Sports fans have debated the criteria for the Most Valuable Player award for decades. Should the prestigious honor go to the best player on the best team? Should it go to the player whose performance is the most valuable to his team’s success?
In recent years, the National Football League has awarded the MVP to the best quarterback on the best team. For Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, winning the prestigious award will be tough. Currently, the Bengals are in a six-way tie for the sixth best record in the league.
However, no player in the NFL has been more valuable to his team’s success this year than Burrow.
What we’ve learned from the first half of this season is that the Bengals solely beat to the drum of Burrow. Owner Mike Brown should change the organization’s name to the Cincinnati Burrows because the Pro Bowl quarterback is the team’s identity.
The Bengals started 2023 with a 1-3 record and the league’s worst total offense. A rough start for a returning roster and coach featured in the AFC Championship game nine months prior.
It’s obvious that the calf injury Burrow suffered in training camp held the Bengals back in those first four games. The league’s highest-paid quarterback makes his money from his accuracy and playmaking. The injury limited his ability to plant on the turf and escape from the pocket.
Fortunately, Burrow’s calf trended upward in the Bengals’ Week 5 win in Arizona. Joe Shiesty’s 300-yard, 3-touchdown performance put the word out that Cincinnati was back. The team has kept its foot on the gas since.
Burrow’s healing calf allows him to step up to make on-time throws. Also, it allows him to extend plays outside the pocket when needed.
Following last Sunday’s 24-18 win against the Buffalo Bills, the Bengals advanced to 5-3, having won four straight. Under the primetime lights, Burrow completed 31 of 44 passes for a season-high 348 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers.
Burrow was surgical on the opening drive. He went 6/6 for 65 passing yards and finished with a beautiful 7-yard touchdown toss to tight end Irv Smith Jr.
The Bengals never trailed in the game.
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Burrow’s MVP-level play has launched the Bengals back into Super Bowl contention.
It is not like they’ve been beating up on the bottom of the league during their winning streak, either. The Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Bills were all playoff teams last season, and each was at least two games above .500 before facing the Bengals.
Through the first four weeks of the season, Burrow had a 69.1 passer rating, the worst in the league. During the four-game winning streak, healthier Burrow has recorded a 111.2 passer rating, the best in the league.
In those four games, according to OptaSTATS, Burrow is the second quarterback in league history to complete at least 75% of his passes (min. 150 attempts) while throwing for at least 10 touchdowns in a four-game span. The only other quarterback to achieve this feat was Peyton Manning in his 2013 MVP season.
Despite already battling a gauntlet of the league’s finest, the Bengals still have a brutal second-half schedule. Eight of their nine remaining regular season matchups are against opponents with a current record of .500 or better.
Plus, as Cincinnati takes a step forward, the rest of the AFC North teams refuse to take a step back. The Bengals (5-3) are tied with the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers behind the division-leading Baltimore Ravens (7-2).
But if Burrow continues to slice defenses since becoming healthier, the Bengals should feel confident heading into each contest. The winning streak ends when Burrow says it ends.