The MVP race through 13 weeks and Brock Purdy’s growing case: Sando’s Pick Six – Freedom Voice


Cover 7 | Monday A daily NFL destination that provides in-depth analysis of football’s biggest stories. Each Monday, Mike Sando breaks down the six most impactful takeaways from the week.

Football fans love a good MVP discussion. We are going to have one here after Brock Purdy’s San Francisco 49ers ran the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles off their own field on Sunday.

Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Tua Tagovailoa entered Week 13 as betting favorites to win the award. Purdy was next, followed by a big drop to Josh Allen and C.J. Stroud in the next tier.

It’s time to reassess not only the MVP race, but where Purdy fits into it after leading San Francisco to touchdown drives on six consecutive possessions against the Eagles — only the fifth time an offense has done that since at least 2000, per TruMedia.

This edition of the Pick Six column strips away everything anyone has thought about Purdy and his role in the 49ers’ success, focusing instead on pure production. I’ve pulled the relevant numbers for the past 10 MVP quarterbacks and will show exactly how the 2023 contenders stack up, with special attention on Purdy.

MVP race: The case for Brock Purdy
Playoff race: Packers & biggest swings
Looking toward the 2024 coach hiring cycle
Let’s not overthink offensive declines
Putting a roof over Geno Smith’s head
Two-minute drill: LSU’s Daniels over North Carolina’s Maye

1. Not long ago, we were discussing whether Brock Purdy was a legitimate starting quarterback. Now, we are asking whether he’s a legitimate MVP candidate. The production says yes. So does the context.

Purdy finished the 49ers’ 42-19 victory against the Eagles with 314 yards and four touchdown passes. His receivers accounted for 212 yards after the catch, which plays into the thinking Purdy benefits from his receivers disproportionately. He does not on the whole.

YAC accounts for 48.5 percent of Purdy’s passing yards this season. The average is 47 percent for starting quarterbacks. The average was 48 percent for the past 10 MVP quarterbacks. Mahomes was at 54 percent during his 2022 MVP season.

This sacks the YAC argument against Purdy.

Researching where the past 10 MVP quarterbacks ranked in key categories within their award-winning seasons creates a profile we can apply to Purdy and the other betting favorites.

The table below shows where those MVPs ranked in combined EPA on pass plays/QB rushes, EPA per pass play and total touchdowns. Focusing on these metrics solves for volume and efficiency, while taking into account passing and rushing, with some acknowledgment of traditional stats (touchdowns are good).

Nearly all the MVPs ranked near the top in all three categories. Cam Newton was an exception because he started his MVP season slowly.

Where Last 10 MVPs Ranked

MVP Ranks TOT EPA EPA/PP TOT TD

Patrick Mahomes (’22)

1

1

1

Aaron Rodgers (’21)

2

1

5

Aaron Rodgers (’20)

1

1

1

Lamar Jackson (’19)

1

1

1

Patrick Mahomes (’18)

1

1

1

Tom Brady (’17)

1

1

3

Matt Ryan (’16)

1

1

3

Cam Newton (’15)

6

9

1

Aaron Rodgers (’14)

1

1

2

Peyton Manning (’13)

1

1

1

Average

1.6

1.8

1.9

Viewing 2023 MVP favorites entering Week 13 through the same lens shows Purdy at the top, with Prescott close behind. Josh Allen is third even though his Buffalo Bills have a 6-6 record. Purdy and Prescott have no real blemishes. They are the most legitimate candidates. Purdy outproduced Prescott strikingly when the 49ers blew out the Cowboys earlier in the season, but our production-focused approach doesn’t take that into account.

Where Current MVP Favorites Rank

Looking beyond production for greater context is part of the process. It also can distract.

Purdy benefits from a differentiating play caller and multiple strong receivers. So did Joe Montana (1989, 1990), Steve Young (1992), Brett Favre (1995-97), Kurt Warner (1999, 2001), Tom Brady (2007), Matt Ryan (2016) and so many others. That is how MVP seasons come together.

No one holds it against Montana or Favre that Mike Holmgren called offensive plays for all five of their MVP seasons. Should Kyle Shanahan’s play calling disqualify Purdy?

There is one final visual to consider. Pressing “replay” on the chart below reveals game-by-game EPA on pass plays and quarterback rushes for the 2023 MVP favorites. Toggling between “scores” and “ranks” provides different perspectives on the same data.

One of the lines represents average game-by-game EPA production for the past 10 MVP quarterbacks. Notice how closely Purdy’s production tracks with theirs.

Using averages for the past 10 MVP quarterbacks creates a line without the peaks and valleys those quarterbacks experienced individually. This line represents the gold standard for evaluating MVP quarterback production.

Prescott has surged recently. Tagovailoa bounced back against Washington on Sunday following a down stretch. Others vacillate week to week.

Purdy’s production tracks so closely with the 10 MVPs as to become almost indistinguishable in spots. No one knows what the future might hold. If the 49ers find themselves playing from behind and the offense melts down in those pure passing situations, we can revisit this conversation then. For now, it’s clear we have reached the point where arguing for Purdy’s MVP case is easier than arguing against it.

2. The Green Bay Packers’ big victory against the Kansas City Chiefs improved their playoff chances significantly. Here’s how those chances changed for every team in Week 13.

Dramatic finishes in Week 13 altered the playoff landscape.

Jimmie Ward’s interception for Houston off Denver’s Russell Wilson in the final minute secured a victory that upped the Texans’ playoff chances from 50-50 to 70-30, while cutting the Broncos’ chances in half to roughly 10 percent. That game produced the largest combined swing for a single game in Week 13.

Using the model Austin Mock maintains for The Athletic, I’ve produced a table showing every team’s playoff chances, and how those chances changed in Week 13.

Playoff Chance Swings in Week 13

The Packers’ chances have improved from 15 percent to 25 percent to 53 percent to 67 percent during their three-game winning streak against the Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers were underdogs in every game. They could be favored to win over the course of their remaining schedule, which features the New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.

Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love now ranks 12th in EPA per pass play. The Packers’ offense ranks 10th in EPA per play. Coach Matt LaFleur improved to 16-0 in December and can make it 20-0 if his Packers can beat the Giants, Bucs, Panthers and Vikings. It’s a new day in Green Bay.

3. The 2024 head coach hiring cycle is fast approaching, and with it the search for the next Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay.

The favorite to win NFL Coach of the Year was never a primary play caller before leading the Detroit Lions back from the dead into prime playoff positioning. Will Dan Campbell’s success affect the 2024 hiring cycle? Will Campbell be a one-off? Are there enough offensive play callers to go around?

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper reportedly plans to target an offensive-minded coach to replace the offensive-minded coach he just fired.

Teams over the past five hiring cycles have chosen 23 coaches with backgrounds on offense, 11 with backgrounds on defense and one special-teams coach (Joe Judge).

Deciding in advance you’re only interested in candidates with a specific background reduces the probability a franchise will find the best candidate. That is notable for Tepper, who has spoken frequently about playing the probabilities.

“The very model that the owners desire is probably the hardest one to achieve success with,” an exec from a team with an established coach said. “It’s hard to find the coach who can do it all well. Now, it gives you the best upside. Kyle Shanahan gives you the best upside, but it’s the hardest one to make work because it is so hard to do.”

Owners fear losing a successful offensive play caller to head coaching jobs elsewhere, so they hire offensive-minded head coaches.

But the most successful team-quarterback marriages over the past two decades featured coaches with backgrounds on defense and/or special teams: Bill Belichick with Tom Brady in New England, Pete Carroll with Russell Wilson in Seattle, John Harbaugh with Joe Flacco in Baltimore, Mike Tomlin with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

These teams enjoyed far greater championship success than the teams that paired offensive-minded coaches with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Philip Rivers. Why? Those coaches also were not play callers. They coached the full team and set the culture.

Scoring is down. So many offenses are struggling. Top offensive assistants have already been hired away from Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams, Shanahan’s 49ers and Nick Sirianni’s Eagles.

The search for the next elite offensive play-calling head coach will continue.

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson stands out. Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy should be in the mix. Perhaps the Cincinnati Bengals’ Brian Callahan will get a chance. Houston’s Bobby Slowik could draw interest after a strong initial season as a coordinator. Miami’s Frank Smith is finishing his second season with the Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel.

Some of the most successful veteran defensive coordinators generate almost no buzz.

Steve Spagnuolo has won three Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator and has the Chiefs’ defense playing its best football in years.

Jim Schwartz, another former head coach with a Super Bowl pedigree as defensive coordinator, has had the Cleveland Browns’ defense in the top five statistically.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense under coordinator Teryl Austin recently allowed no more than 20 points in seven successive games, the team’s longest streak within a season since 2004.

Dan Quinn, Brian Flores, Raheem Morris, Ejiro Evero and Lou Anarumo are among the defensive coordinators who could get interviews.

4. The past month has produced the four least-experienced weeks of starting quarterback play since at least 2000, which is interesting because …

With offensive production down over the past couple seasons, conversations around the subject have proliferated. Former GM Bill Polian suggested during our radio conversation Wednesday that officials are letting defensive backs play more aggressively, affecting production. ESPN analysts have suggested delayed pressures on defense are having an impact.

Multiple explanations could be true, but nothing affects offense more than quarterbacks do. With so many young quarterbacks starting, teams have shifted even harder toward shotgun formations while simplifying their offenses. Both factors have made it tougher for teams to present a credible threat in the running game, and thus passing becomes more difficult.

Teams that present a credible run threat through scheme, personnel or both have remained explosive in the passing game. Miami, San Francisco and Houston do this well. They rank 1-2-3, respectively in explosive pass gains this season. Yes, personnel matters, but these teams are scheming explosive gains partly because opponents must commit to defending their run schemes.

That is my thinking, anyway.

The chart above shows the average years of experience for starting quarterbacks plummeting. It also shows EPA per pass play declining at the same time. This does not prove causation, but this correlation seems logical.

Starting quarterbacks in Weeks 9 averaged 4.36 years of experience, lowest in 406 regular-season weeks since 2000, per TruMedia. The four youngest weeks in that 24-season data set fell from Week 9-12 this season. This season has produced nine of the 35 least-experienced weeks since 2000.

5. Geno Smith’s up-and-down season as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback has sometimes been confounding. A common thread could be something.

The first email arrived the day after Christmas 2022. A Seahawks fan was suggesting Seattle quarterback Geno Smith played much better indoors than outdoors, for whatever reason (having relatively small hands was one theory).

A few weeks passed. The same fan sent a second email, this one featuring a line graph noting Smith’s play tailing off as the 2022 season progressed, and noting Seattle’s late-season schedule featured all outdoor games.

A third email arrived last month after Seattle’s blowout defeat at Baltimore.

“Outdoors Geno looks like the same QB from the Jets,” it read. “But indoors he looks like the best QB in the league.”

Since that game, Smith looked pretty good outdoors against Washington, mostly good under the roof at SoFi Stadium against the Rams, very bad outdoors against San Francisco and very good indoors at Dallas.

Add it all up and I’m not sure what we’ve got, but these are splits worth monitoring at least. Seattle finishes its season with four consecutive outdoors games before a trip to Arizona.

2022-23 Geno Smith: Putting a Roof Over His Head

Venue Indoors Outdoors

Starts

9

21

Cmp%

70.1%

66.7%

Yds/Game

290

231

Yds/Att

8.6

6.9

TD-INT

20-4

27-17

Rating

112.7

89

EPA/Pass Play

0.22

-0.05

Sack Rate

5.3%

7.7%

Tm OFF EPA/G

+8.2

-3.9

Tm DST EPA/G

-6.2

-0.1

W-L

5-4

10-11

The indoor games count two at Detroit, three at Los Angeles (two against the Rams, one against the Chargers), one at New Orleans, one against Tampa Bay in Germany and another at Dallas. Some of these defenses were strong. Others were not. But almost across the board, Smith was highly productive.

Overall, Smith has started 33 of Pete Carroll’s 241 total games as Seattle’s head coach. In those 33 starts, Smith has led the best and fourth-best offensive EPA games of the Carroll era: indoors at Detroit last season (48-45 victory with plus-27.6 EPA) and indoors at Dallas on Thursday night (41-35 defeat with plus 20.9 EPA).

6. Two-minute drill: Here’s a vote for Jayden Daniels over Drake Maye as the second quarterback in the 2024 draft.

New England losing and Arizona upsetting Pittsburgh on the road kept the Patriots in prime position to snag one of the top two picks in the 2024 draft. Carolina sits atop the order at 1-11, with the Chicago Bears having acquired the selection in March. The Patriots (2-10) sit second, followed by the Cardinals (3-10) and Washington (4-9).

Most NFL draft analysts in media seem to have USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye as the top two quarterbacks in the 2024 class. My Football GM co-host, Randy Mueller, explained heading into Week 13 why he sees Williams first and LSU’s Jayden Daniels second. Instincts for the position are one of the key variables in Mueller’s evaluation. The details from that conversation are available in the audio below.

Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill is on pace for 2,098 receiving yards this season after catching five passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-15 victory against Washington. Hill over his past three games has 24 catches for 405 yards and four touchdowns. That roughly matches the full-season production for Odell Beckham Jr. (27-408-2).

Hill can break Calvin Johnson’s NFL single-season record (1,964) with another 484 yards. He would need to average 96.8 yards per game to break the record. He would need 121 yards per game over the next four games to beat Johnson’s record in the same number of games available to Johnson, who set the record in 2012, when teams played 16 games instead of 17.

Hill is averaging 123.4 yards per game.

The New England Patriots have now lost 10-6, 10-7 and 6-0 over the past three weeks. Per Pro Football Reference, this is the first time since the 1930s that an NFL team lost three successive games within a season without allowing more than 10 points in any of them. The streak has solid potential to continue because Pittsburgh is next on the Patriots’ schedule.

The 1938 Chicago Cardinals lost four games in a row without allowing more than 10 points in any.

The 1937 Steelers, then led by legendary player-coach Johnny “Blood” McNally and still known as the Pirates, were the last team to lose three in a row this way without make it four straight the next week.

McNally was much more exciting than either the 2023 Patriots or 1937 Pirates on offense. He was known for crawling across the tops of moving trains, getting stranded on the SS Mariposa’s stern while doing pullups during a voyage to Hawaii and scaling hotels to, among other things, beat curfew and sing to women below.

As for New England, the Patriots are minus-38.2 in offensive EPA and plus-37.3 on the defensive side during this slide. Special teams has been a pivotal variable. New England is minus-12.1 EPA in that component during its three-game skid. The Patriots have finished their past four games with negative EPA on special teams. That ties for the longest Patriots streak of the Bill Belichick era. …

Mike Evans enhanced his Hall of Fame credentials by reaching 1,000 yards for the 10th consecutive season to start his career, four more than any player in NFL history (Randy Moss). The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ receiver stands atop the yardage list among players drafted in 2014, even with Davante Adams’ presence.

2014 Draft: Receiving Yardage Leaders

The Denver Broncos’ five-game winning streak ended in Houston with the offense failing to convert any of its 11 chances on third down while finishing with 282 yards and three turnovers. Russell Wilson’s third and final interception, delivered in the end zone during the final minute, allowed Houston to emerge with a 22-17 victory. That one was not the killer. Wilson’s second interception was the one that really hurt. Denver had Jerry Jeudy open on an out-and-up, but Wilson instead threw to Courtland Sutton in the post.

“If the deep player jumps the post, you gotta go to the sideline,” a veteran coach who saw the play said. “They hit him (Sutton) on that earlier in the game for about 45 yards, and it was 100 percent the read on the interception.”

This was Sean Payton’s 270th career game as a head coach and the second in which his team failed to convert on third down. It happened with New Orleans in 2021 Week 16, during a 20-3 loss to the Dolphins with Ian Book behind center for the Saints. …

While it’s fair to point out how poorly the Washington Commanders’ defense performed in its first game with coach Ron Rivera taking over as coordinator, we need more than one game to make an evaluation. The Chicago Bears’ defense was not immediately better when coach Matt Eberflus took over coordinating duties, but it did improve over time.

The Buffalo Bills went into their Week 13 bye riding a two-game streak with two turnovers in 26 drives under new offensive coordinator Joe Brady. That’s a big improvement from recent games, but not a long enough run to make it a trend.

The Bills responded to their turnover-ridden Week 1 defeat against the New York Jets with a three-game run featuring 14 touchdowns, six made field goals and one turnover across 31 drives. Was that a case of then-coordinator Ken Dorsey doing an especially good job? It could have been, but what happens over a few games frequently can reflect natural ebbs and flows within a season.

How much better are the Pittsburgh Steelers after firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada? Much better last week, not so good Sunday.

Rivera and Washington get a bye in Week 14. How the defense performs in closing games against the Rams, Jets, 49ers and Cowboys will better reflect upon Rivera. …

Back to Purdy, the 49ers and those six consecutive touchdown drives. Per TruMedia. San Francisco joined an exalted group of team/quarterback combinations to accomplish the feat. Also on the list: the 2019 Ravens with MVP Lamar Jackson; the 2007 and 2009 Patriots with Brady; and the 2001 Colts with Peyton Manning.

(Top photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)


“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, is on sale now. Order it here.

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