An In-Depth Update On The NFL MVP Race
Does Carson Wentz Have a Shot to Win the MVP?
By Tim McCullough
It’s hard to believe, but we are three-quarters of the way through the 2017 NFL season. There is still plenty of football left to play and there are still many teams with playoff aspirations, so it’s still too early to begin solidly speculating about which teams will play in the Super Bowl. It is, however, a great time to begin discussing the NFL Most Valuable Player Award candidates.
By my count, there are six potential candidates for the MVP award right now: quarterbacks Tom Brady, Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson – running backs Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley – and wide receiver Antonio Brown. All of these players are among the statistical leaders at their position, and the teams they play for are all virtually locked in to make the playoffs.
Even though all six players deserve consideration, let’s be realistic about their chances in today’s pass-oriented NFL. Right away, we can set aside Bell, Gurley and Brown as having little or no chance of winning the MVP award. As proof, one only needs to look back over the last decade to find that quarterbacks have won nine of the last 10 MVP awards including the last four consecutive awards. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at our three quarterback candidates.
Tom Brady is on pace for another season with well over 4,000 passing yards, and he is presiding over the league’s top passing offense. Brady leads the NFL in passing yards (3,632) and completions (300), is second in yards per attempt (8.29) and tied for second in touchdowns (26), and he’s thrown just four interceptions. Other than some ridiculous rumblings that the Patriots were supposed to “run the table” and win every game this season, there is no doubt that the team is heading for the post-season, and they’re doing so because of Brady’s fantastic play.
Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson has single-handedly carried the team’s offense on his back in recent weeks. In fact, Wilson’s 432 rushing yards leads his team and is more than twice as many yards as any running back on the Seattle roster. Overall, Wilson is directly responsible for an NFL record 85.7 percent of his team’s total offense. He’s also sixth among all quarterback in passing yards (3,256), tied for second in passing touchdowns (26), the leader in pass attempts (442), and he’s currently the best Fantasy Football quarterback (27.3 FPPG) with Deshaun Watson out for the season.
Wilson’s accomplishments are that much more remarkable because he’s achieved them behind an offensive line that is ranked 28th overall in run blocking by Football Outsiders. Their pass-blocking efficiency is ranked 26th overall by Pro Football Focus and the 122 hurries the group has allowed is the second-most in the NFL this season. Despite the shortcomings of the offensive line, the Seahawks have the ninth-best overall offense under Wilson this season, and he’s done it despite having almost no ground game to speak of and a relatively thin group of receivers. RB Chris Carson is the only Seahawks back with more than 200 rushing yards, and he’s been sidelined since Week 4. Aside from Doug Baldwin (7 yrs.), Jimmy Graham (8 yrs.) and Luke Willson (5 yrs.) Seattle’s six other pass-catchers (WRs and TEs) have a combined 11 years of experience, including a pair of rookies.
Many analysts believe that it’s really a two-horse race for the MVP crown this season. Brady is the front-runner and largely considered the man to beat. Wilson is the scrappy fighter who could knock Brady off the pedestal, especially if he continues to perform as well as he did in this past Sunday’s knock-down drag ‘em out fight with our third big candidate – second-year phenom, Carson Wentz.
Prior to Sunday night’s melee, Philadelphia had been on an incredible run through the NFL. Beginning in September, Wentz marched the Eagles to a nine-game winning streak with an overall record of 10-1 (now 10-2), including a five-game streak of double-digit wins with 30 or more points scored. and a 15-game streak with 20 or more points scored (dating back to 2016). The Eagles had also rushed for at least 175 yards per game over their last three starts, and Wentz snapped a seven-game streak snapped in which he threw multiple touchdowns, including three games with four TDs.
Unlike Wilson, who’s been pressured and hurried on nearly every snap, Carson’s Eagles’ have the sixth-best offensive line in the game. As a unit, the Eagles’ front five have allowed just 67 hurries, good for second-fewest in the NFL this season, and 27 sacks. The Philly offense is much more balanced than either New England’s or Seattle’s. Overall, the Eagles have the second-best rushing offense. Their 1,720 total rushing yards and average of 134.4 yards per game are second only to the Jacksonville Jaguars (1,793 and 143.3).
Pre-season projections had Wentz finishing the season with right around 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing TDs, a completion rate of roughly 61 percent and about 200 rushing yards. If you peruse the table below, you’ll note that Wentz has already achieved those numbers, except for the passing yards.
|Comp%||Pass Yd.||Pass TDs||INT||Rush Yd.||Rush TDs||Pass Rtg|
Brady has a stellar profile as long as you can completely ignore Rushing Yards. He is clearly the most accomplished passer, which is reflected in his Completion Percentage, Total Passing Yards and Overall Passer Rating. Wilson is also an accomplished passer but what shines through the statistics above are his versatility and rushing capabilities. We could debate Wentz right down the middle and conclude that he is at least on par with Wilson, if not ahead of him skill-wise. Wilson is clearly the most well-rounded of the three athletes, though, with superior rushing ability, a strong arm and the ability to read the opposing defense and react decisively.
When you compare the statistics for all three quarterbacks, though, not one of them really stands out against the others. All that talent and all those wonderful attributes that make Wentz a great player might not get him a Most Valuable Player Award. Indeed, it’s even quite possible that he doesn’t even get considered for the accolade this season, and what may ultimately decide things for the MVP voters is their perception of which player faced the most difficult circumstances and did the most to ensure that his team emerged a winner.
That brings us around to the present. A look at the schedule for the Patriots reveals that the Dolphins, Steelers, Bills and Jets lay ahead for Tom Brady. The games against Miami and Pittsburgh are both on the road, where the Patriots are undefeated this season. The games against the Bills and Jets in Foxborough shouldn’t be difficult as long as the Pats don’t fall into a trap. Brady tends to save his best games for division rivals and the home stadium. If he hasn’t already locked up the MVP, he could do it during this final homestand.
The Seahawks also play two at home and two on the road. Their first stop is Jacksonville, where the Jaguars and their stout pass defense will make things tough on Wilson. The Seattle offensive line is having another tough season. The Jaguars’ pass rush will look to build on their sack total, which already hit 45 after 12 games. Wilson’s stock climbed after he pulled off the win against the Eagles last Sunday. If he continues to perform like that against the Jags, Rams, Cowboys and Cardinals he’ll give Brady some competition for the MVP.
— NESN (@NESN) December 6, 2017
The biggest problem Wentz will have to overcome to win the MVP will be one of perception. Up to now, the Eagles have played a soft schedule. Only one of the teams the Eagles have played in their first 12 games has a winning record (Panthers, 8-4). Otherwise, they have two wins over the Redskins (5-7), and one each over the Cowboys (6-6), the Chargers (6-6), the Giants (2-10), Bears (3-9), Cardinals (5-7), 49ers (2-10) and Broncos (3-9).
Wentz’ performance in the remaining games against the Rams, Giants, Raiders and Cowboys could end up determining his MVP candidacy. He should have no trouble dispensing with the Giants and Raiders, as both teams are among the bottom 10 defenses against the pass. If the Cowboys’ defense gets healthy and stays healthy, they could pose a bit of a problem for Wentz. Their defense can be tough, especially when Sean Lee is playing, and he is expected back on the field this week. The biggest challenge will come from this week’s matchup against the Rams (9-3). They are ranked ninth against the pass overall and they’ve picked up 14 interceptions, third-most in the NFL this season. Wentz has just six interceptions thrown this season, a big improvement over the 14 picks he tossed as a rookie last year. Tom Brady and Russell Wilson are already duking it out for consideration, but Wentz can muscle his way into the fray If he can continue to avoid the interceptions and has a solid game against the Rams.
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