Ahhh, the problem years have begun on NFL Thursday (second miniseries) with the arrival of the cheating New England Patriots on the scene as league champions. There will be other challenges ahead, too, but for now, this is our first real big one here, which we solved in the first miniseries by completely ignoring Tom Brady in our MVP analyses. That may not be as easy here, as his whole team cheated.

Only time will tell how these road bumps are overcome, so read on and enjoy the best you can …

Super Bowl XXXVI MVP: Tom Brady, QB, New England (original); Ty Law, CB, New England (revised, vacated)

The New England Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams, 20-17, and in 2007, we found out a lot of cheating had been going on in New England—for a long time. Thus, it explains how the Pats beat the heavily-favored Rams in this matchup; St. Louis was favored by 14 points over New England and outgained the Pats by a 427-267 margin in the game itself. But three Rams turnovers, including this INT TD, changed the game.

So what do we do here? Brady was named the MVP for doing very little—145 yards, 1 TD, on 27 attempts—and defensive back Ty Law really should have been the voted MVP: 8 tackles, 2 PDs, 1 INT, and 1 TD. Yet we cannot help thinking that the defense truly benefitted from the Spygate practice. After all, the Pats defense was good, tied for sixth best in the NFL sabermetrically, but it wasn’t anything dominant.

The Rams offense was dominant: It was the best offense in the league, sabermetrically, by a lot, and St. Louis scored 503 points during the season—the most by 90 points. Hence, the betting line, etc. There’s no way the Pats defense was going to be capable of shutting down St. Louis, and yet it happened in very odd and spectacular fashion. We will see this “miracle” from New England a lot over the next 20 seasons.

We have no choice but to vacate this award, with the caveat that Law “deserved” the MVP much more than Cheatin’ Tom did.

2001 NFL ROTY: Anthony Thomas, RB, Chicago & Kendrell Bell, LB, Pittsburgh (original); Thomas (revised)

Talk about some no-name guys winning the ROTY votes at the time … wow! We weren’t even sure who these guys were, although we vaguely remembered Thomas from his college days. Either way, both Thomas (1,361 scrimmage yards and 7 TDs) and Bell (82 tackles, 23 TFLs, and 9 sacks) played for 13-win division champions, so they’re good to go for now. Anyone else?

Nope; that’s it, in terms of postseason teams. There were some great efforts from players not on playoff teams—looking at you, RB LaDainian Tomlinson (1,603 scrimmage yards and 10 TDs)—but the value is muted. So between Thomas and Bell, which one had the more-positive impact for 2001 in terms of aforementioned value? The Bears improved 8 games, while the Steelers only 4 games. There ya go.

Thomas, it is. This is turning into a University of Michigan column, as Brady, Law, and Thomas all played college ball in Ann Arbor—including Brady and Thomas together. But we digress: Thomas only started 10 games, playing in 14 total, but Chicago had a great season with his contributions. After gaining 3,305 yards from scrimmage in his first 39 games, Thomas would be all but done as a pro by 2004. Go figure.