Well, not totally—we know some things. But every week the NFL goes ahead and zigs when we expect it to zag and we're left wondering what happened.
Take Thursday night for example. I don't want to say the Denver Broncos should have won the game but that was certainly the expected outcome.
Instead we not only have a surprising Chargers win but a debate as to whether Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning remains "in the lead" for the NFL MVP. (You can read my review of the game at my site, AndrewGarda.com)
Of course that's a bit ridiculous—but I suppose you could say the same about insisting Manning get it after Week 14.
Awards are a subjective thing and certainly open to debate. I have noticed the last two years that there's as much tearing down of other people's opinions as there is defending you own.
I find it fascinating to hear how people decide who to vote or support and what their process is.
This year will be my first voting as a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and I thought you might find it interesting to walk through the process with me. This week we'll go over what I consider when I decide between players.
Next week we'll start breaking down who I'm thinking about for some of the awards and why.
To me, there is no one element which makes an MVP. I know that sounds obvious, but go take a look on Twitter. See what people are talking about regarding Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady for MVP for example.
People love to talk absolutes. Maybe it's because they want to avoid talking about the flaws in their opinion. Maybe they just don't see the flaws.
Whatever the reason, it's all or nothing for a lot of people.
For me though—and there's no mathematical formula—it comes down to a combination.
Statistics are important, though how important depends upon position and average stats don't wipe out any chance for winning an award. There are people who will point to stats as if they're all that matters but it's not the case—at least for me.
For example, I think you can put Russell Wilson in the conversation for MVP. Now, I wouldn't put him right in the thick of it, but you can make a strong case for what he does for his team on a weekly basis. But his stats aren't all that awesome.
Still, what does he do for that Seahawks team? An awful lot. His poise and ability in and out of the pocket are one of the reasons this team has dominated this season.
That's not something that shows up in the stats. Well, it shows up in terms of wins and losses (more on that in a minute) but it's not something people think of.
Stats aren't the end all be all. If they were, Drew Brees (353/519, 4,107 yards, 7.9 avg, 33 TDs, 8 INTs) would be in the middle of this. In fact, his completion percentage (68 percent) is better than Manning's (67.8).
So what else do I consider?
Well, you have to look at the whole season. How did they get to the stats they have? Did they struggle? Did they have to overcome adversity? Did they make the people around them better? Did they win?
We'll hit the rest of that list in a second but I want to talk about wins/losses first.
The NFL MVP is a quarterback driven award. Maybe that's not fair (it isn't) but it's how it is. You need to be Adrian Peterson, assaulting a record one year removed from a severe knee injury to come close.
And there were still folks who wouldn't give Peterson the time of day.
As of last year, quarterbacks have won the AP NFL MVP award 37 times. The next closest are running backs with 18. (The PFWA Award, which I will be voting on is a bit different but not much.)
We won't even start talking defensive players because that never happens.
Quarterbacks get much more credit for wins than they deserve, as well as more blame than they deserve.
But the fact that wins are involved at all in this—as heavily as it is—favors quarterbacks (and one could argue is a direct result of the overwhelming amount of quarterback MVPs).
It's hard for many to believe that a running back or wide receiver "win games" while it's easy for them to attribute a win/loss record to a quarterback.
The exception was Adrian Peterson of course, without whom the Minnesota Vikings don't get to the playoffs in 2012.
That's all well and good, you say, but what does that mean for my process.
Well, it means that I probably count wins for a lot less credit than many of my fellow media members.
I want to see a player have a positive impact and see how it resulted or contributed to a win.
For me that can mean dominating games from J.J. Watt or Darrelle Revis just as much as 350 yards and four touchdowns from Tom Brady.
Back to the rest of the above list—for me the "narrative" or "journey" is more important than the wins.
I'm not saying I'll be voting for the best story. But I want to see what the whole season looks like.
I would have voted for Peterson last year. Certainly, the adversity he overcame—the enormous numbers following a traumatic injury—were a part of that.
However, there was more too it. For how could you ignore the poor quarterback play, resulting in stacked boxes out the wazoo? The incredible yards-after-contact numbers. The push for the playoffs and yes, the record setting games.
It's all a part of how he got where he went.
So when people dismiss Brady because of a poor early season, I point to how much he had to overcome to help his team win during those games.
It's a part of the story.
Impact. Really, if there is one defining trait for an MVP, it's impact. How they had it, when they had it and what they overcame to make it.
Of course, that's a pretty amorphous variable and open to interpretation. Still, that's why you watch the games, not just the stat-sheet. How can you know the impact of a player if you don't?
Sure the gaudy stats are easy to watch for, but sometimes a player is a factor without a ton of catches or sacks. When a quarterback avoids Revis, it limits Revis' chances for interceptions and defended passes. But it changes the scope of both the offense and defense.
When Manning is on fire, it makes life easier for Knowshon Moreno. When Calvin Johnson lines up left, Nate Burleson's life on the right is easier.
If it seems a bit haphazard, it is to some extent. Because the idea of an MVP, or Defensive Player of the Year or Rookie of the Year is—to me—somewhat fluid. Trying to define it in absolutes is, to me, a well-intentioned but ultimately wrong-headed endeavor.
So over the next few weeks, along with some playoff discussion, we'll work through the process of what I am looking at for each award.
And when I deliver my final ballot, I'll tell you why I did what I did and how I got there.
What makes an MVP for you? Or an Offensive Rookie of the Year?
Let me know in the comments.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.