Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians says it would be a 'travesty' if QB Tom Brady doesn't win MVP

TAMPA, Fla. -- On the heels of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady's three-touchdown performance in a 41-17 win over the Carolina Panthers, which ended in "MVP!" chants from fans inside Raymond James Stadium, coach Bruce Arians made a strong case for his 44-year-old signal-caller to win the award.

"I think if he doesn't get it, it's a travesty," Arians said Monday, as his team began preparations to host the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC wild-card round this weekend. "Most completions ever, 5,000 yards, touchdowns -- the whole nine yards. To me, it's not even a close race."

Brady finished the 2021 regular season with 719 passing attempts, 485 completions, 5,316 passing yards and 43 touchdown passes -- all tops in the league -- making him just the third quarterback along with Drew Brees (2018) and Peyton Manning (2013) to lead the league in all four major statistical categories since 1991.

Brady's 485 completions set an NFL record for a single season, besting Brees' 471 completions in 2016. Brady joined Brees as the only two players in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons.

Brady also broke Brees' record for most career passing yards in his Week 4 return victory over the New England Patriots. He then broke Brees' career completions record while throwing his 700th touchdown pass in a 33-27 overtime victory against the Buffalo Bills.

"It just shows what his work ethic is, how dedicated he is to the game of football and just how talented he is," tight end Rob Gronkowski said of Brady's record-breaking. "Just his determination week in and week out -- it's just unbelievable. And it's just surreal how he's pulling it off at age 44 and just coming out here like he's in his 20s still, just winging that ball, zipping it where it needs to be, making fantastic throws week in and week out."

Brady's 5,316 passing yards this year were third-most in NFL history behind Manning (5,477 in 2013) and Brees (5,476), and bested his own personal record of 5,235 passing yards in 2011. Even without counting the NFL's 17th game this year -- and Brady left his Week 18 game with 6:39 to go in the fourth quarter -- Brady's 4,990 passing yards in his first 16 games would have put him 14th all-time in single-season passing records.

Brady has been voted league MVP three times in his career: 2007, 2010 and most recently in 2017. He was also voted NFL Offensive Player of the Year twice, in 2007 and 2010. In the postseason, he's been awarded Super Bowl MVP honors five times: Super Bowl XXXVI, XXXVIII, XLIX, LI and LV.

"Tom's the MVP every year," Gronkowski said. "Just the way he adjusts on the fly to his personnel, just trying to get the ball into the best players' hands or the best matchup on that current play -- he's just always ready to go no matter what the situation is. He's the MVP every year."

He faces his stiffest competition from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has also won the award three times in his career -- in 2011, 2014 and 2020 -- and was named Super Bowl XLV MVP. The MVP award is chosen by a group of 50 writers prior to the postseason. Rodgers was a -400 favorite at Caesars Sportsbook entering the NFL's Week 18 games, while Brady was +550.

Rodgers played one less game than Brady because he tested positive for COVID-19, but Brady's 312.71 passing yards per game still top Rodgers' 257.19 passing yards per game. Brady also averaged 2.53 passing touchdowns per game compared to Rodgers' 2.31.

Rodgers, however, put up a staggering 9.25 touchdown-to-interception ratio -- seventh best in the league for a single season over the last 20 years -- compared to Brady's 2.53. Rodgers also posted a 68.9% completion rate compared to Brady's 67.2%, and his Total QBR 68.7 compared favorably to Brady's 68.5.

While Brady led the Bucs to a 13-4 record -- the same as Rodgers' Packers -- and the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the Packers clinched the No. 1 seed because their 9-3 conference record bested the Bucs' 8-4 conference record. The Packers were also in the driver's seat through much of the season, which may help Rodgers' case the most -- although one voter, Hub Arkush, who called Rodgers "the biggest jerk in the league" and cited off-the-field issues for why he won't vote for him. Rodgers drew scrutiny when it was revealed that he was not vaccinated despite telling reporters he was "immunized."

The two quarterbacks could wind up meeting in Green Bay for the NFC Championship Game, as some have predicted, which would be a rematch of last year's conference title game. ESPN Analytics currently gives the Packers a 68.1% chance of reaching the conference championship, with the Bucs right behind them with a 52.3% chance. It gives the Packers a 37.5% chance of reaching the Super Bowl and the Bucs a 29.8% chance.

But the Bucs need to get healthy first. Arians said Monday running back Leonard Fournette and outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul should return this week.

"Leonard looks great. He's been working good. He should be back," Arians said. "Shaq and JPP should both be back. Lavonte [David] -- he'll be the one that's the closest, but he is starting to move around pretty good so we'll wait and see. I'm still waiting to hear about [cornerback] Jamel Dean. That's the one that's got me concerned from this ballgame. But those guys that are on IR that have been out, I expect all to be back. Maybe Lavonte could not."

Fournette suffered a hamstring strain in Week 15 and was placed on IR. Barrett sprained an ACL and an MCL in Week 16 and was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday. Pierre-Paul has not played since Week 15 because of a torn rotator cuff. David, who is on injured reserve, suffered a sprained foot in Week 15.

Cyril Grayson, who stepped in for Antonio Brown and caught the winning touchdown against the New York Jets in Week 17, left Sunday's game against the Panthers with a hamstring injury and did not return. Arians said of Grayson: "It's not quite as bad as you thought, but his availability this week will be in question."