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Top 10 Disappointing Finishes To NFL MVP Seasons

October 15, 2020


The NFL’s Most Valuable Player award is difficult to hand out, as there are so many players who are valuable to the success of a football team over the course of a season. In the modern era of the game, the award typically just goes to the quarterback of the best team in the league. And in these 10 instances, the players who managed to win the MVP award saw their seasons end in disappointing fashion even with the hardware going their way.

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10. Rich Gannon, 2002

Rich Gannon was a good quarterback, though not a great quarterback, for much of his career. But the 2002 season saw Gannon light up the NFL as a member of the Oakland Raiders. The Oakland signal caller threw for over 4,600 yards during the 2002 season, which was an impressive feat back then when the league relied more heavily on the run offensively. For that, Gannon won the league’s MVP award and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl.

But his MVP campaign ended on a sour note, as the Raiders were crushed in said Super Bowl by a score of 48-21. Gannon turned the ball over on multiple occasions in that Super Bowl, leading to a defensive player in Dexter Jackson taking the game’s MVP award. Gannon only played in 10 games over two years after the 2002 season, never reaching the same heights in his career.

9. Peyton Manning and Steve McNair, 2003

It is rare that two players win a co-MVP award during an NFL season, but that is exactly what happened in 2003 when Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the award. In a year without any true breakout performances, McNair and Manning split the award despite neither throwing for 30 touchdowns over the course of the season. In the postseason, neither player was able to deliver either.

Steve McNair’s Titans entered the playoffs as the fifth seed in the AFC. After winning in the first round, they were knocked out in the Divisional round by the top-seeded Patriots. The third seeded Colts, led by Manning did make it to the AFC Championship Game. But they were also eliminated by the Patriots, who were led by a quarterback in his first full season by the name of Tom Brady. Brady won his second title that year, while the co-MVPs were left to wonder what could have been.

8. Lamar Jackson, 2019

Last year, Lamar Jackson was the most electrifying player in the NFL. His ability to throw the ball and scramble made him nearly impossible for opposing players to defend. He accounted for 43 total touchdowns on the season, with his Baltimore Ravens winning 12 straight games to finish the regular season with a 14-2 record. But despite earning the MVP award and the top seed in the playoffs, Jackson’s postseason was anything but valuable.

Off of a first round bye, Jackson and the Ravens took on the Tennessee Titans at home in the divisional round. The Ravens were a double-digit favorite in the game, but Jackson threw two interceptions and completed barely half of his passes in the contest. The Titans took advantage of his inaccuracy, winning the game and advancing to the AFC Championship Game. Jackson, meanwhile, has yet to win a playoff game in his two postseason starts.

7. Adrian Peterson, 2012

A running back winning the NFL’s MVP award is something that is becoming more and more rare. With teams passing the ball more than ever before, a team giving the ball to someone like Adrian Peterson enough for them to rack up huge numbers is an anomaly. But that is exactly what happened in the 2013 season, when Peterson racked up over 2,000 rushing yards for a single season.

In the postseason, though, Peterson was cut off from having success thanks to a dire quarterback situation for the Minnesota Vikings. Due to a series of injuries at the position, backup quarterback Joe Webb had to start for the team in the wild card round against the Green Bay Packers. Webb only completed 11 of his 30 passes in the game, while the Packers defense was allowed to focus on Peterson and the rushing attack. Peterson ended the game with under 100 yards, and his season ended in disappointment.

6. Aaron Rodgers, 2014

Aaron Rodgers’ 2014 season will always be one of the great what-ifs in the history of the NFL. A deserved MVP season for Rodgers resulted in the Green Bay Packers playing for the NFC championship against the Seattle Seahawks. And Rodgers got the Packers out to a lead in that game, before a furious second-half comeback gave the Seahawks a chance late in the game.

Even with that comeback, all the Packers had to do was recover an onside kick from Seattle in order to move onto the Super Bowl against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Instead, they dropped an uncontested ball on the onside kick attempt, the Seahawks were able to complete their comeback, and Rodgers’ MVP season was all for naught thanks to circumstances beyond his control.

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5. Cam Newton, 2015

Cam Newton put up huge numbers throughout the 2015 NFL season as both a passer and a rusher. His battering ram style of running the football made defenders worry about getting hit by him as much as an average quarterback would worry about getting hit. And Newton certainly had fun with all of his success, with his series of dance moves and other displays of arrogance making for entertaining viewing.

But once he got to the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos, the newly-minted MVP of the league could not get going. He accounted for 310 total yards, but failed to muster a touchdown in the game. He also threw and interception and fumbled the football, setting up Denver scores on the other end. It was anything but the ending that Newton had anticipated after all of the fun he had throughout the season.

4. Peyton Manning, 2009

The 2009 season wasn’t one of the best of Peyton Manning’s career. The fact that a subpar season by his standards earned him another MVP award just speaks to how great he was. Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl that year, which was played in Miami, the same city as his first Super Bowl victory back in 2007. This time around, though, the Colts suffered a massively disappointing defeat.

In Super Bowl XLIV, the New Orleans Saints toppled Manning and the Colts. The 31-17 loss for Manning and company was a game they were expected to win, as NFL betting odds had them as 4.5 point favorites. A one-possession game late in the fourth quarter, it was Manning who threw away Indianapolis’ chances to win with a pick six. Fortunately for Manning, the MVP awards and Super Bowl appearances would keep coming.

3. Peyton Manning, 2013

There is a bit of theme developing in this list, where Peyton Manning had won the NFL MVP many times, with those times ending in heartbreaking disappointment more often than not. In this case, Manning won the award after moving from the Indianapolis Colts to the Denver Broncos. He led one of the most explosive offenses in the history of the league that year, throwing for over 5,400 yards and for a jaw-dropping 55 touchdowns.

But that season ended in an even greater disaster than his 2009 campaign, as the Denver Broncos were torn to shreds by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos lost that game 43-8, as Manning could never get the offense of the Broncos going in the cold weather at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Eventually Manning would win a title in Denver in Super Bowl 50, but this was a humiliating end to another MVP campaign.

2. Matt Ryan, 2016

One of the most surprising MVPs in recent NFL history has to be Matt Ryan. Along with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and a slew of offensive weapons, Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes with just seven interceptions in 2016. The Falcons rolled through the NFC playoffs, and even got out to a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. Then everything fell apart for this MVP.

Ryan and the Falcons’ offense could not move the ball in the second half against the Patriots, scoring the first seven points of the half before giving up the final 31 points of the game. Ryan’s decision making fell apart in key moments, and the 2016 MVP has never come close to the level of success he had in that one season.

1. Tom Brady, 2007

The 2007 New England Patriots were, by all measures, as perfect as a football team can be in 2007. They made it to the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record, thanks in large part to the season of quarterback Tom Brady. Brady threw 50 touchdown passes in an explosive offense that was highlighted by all-time great receiver Randy Moss, and won the MVP award for that season in a landslide. Just before the Super Bowl, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress predicted that his team’s defense would hold Brady to just 14 points in Super Bowl XLII. Brady scoffed at that comment.

But 14 points is exactly what Brady and the Patriots could muster in that Super Bowl. The New York Giants’ pass rush kept Brady and the Patriots in check all night. And with one incredible late touchdown drive from Eli Manning, the Giants ended the Patriots’ perfect season in one of the great upsets in the history of the sport. Brady has six rings, but the disappointment of this loss is certainly an interesting footnote on his resume.

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Jay Sanin
Jay Sanin is a sports writer and broadcaster from Albany, NY. He has covered sports betting and the gambling industry since 2013.