With 11 weeks in the books, the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers stand alone as the only undefeated teams in the NFL. Superstar quarterback Brady’s greatness is nothing novel, but nobody expected him to achieve this level of success at 38 years old with a relatively weak supporting cast. The narrative developing in Carolina has been even more surprising. Playing with a depleted receiving corps, Cam Newton has fearlessly led his Panthers to win after win. It’s no question that both of these teams would be completely lost without their supremely talented quarterbacks, but who has been more valuable to this point: Tom Brady or Cam Newton?
Cocky. Arrogant. Bragadocious. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s demonstrative style of play and ultra-confident attitude has made him an easy target for conservative news members and media, as well as football ‘purists.’ With his team sitting at a perfect 9-0, Newton has silenced his critics in a big way this season. Newton is as physically gifted as any player in the NFL today, but this season is the first year where it seems that his football IQ has caught up to his athleticism. When standout sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in training camp, many wondered how the Steve Smith-less Panthers offence would fare. With an offensive line that is statistically ranked as 14th in the league as of Nov. 17, Newton has gone through the season with a depleted receiving corps, a middle-of-the-pack offensive line and a good but inconsistent running back-full back tandem of Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. Newton has the benefit of being the leader of a team with a strong defence as well as a great coach in Ron “Riverboat” Rivera, but a lot of the Panthers success this season can be credited to Newton’s sublime play so far this season.
Newton’s expressive touchdown celebrations, including 'dabbing,’ have been met with unfair criticism and scrutiny, simply because he is choosing to express his happiness through some dance moves and his patented Superman celebration. As Stephen A. Smith stated recently in his debate with Skip Bayless on ESPN First Take, “we don’t see anyone getting after Tom Brady going all Psycho Tom.” Tom Brady’s antics on the field have been more or less accepted now due to his unrivaled greatness, but is it really fair to chastise Newton while giving Brady continued free passes? The Panthers and the New England Patriots are the only two undefeated teams in the league, and no matter how they got there, both quarterbacks have been elite in their own ways while leading their teams through a grueling NFL regular season.
The fifth-year signal caller’s offensive repertoire this year is as diverse as it has ever been, which is a nightmare for opposing defences. Newton is 6’5,” 245 pounds, making him a very difficult person to tackle; additionally, he is an elite athlete with excellent agility who can elude and sprint away from defenders with his great improvisational skills. He also has a rocket of an arm which he has put on full display this year when throwing lasers on seam routes to his favorite receiver this year, tight end Greg Olsen. His ability to run is a huge weapon in their offence because they have the ability to run ‘the option,’ and he’s nearly unstoppable in the red zone when he can extend his huge frame across the goal line while leaping through the air. The biggest difference that fans and analysts can see this year with Newton is a more poised and decisive decision maker in the pocket, and his progression reads are much better which has lead to much better accuracy. What Newton has been able to do with a relatively depleted offence is amazing and speaks volumes to how integral he is to this team. He plays the premier position in football, and he has been the biggest driving force of an undefeated team that no one saw coming. The potential was always there for the No. 1 overall pick, it just took the 26-year-old a few years to figure out when to use his wide array of offensive skills. The realization of all his talent has cumulated to a player who goes out onto the field every week and performs at a level that allows him to live up to his lofty nickname of “Super Cam.”
Tom Brady is a force of nature. No other player has shown his supremacy quite like Brady has over the course of his career. Consider that at 38-years-old, Brady is playing his best football ever and that he’s undoubtedly the reason for the Patriots’ success. Brady is the MVP because of his ability to improve the overall talent of those around him, and to dominate the tempo of games with his efficient passing. His talent is so transcendent that he raises his teammates to his level. You can take away Brandon LaFell for the first half of the season. Place starters Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis on injured reserve. It’s not going to slow Brady down.
The Brady effect is aura that charges the Patriots offence. No matter who you give Brady at the skill positions, he makes them better.
“The reason you gotta go with Tom Brady is because […he] makes receivers,” former NFL cornerback Ike Taylor said on Dave Damesheck’s podcast. “He'll turn a no-namer into ‘Okay, who is this kid?’"
The Brady effect extends further than just the wide receivers. Running back LeGarrette Blount doesn’t have to worry about a stacked box and is able to run freely. While at Tampa Bay, Blount was averaging 4.3 yards per carry (ypc), not a bad number by any stretch of the imagination, but only averaged 3.7 ypc in his final year with the Buccaneers. Since joining the Patriots, Blount has been averaging 4.7 ypc. The same applied to Dion Lewis who, before his injury, looked like Jamaal Charles in his prime and was on pace to set an NFL record 112 broken tackles in a season per Fox Sports.
No other quarterback improves the overall quality of an offence as much as Brady. Not even the Panthers’ Cam Newton. The Panthers and Patriots have similar offences in the sense that they both have dominant tight ends (Greg Olson and Rob Gronkowski) and a very average crop of wide receivers. The difference is that Newton doesn’t raise the talent of those around him. Ted Ginn Jr. still looks like Ted Ginn Jr., never rising above the potential he flashed in his 790-yard season with the Dolphins in 2008. Devin Funchess, a first round pick in the 2015 draft, has been underwhelming despite his towering stature and raw talent. Conversely, Brady’s receiving corps consists of a seventh-round pick college quarterback, and undrafted kick returner, and LaFell, whom Carolina deemed as not worth keeping despite their wide receiver issues.
Yet some falsely believe Newton is more important to Carolina than Brady is to New England. The Carolina defence has been the Panthers’ most valuable asset—it has stifled nearly all opponents. In comparison, Newton currently has a 56 per cent completion rate which puts him just ahead of Blake Bortles on the season, and is historically bad for a supposed MVP candidate. Newton also hasn’t needed to do very much offensively with talented running back Jonathan Stewart and elite corner Josh Norman taking control of every game. In fact, he has been more of a detriment than anything else to the Panthers. In a Week 8 matchup against the Packers, Newton was singlehandedly responsible for keeping the Packers in the game with a late game interception. He also has been extremely inefficient passing the ball. With a 56 per cent completion rate, and with three times as many interceptions as Brady thus far, it's insulting to even compare the two in terms of importance.
New England’s entire offensive strategy runs through Brady. The way the Patriots offence works this year is reminiscent of the Packers last year. As the best team in the first quarter in 2014, the Packers were rarely ever down in a game and this forced teams to always play from behind. The Patriots are doing the exact same thing. Against the Buffalo Bills, Tom Brady was able to get his team off to a commanding lead in the first half. As a result the Bills had to make Tyrod Taylor throw the ball 30 times to even have a shot at victory. This formula allows the Patriots to control the tempo and outcome of every game. Brady is the force, both mental and physical, behind the weekly success of this team. To everyone who has the honour of watching Tom Brady in action, you know that he is special. You know that he does nothing but dominate week in and week out, and you know he is the reason the Patriots are undefeated.
Editors’ Pick: Newton
While Brady’s numbers are undeniably superior, Newton has captivated football fans across the world this season with his improved decision-making under centre, powerful running game, and enthusiastic celebrations. He’s not just the MVP of the league, he’s the MVP of our hearts.