Before Thursday night’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys, Drew Brees was the heavy favorite in the NFL’s MVP race. And rightfully so because he was having, statistically, the greatest season by a quarterback ever, and leading his team to a 10-1 start.
Not to mention, the MVP is a quarterback’s award as of late. Over the last 20 seasons, only five running backs have won the award, with the last one going all the way back in 2012.
He was a virtual lock but the most rational of people understood that there was still a lot of football to be played.
And Thursday night, we learned why we don’t award the winners so early. Drew Brees put up a stinker in a game in which the Saints, who were averaging nearly 40 points-per-game, scored just ten and lost. It took him 28 pass attempts to throw for 127 yards, which is the third-fewest number of yards in a game for him, and the second-fewest this season (surprisingly).
And once again, the MVP debate has been reborn. Some are going to the extreme and concluding Drew Brees lost the MVP award with his performance against the Cowboys.
At worst, though, he’s pulled back. There’s no way that he was overtaken and lost it. In fact, there is no clear frontrunner and really hasn’t been because the 2018 MVP field is as deep and wide-open as it’s been in recent memory.
And with so many worthy candidates, it was wrong to proclaim Brees, and Patrick Mahomes before him, as the winner so early. It’s a momentum-based award where we reward or penalize the most recent success or failures because voters are prisoners of the moment. We all tend to fluctuate with our stances after each game because the NFL is a week-to-week industry.
And with five weeks of NFL football left to go, the race is a mess, in a good way. You can make a legitimate argument for six or seven players and be right.
Let’s start with the obvious one, Drew Brees. We can’t overreact to his most recent outing and judge him off it because the week prior, he threw four touchdowns to four players most NFL fans never heard of.
He still has, arguably, the best resume, and the MVP should reward the best body of work overall, which Brees may have.
He is top in passer rating, completion percentage, third in touchdowns, top ten in passing, and a Madden-like 30 touchdowns to just three interceptions. To put that ratio into perspective, the career leader in that category, Aaron Rodgers, owns a 4.25 TD: INT ratio for his career while Brees’ is 2.24.
The 39-year-old still leads arguably the most potent offense in the game and a team that has the second-best record in the NFL. Still an excellent case.
Patrick Mahomes is the other favorite because of the record-setting season he is having. He is second in passer rating to only Brees, third in passing yards, and leads the NFL with 37 passing touchdowns.
He is on track to throw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. Those are Tom Brady and Peyton Manning numbers at their peaks, and he is doing it in his first year as a starter.
But, as extraordinary as Mahomes has been, you can argue that Andrew Luck has been just as good. He is second in passing touchdowns and is riding an eight-game streak with at least three passing scores. And during this stretch, his 27 touchdowns are the most in the NFL.
Not to mention, Luck is the one carrying a lackluster defense to a five-game winning streak and a 6-5 record. He is the one that is making the weapons on the Indianapolis Colts better than they are.
He’s not throwing to open receivers like Mahomes is on the Kansas City Chiefs; his weapons are nothing like what the Chiefs have. A healthy fraction of Mahomes numbers has come on passes behind the line of scrimmage where running back, Kareem Hunt, or one of the receivers will do all the work to make a big play or score.
These are three worthy candidates right here, but we cannot forget about the trio on the Los Angeles Rams or Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Save for his letdown against the Denver Broncos two games ago, Rivers has been excellent all year. He is third in passer rating, fourth in touchdown passes, had a record 25 straight completions to begin a game on Sunday, and has led the Chargers to an 8-3 record, and just one game back of first in the AFC West.
The Rams now own the best record in football with the Saints’ loss, and the three players most responsible for it (from the outside looking in) are Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald.
Gurley is the game’s best running back who is also the engine of a top-3 offense and putting up excellent numbers. He leads the league in rushing/running touchdowns and is second to Ezekiel Elliot in rush yards and all-purpose yards.
But Elliot also has a game on him. Gurley can quickly erase the difference with a big game against the weak Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Aaron Donald is on track to win his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year. Along with Khalil Mack, Donald is the ultimate game-changer on defense, as we saw on Monday Night Football against the Chiefs. The 27-year-old had two key strip-sacks on Patrick Mahomes- one which was returned for a touchdown.
He leads the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback pressures. The most impressive part about this, however, is that Donald is dominating while being double-teamed more than 70% of the time (easily the most) and racking up these numbers as an interior lineman.
These are numbers that are reserved for edge rushers like Mack, Von Miller, and J.J. Watt. Not a player up the middle, which shows just how lucky we are to see him in his prime. And we have not seen a defensive player win the MVP award since Lawrence Taylor back in the 1980s.
So, Gurley is probably the most important player on the Rams’ offense while Donald may be their best overall player. And because of this, quarterback Jared Goff gets overlooked, even after the countless times he has come up big and shined on primetime.
He is fourth in passer rating, fourth in touchdowns, fourth in passing yards, and leads the league in comeback victories.
He is arguably the best at throwing the ball down the field, and a lot of the throws he makes are “WOW throws”- absolute dimes that beat good coverage and can’t be topped.
If someone like Mahomes were to make them, we would be singing his praises even more. But because it’s Goff, we don’t. And that is because he is laid back and quiet, along with being overshadowed by Gurley and Donald.
Gurley is the engine but Goff is the pulse of the unit; both are of equal importance. And Donald’s presence makes the defense a game-changer at any instance.
This is a loaded field with numerous worthy candidates, and we are lucky to see them stake their claim once a week.
Featured Image via Wikimedia