As we reach the mid-point of the 1970s on NFL Thursdays, let’s point out that from here on out we will be analyzing two awards: the Associated Press MVP and the Professional Football Writers Association MVP. Sometimes they’re the same winner; sometimes not.
We will consolidate them both in one award, so hang on for the ride …
1975 MVP: Fran Tarkenton (original AP & PFWA), O.J. Simpson (revised)
A whopping 10 teams won at least 10 times during the regular season, which is crazy, in truth, considering only 8 teams made the playoffs. In the AFC, both the Houston Oilers and the Miami Dolphins went 10-4 and missed the postseason.
This means we have a lot of leeway to determining value here. We will start with quarterbacks, where two guys stood out for leading their teams to the postseason while topping a key threshold for QB rating: Cincinnati Bengals standout Ken Anderson (93.9) and Minnesota Vikings legend Fran Tarkenton (91.8).
Getting the Bengals to the playoffs is a lot more impressive than taking the Vikings there in this era, as Minnesota was coming off two straight Super Bowl appearances: The team was already good. But Cincinnati? This was an expansion team in its 8th season overall, and the last season coached by genius Paul Brown.
Regardless, Anderson’s season was superior to Tarkenton’s season in many ways (more yards, fewer interceptions, higher yards-per-attempt average, etc.), and this is why his QB rating was higher, too.
Plus, the Bengals won 11 games in a division with the Pittsburgh Steelers (12 victories) and Houston, while the Vikings won the NFC Central where they were the only team to finish over .500 on the year.
Of the runners in the league, Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson was the dominant one, leading the NFL in rushing by 571 yards as he ran for 1,817 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Bills finished 8-6 in the AFC East, behind two 10-win teams (Baltimore and Miami).
Receivers in 1975? Oilers wide receiver Ken Burrough was the only one to top 1,000 yards receiving (1,063), and the leader in receptions—last year’s MVP Chuck Foreman, Minnesota’s star running back—gained just 691 yards in his 73 catches.
(When your RB is catching that many passes, by the way, it artificially inflates your completion percentage—which is why Tarkenton’s completion rate was a career high in 1975.)
In total numbers from scrimmage, Simpson outpaced Foreman by 482 yards and one TD, as both guys scored a lot in 1975. Simpson got the ball in the end zone 23 times, Foreman 22 times. That’s crazy in a 14-game season, in truth, but here’s the kicker: Foreman coughed up the ball a whopping 12 times, while Simpson only fumbled 7 times.
Defensively, two players reached double digits in INTs: Pittsburgh cornerback Mel Blount (11) and Minnesota free safety Paul Krause (10). Neither man scored on any returns, though, so the impact of these turnovers was not as great as it might have been.
In the end, this comes down to Anderson and Simpson—and how we define value for this season. The Bengals had averaged 8-plus wins in the prior three seasons, and this was the third playoff appearance for the team in the decade so far. Therefore, it wasn’t that much of a miracle to see Cincy in the playoffs.
And again, the Bills missed the playoffs despite posting a winning record: We need to break down that record a bit, however. Buffalo went 1-3 against Baltimore and Miami, and in those four games, Simpson posted 684 total yards and 7 TDs! The three losses came by a combined 22 points, and it sure wasn’t Simpson’s fault.
While Anderson was merely great, Simpson was historically incredible in this season, so he gets our nod for the second time in three years.