With the end of the NFL regular season just on the horizon, it seemed like a good time to take a look at the favorites for the leagues most valuable player award. With Antonio Brown and Carson Wentz’s injuries, this list has changed a bit over the past couple of weeks. I will examine five players with the best chances of taking home the trophy based on Bovada’s most recent odds (as of December 18).
1. Tom Brady QB, New England Patriots
The case for: Even at age 40, Brady looks as sharp as ever. The former two-time MVP once again ranks at the top of most traditional and advanced leaderboards–ranking in the top 10 in completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards per game, passer rating, QBR, and DYAR. Fresh off of an impressive win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road–albeit marred in some controversy–the race for the league’s top individual honor is Brady’s to lose.
The case against: The other players on this list has to hope that Brady eventually starts playing his age. The man is 40 after all. Sometimes players don’t steadily decline; instead they just “fall off a cliff” so to speak. I would not bet my life on it though. I really just wrote this to fill some space and to give some reason why Brady may not win MVP.
Chances: Brady’s final two games are against the Jets (27th in pass defensive DVOA) and the Bills (12th). Assuming New England doesn’t play their backups in one or both of those games–they need at least one more win to secure the number one seed in the AFC–Brady has a good chance of putting up big numbers on those teams. Even though the Bills are respectable against the pass, Brady played pretty well against the Buffalo secondary in week 13 (63.3 QBR). It would take some amazing performances from other candidates to keep the award MVP away from Brady. My odds: 9/10
2. Drew Brees QB, New Orleans Saints
The case for: Another ageless wonder, the 38-year-old Brees has produced his usual stellar numbers: fifth in yards per game and third in yards per attempt, passer rating, and DYAR. Brees has also trimmed down the picks as well; his 1.5 percent INT rate would be the lowest of his career. Thanks to an improved defense and running game, the Saints’ fortunes haven’t rested solely on Brees’ very accurate arm. That said, he is still a big reason why the Saints will likely make the playoffs and could possibly reach the Super Bowl.
The case against: The improved running game is both a blessing to Saints’ renaissance and a detriment to Brees’ MVP hopes. The Atlanta game a couple of weeks ago showed how vital Alvin Kamara and the running game is to the Saints success. New Orleans collected just 50 yards combined on the ground in that game and couldn’t take advantage of three Matt Ryan picks. Brees also hasn’t been as impressive in some statistical categories– he ranks just 19th in touchdown percentage and 11th in total QBR.
Chances: Brees has the best chance to sneak away with the MVP. He would need two stellar games to tip the odds in his favor. Fortunately, the Saints final two games are against poor pass defenses: the Falcons (17th in pass defensive DVOA) and the Buccaneers (31st). If Brees plays up to his usual standards, he could nab his second MVP. My odds: 8.5/10
3. Todd Gurley RB, Los Angeles Rams
The case for: After a disappointing 2016, Gurley has bounced back with a vengeance. The former Georgia standout leads the league in rushing TDs, ranks third among backs with at least 1,000 carries in yards per attempt and is fourth in yards per game. The versatile Gurley is also a threat in the passing game–he ranks third among running back in receiving DYAR. Gurley is one of the many weapons that have led to L.A., ascent to the NFC’s upper-tier.
The case against: It’s incredibly hard for non-QB’s to win the award. Defenders and skill position players have to almost amass otherworldly numbers to have a chance to win MVP. Gurley’s played great, but his numbers aren’t that eye-popping. He is only seventh in rushing DYAR. The last RB to win the award–Adrian Peterson–put together an amazing season to earn the honor, nearly breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing mark in 2012. Gurley may not even eclipse 1,500 yards.
Chances: The Rams face the Titans (15th in run defensive DVOA) and the 49ers (17th) to close the season. Both clubs are okay at stopping the run. However, Gurley is fresh off of dressing down Seattle’s ninth-ranked run stop unit to the tune of 152 yards and three touchdowns. That said, Gurley is still nothing more than a darkhorse MVP candidate. My odds: 4/10
4. Carson Wentz QB, Philadelphia Eagles
The case for: Before tearing his ACL, Wentz was the leading MVP candidate. His numbers certainly backed that up: first in TDs, second in QBR, and the seventh lowest INT rate in the NFL. Along with Philly’s endless supply of tailbacks, Wentz guided the Eagles and their top-five offense to the top of the NFC standings.
The case against: Wentz’s injury halted all MVP talk surrounding the quarterback. The Eagles may be fine without him in the short term, but other potential MVP hopefuls new have a chance at the trophy with Wentz sidelined.
Chances: With Wentz out, other players have bolstered their claims to the MVP award. He should be considered, but Wentz may have to wait until next year win. My odds: 4/10
5. Russell Wilson QB, Seattle Seahawks
The case for: Despite some numbskull writers saying that he isn’t a top 10 QB, Russell Wilson has almost single-handedly kept the Seahawks in the playoff race. While the same problems exist for Seattle (bad offensive line), Wilson continues to produce with his arm (second in TD’s) and his legs (leads all QBs in rushing DYAR). If the Seahawks make the playoffs, it will be because of Wilson.
The case against: Wilson’s numbers are good, but they aren’t spectacular. He ranks outside of the top ten in passing DYAR, QBR, passer rating, and yards per attempt. That doesn’t all rest at the feet of Wilson; I bet that some of the passers ranked ahead of him in some of those categories (like Case Keenum and Jared Goff) would struggle playing behind Seattle’s mincemeat O-line. Either way, Wilson’s less-than-stellar yardage and rate stats–relative to this era of quarterbacking–may ultimately be his undoing.
Chances: Wilson should probably vie for the MVP award every season given his numbers and the conditions in which he puts them up. Barring two straight monster games against Arizona and San Fransisco, Wilson will probably just be a sleeper contender. My odds: 4/10