game 1) took the ball for the Tribe and easily retired his first two batters in the sixth game. Bryant, however, rode his Game 5 breakout into Cleveland and smashed a hanging breaking ball into the bleachers for a first-inning home run, deflating the home crowd and beginning a 9-3 rout, highlighted by Jorge Soler's game-breaking grand slam in the third inning. There would be a Game 7...

...and what a Game 7 it would be. In an epic matchup of fellow Cy Young candidates, Kluber and Hendricks squared off in a pitching duel, with Hendricks (one earned run in 4.2 innings) outmatching Kluber (five runs in four innings). At one point, Bryant (who went 1 for 4 with a hit and a walk) and the Cubs were winning 6-3, although die-hard Cubs fans knew from experience that the game was far from over. This proved to be true once the Indians tied the game with three runs in the eighth inning, capped off by Rajai Davis' surprising home run off Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, a man who can throw a 100-plus mile per hour fastball consistently. As Game 7 went into extras, the 2016 World Series started to become one of the greatest World Series (with one of the greatest Game 7's) ever. After a rain delay, the Cubs scored in the tenth when Albert Almora Jr. (who Bryant advanced on a sacrifice fly that nearly went over the wall) scored on an opposite-field single by Zobrist. After Chicago added another run, Cleveland nearly came back in the bottom of the inning when Davis singled to score Brandon Guyer, cutting the lead to 8-7. However, Maddon called in reliever Mike Montgomery to retire Michael Martinez on a soft ground ball, and on the last play of the game, Bryant cleanly fielded the ball, fired the ball to Rizzo at first, and promptly slipped on the wet infield grass. DIdn't matter. Bryant got up to celebrate with his teammates in ending a 108-year championship drought, finally bringing the North Side a World Series title.

Kris Bryant after recording the final out of Game 7

WHAT'S NEXT?

After two seasons of great individual and team success, Bryant seems to be in a great position to become one of the best players in baseball, as well as one of the most impactful. Bryant is leading an era, also highlighted by players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor, and Mookie Betts, that are representing baseball's elite, even before they reach they age of 30, or even 25. With easy amounts of power to both sides of the field and a glove that ranks among the best, Bryant is now known as one of the best all-around players in baseball. In fact, because this writing is being published before Major League Baseball's announcement of the 2016 National League Most Valuable Player, I am saying I will not be surprised if Bryant is announced as the MVP on November 17. There were those who thought he could win in his rookie year, and his numbers improved in his second season. He is officially one of the finalists, alongside Washington's Daniel Murphy and Los Angeles' Corey Seager.

There is more to Bryant, however, than just baseball. Bryant has now officially become a well-known athlete outside the world of sports. After their World Series win, many Cubs players have been hitting the national networks (Cubs players were seen singing with lifelong Cubs fan Bill Murray and dancing for a dead grandma's bachelorette party on Saturday Night Live). Bryant was not one of the strippers or singers on SNL, but he has made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Ellen, and he has a sponsorship with Express, the fashion retailer. Bryant holds somewhat of a boyish charm (it pays to be highly successful while you're still young and good looking), and it, plus his athletic build, has caught the attention of the female demographic, as shown by the following tweet: 

It really is fascinating, and somewhat refreshing, to see this 24 year-old from Las Vegas turn into a baseball sensation for one of the sport's most historic franchises. Now that he's got a prime career ahead of him and a World Series title on his resume boast, Kris Bryant's only going up. And he's already on top of the world.

Kris Bryant
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