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Matt Ryan’s 2016 MVP case keeps getting stronger

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The Falcons’ quarterback is having the best season of his career, and he has a legitimate MVP case early.

Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

After nearly pulling off the win against the Seahawks yesterday, the Falcons are still darlings of the NFL, having kept their excellent offensive ways up against three of the better defenses in the NFL in sequence. Matt Ryan is at the forefront of that, and there have been early—but also justified—whispers about him being a genuine MVP candidate.

This is unprecedented ground for Ryan, a good-to-great quarterback his entire year, and it’s based on the terrific statistical pace he finds himself on. Can he actually win the MVP, though?

The recipe for MVP is there

To have a realistic shot at winning the MVP, you need a few key pieces, which we’ll outline very briefly here:

  1. Terrific statistics
  2. A season that compares favorably with other players at your position, which is usually quarterback
  3. A team that has a winning record and a playoff berth, typically
  4. A down season from established MVPs

The ingredients are here. Ryan is on pace to throw something like 40 touchdowns, 5,500 yards, and just 8 or so interceptions, which would be fantastic numbers and career bests. That’ll likely to beat out most NFL quarterbacks this year if he can keep it up, with Tom Brady’s four game suspension, Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, and Drew Brees’ terrible team working in Ryan’s favor. Cam Newton was last year’s MVP, but Carolina’s rapid fall from grace and his sulkiness with the media should pretty much kill his case early.

All Ryan and the Falcons have to do, then, is keep winning and keep putting up quality numbers to make his case. While a lot can go wrong over the course of 10 games, Ryan’s off to a fast start, and the Falcons are the obvious favorites in the NFC South, so

What an MVP would mean for Matt Ryan

Take a look at Ryan’s stats, for a moment, versus some quarterbacks who have similar longevity and have, at least at times, been touted as better players.

Matt Ryan (2008-2016)

132 games, 64.5% completion, 34,832 yards, 217 touchdowns, 110 interceptions

Joe Flacco (2008-2016)

128 games, 61.0% completion, 29,911 yards, 167 touchdowns, 106 interceptions

Matthew Stafford (2009-2016)

99 games, 61.3% completion, 27,624 yards, 177 touchdowns, 102 interceptions

Jay Cutler (2006-2016)

136 games, 62.0% completion, 31,781 yards, 205 touchdowns, 143 interceptions

Ryan has a better career than any of these guys, and his numbers compare favorably with the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger at this point in their respective careers. Despite that, Flacco and Stafford have been declared elite at times, and Cutler has had brief, shining moments where he’s been considered a very good player. Ryan and Flacco are the only QBs from the 2008 class still doing anything in the league, and the 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010 classes didn’t bear a ton of fruit, either. Ryan has, in other words, panned about as well as a quarterback from that set of drafts could have.

Yet the recognition for that has eluded him. Ryan has certainly gotten his due as a top 10 quarterback at times in the past, but after the last three seasons, the default attitude toward him was either “good quarterback who can’t get it done without a supporting cast” or “never all that great, needs a great supporting cast.” The supporting cast argument may still be used as a weapon against him this year, when he’s picked up his play so dramatically, but it’s obvious to basically any NFL observer that he’s playing the best football of his career.

It would be somewhat of a validation of Ryan’s career to this point, it would further help put this Atlanta offense on the map, and it’d look great in Ryan’s house next to his hideous shoes.

Will he win it?

This is the tough one. If Ryan could continue at the exact pace he’s on now, I’d put his chances of winning the MVP at 90%. He’s first in the league in yardage by over 200 yards, he’s second in touchdowns behind Ben Roethlisberger (who may now miss multiple weeks), and his TD/INT ratio is one of the best in football. Add in the Falcons’ winning ways and he’s got a legitimate shot.

Let’s all agree that if the Falcons finish 10-6 or better and make the playoffs, and Ryan’s numbers come close to the pace he’s tracking at, that he’ll win it. If the Falcons fall off, or Ryan muddles his way to 28 total touchdowns, it won’t happen. We’re now left to see what Atlanta—and the resurgent #2—can do.