Matthew Stafford’s 2016 season makes him more of an MVP candidate than a Pro Bowl selection. Without him, the Detroit Lions are irrelevant. He’s one of the most valuable players in the NFL because his team is a no good, very bad football team without him. The Lions are maybe a two or three win team at best if there wasn’t a Matthew Stafford on this team. Of course, this is part of a larger, much more philosophical discussion of “What does most valuable player mean?”
Stafford vs. Everybody
Player A: 67.7 completion percentage, 3,418 passing yards, 20 TDs to 4 INTs and 238 rushing yards.
Player B: 66.3 completion percentage, 3,720 passing yards, 22 TDs to 8 INTs and 206 rushing yards.
These are remarkably similar numbers from two quarterbacks. One of them was elected to the NFC Pro Bowl team and the other is being widely regarded as a Pro Bowl snub. Aside from Player B having four more interceptions—which puts him seventh among quarterbacks who have played all 14 games in 2016—these two are neck and neck in nearly every major statistical category by which many grade the success of a quarterback.
Player A is Dak Prescott while Player B is Matthew Stafford.
Two ways of getting it done
Prescott’s effectiveness has been in his efficiency, his ability to make plays instead of flub them when Zeke has helped put the Cowboys’ offense in a position to succeed. Stafford’s volume of attempts is largely due in part to him being the focal point of the Lions’ offense: it goes as he goes. He’s the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. In order for his team’s offense to be effective, he needs to be making plays happen. Wins—and this isn’t purely a #QBWINZ argument because Stafford has impressive personal numbers—are something that lends itself more to an MVP award than a Pro Bowl selection. If everything was about volume, then why isn’t Drew Brees on the Pro Bowl team? He’s completing over 71 percent of his passes, leads the league in touchdown passes (34) and passing yards (4,559).
Matthew Stafford not making the Pro Bowl didn’t move the needle for me because, well, I don’t get caught up in the handing out of personal accolades. It’s left up to a vote by the players, the coaches and fans. So that makes it subjective and well, voting, that’s never proven to be flawed system, right?
By the statistics that many people judge their quarterbacks, Prescott has superior numbers to the Lions quarterback at face value. What many don’t take into consideration, however, are the underlying numbers, the context behind the Lions’ victories and the situation each respective quarterback is in. Let’s take a look at those.
What the “other” numbers show
One of the first things that comes up in the discussion of Prescott’s performance this season is almost assuredly one of two things: the Cowboys’ all-world offensive line or red kettle resident, Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys’ offensive line is the third best offensive line when it comes to run blocking in the NFL according to Football Outsiders, and much has been made about their ability to run the football better than any other team in the league. When pass blocking, however, Dallas has fared slightly worse, giving up 24 sacks and ranking 11th in the league in adjusted sack rate, which is defined by Football Outsiders as:
Sack Rate represents sacks divided by pass plays, which include passes, sacks, and aborted snaps. It is a better measure of pass blocking than total sacks because it takes into account how often an offense passes the ball. Adjusted Sack Rate adds adjustments for opponent quality, as well as down and distance (sacks are more common on third down, especially third-and-long).
The Lions’ offensive line, on the other hand, has surrendered 31 sacks and ranks 16th in adjusted sack rate. This season, Stafford has a 64.4 completion percentage, 4 TDs and 5 INTs on third down while Prescott stands at a 66 comp. % with 4 TDs and 3 INTs. In addition, and key ingredient in adjusted sack rate, Prescott has been faced with less passing situations on third-and-long than Stafford has, and a lot of that can be attributed to the success the Cowboys have running the ball on first and second down. Stafford has no such luxury.
While Prescott’s offensive line has performed a little better than the men in front of Stafford according to FO, the balanced attack Dallas possesses because of MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott makes the job easier for Dak.
It’s no secret that the Lions are the most clutch team in the NFL. No team has had as many fourth quarter or overtime comebacks this season—or any season in the history of the league—and those wouldn’t have been possible without No. 9 at the helm. The Cowboys are on schedule to have the best record in the NFC to claim the top seed in the conference, but have done so in a much different manner: five of their 11 wins have come by two scores or more. Detroit has had eight of their nine wins come by a single score or less, and as it can’t be said enough, without Stafford, that would not be possible. But does being the king of the comeback mean you deserve a spot on the Pro Bowl roster?
It still doesn’t matter though
While all of this is great to fawn over, and I get why people get worked up over players not getting the recognition of being a member of the Pro Bowl team, don’t we have to at least redirect some of that blame towards ourselves? A third of the vote is decided by a fan vote, after all.
But that’s neither here nor there. Do the widely accessible statistics show that Dak Prescott has had a better season that Matthew Stafford? Yes, they do. Do Pro Bowl honors change the dynamics of when the two teams meet for “Monday Night Football” in Week 16? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.