Cam Newton is by far the runaway Most Valuable Player in the NFL.
Yes, even over Tom Brady.
We all know that Brady is a unique player and much like LeBron James he could easily win the MVP award every year if the voters really wanted him to.
However, I’ve always been a proponent of what I call the “eye” test. And my eyes are telling me that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is playing like an MVP and will ultimately win that award. Mark my words! Simply stating his stats, 28 touchdowns, over 3,000 yards and almost 500 rushing yards wouldn’t do my argument justice. Allow me to go further.
Out of 32 teams in the NFL there is only one undefeated team remaining: the Carolina Panthers. At 13-0, they have been the most consistent team in the NFL and are a legitimate threat to hoist the Lombardi trophy at the end of this season.
When the Panthers lost their number one receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason, the narrative surrounding the team was they had a good defense, but many wondered how they were going to generate offense. With Benjamin sidelined and running back DeAngelo Williams now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, even more pressure would be placed on tight end Greg Olsen, running back Jonathan Stewart and linebacker Luke Kuechly to make enough plays to help alleviate the loss of 6’5” receiver, Kelvin Benjamin.
When the Panthers drafted Newton from Auburn with the no. 1 overall selection, expectations were high with an even higher ceiling.
Newton’s first four seasons in the league have been filled with spurts of promise and skepticism. In 2011, he won Offensive Rookie of the Year. In 2013, he led his team to a 12-4 record, a division title, and playoff berth. In 2014, he led the Panthers back to the playoffs and made it to the divisional round. With this year’s division wrapped up, the Panthers have won three of the last four division titles under the Cam Newton era.
But the world wasn’t enamored with Newton, and to some degree still isn’t. Despite the obvious talent, many questioned his leadership skills. His intangibles. You know, the little things. After a loss, Newton would be seen sitting on the bench, with a towel draped over his head, appearing as if he was sulking, disengaged, or even worse, disinterested.
Then there was criticism about how he celebrated on the field. Some took offense to the Superman gimmick and this year, his propensity to dance the “dab” here and there, after scoring on opposing defenses, has ruffled more than a few feathers.
Despite making it to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, in 2013 Newton lost at home to Colin Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers. Last year they defeated the Arizona Cardinals in the wild card round, albeit against a team without Carson Palmer. They eventually lost to the Seattle Seahawks, who went on to the Super Bowl. No shame there.
The Cam Newton we’re seeing this year is different. He’s mature, poised and resilient.
In week five the Panthers were down 23-14 in the fourth quarter to the Seahawks in Seattle, but Newton wasn’t phased by the moment at all. He threw a late touchdown to tight end Greg Olsen, over Richard Sherman, for a 27-23 win.
Then Aaron Rodgers marched his Green Bay Packers into Carolina to face the Panthers, in a game many used as a litmus test for Newton and his team. How did he respond? By throwing for almost 300 yards, three touchdowns, and putting up 39 points in Carolina’s rout over Green Bay.
Then inexplicably, for reasons I still can’t explain, the 3-7 Dallas Cowboys were favored by two points to beat the 10-0 Carolina Panthers on Thanksgiving Day. Newton made an emphatic statement to Vegas and the media with his play when the team put up 33 points. Cam didn’t have his best performance, as he threw zero touchdowns, but with three interceptions from his defense (one returned for a touchdown) the Panthers soundly defeated the Cowboys.
Which brings me to my last example of why Cam Newton should be this year’s NFL MVP. The Panthers played the Saints two weeks ago in New Orleans. Despite the Saints inept defense, Drew Brees, coupled with that offense and that crowd are still tough to beat in that building. The Panthers got down 14-0 early and ultimately found themselves down 38-34.
That was until driving late, Newton made, what might prove to be, the most important throw of what looks to be an undefeated season. On fourth and four, down seven, under pressure, scrambling to his left, Newton flicked a pass to Olsen for the first down. Newton went on to throw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jericho Cotchery for the win 41-38, keeping Carolina’s undefeated streak alive.
We hear all the time how Green Bay’s Rodgers is struggling because wide receiver Jordy Nelson is injured or because his other receivers “can’t get open.” Same for New England’s Tom Brady. Whenever Brady struggles it’s because Edelman, or Gronkoswki, or Amendola are injured. Or my favorite line his receivers “drop too many passes”.
But who has Cam Newton been throwing the football to all season if not receivers? Ted Ginn Jr. has tremendous speed, but is unreliable. Cotchery is dependable, but past his prime. Devin Funchess was a second round draft pick that nobody really knew prior to this season. The point is that Newton has consistently done more with less this season.
If I didn’t make a strong enough argument already, Newton supported his own cause with an impressive 38-0 victory over the Falcons on Sunday. He continues to win and put up spectacular numbers on a weekly basis. For those reasons he is my MVP this year.
A year after sustaining two lower back fractures in a car accident, not even Newton imagined he would be having this kind of historical season.
If Newton goes undefeated he will be making not only NFL history, but also African-American sports history. There have been two quarterbacks to go undefeated in the regular season: Bob Griese and Tom Brady. All that stands in between Newton becoming the first Black quarterback to go undefeated in the regular season is three games.
But hey, no pressure.
Touchdown passes and end zone celebrations aside, what I admire most about Newton this season is that he’s shattering the mold, having fun, and most importantly he’s doing things his way.
Marcus Lamar is a New York-based sports journalist. Read more from his blog at letsaddressthis.blogspot.com Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.