With just two weeks to go before the end of the NFL’s regular season, the MVP race is starting to get interesting again. For the majority of this season, it looked like Peyton Manning would run away with his fifth (!!) MVP in 10 years, but his middling performance this past Thursday night in a losing effort to the Chargers has at least made the race a debate again. Manning is still the favorite to win, but let’s take a look at some of the other players who might challenge him if they can put up impressive performances down the stretch:
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Brees has never won an MVP award despite consistently finishing as a top three QB year after year. After putting up four 300+ yard performances to start the year, Brees has come back down to earth a bit. He still trails Manning in just about every statistical category (except completion % where he’s got Manning beat by about half a percentage point), but he is equally integral to his team’s success. If the Saints find a way to wriggle out the #1 overall playoff seed from the Seahawks or at least finish the year with two more wins, Brees might have just as good a claim to the MVP award as Manning does.
QB Honorable Mentions: Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, Tom Brady
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
A wide receiver has never won the NFL MVP, so this may be somewhat of a long-shot, but no receiver is as important to a team’s offense as Megatron is to Detroit’s. The amount of trust and confidence that Matthew Stafford has in Johnson is palpable on any given Sunday. Despite being somewhat neutralized in the snowstorm game against the Eagles two weeks ago for 3 catches and 52 yards, Johnson is a top three receiver in total yards, TDs, 1st downs, yards per game, and plays of 20 yards or more this season. Simply put, no receiver means more to his team. Johnson deserves to be in the conversation.
WR Honorable Mentions: Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, Jimmy Graham (TE)
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Charles thrust himself into the MVP debate this past Sunday after scoring 5 TDs against a porous Raiders defense. What’s most impressive about this accomplishment is that 4 out of the 5 scores came via the pass. As a dynamic check-down option for Alex Smith, Charles scored from 49, 39, 16, and 71 yards on his four receiving TDs. Sitting just behind LeSean McCoy for the league lead in total yards from scrimmage, Charles is easily the most potent weapon on a Kansas City offense that is lacking playmakers. Should the Chiefs finish strong over the next two weeks, Charles has a legitimate claim to both the real world and fantasy MVP of the season.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
With Adrian Peterson nursing an injury and his status in doubt for the remainder of the year, McCoy looks to be a lock to lead the league in rushing for the first time in his career. McCoy is the closest RB to averaging 100 yards per game heading into week 16 and is second only to Charles and Matt Forte in total first downs. He’s also only fumbled the ball once this year (as opposed to Charles’ 4 and Forte’s 2 fumbles), and under the tutelage of Chip Kelly, has emerged as one of the best, most versatile and consistent runners in the NFL. If the Eagles can lean on Shady down the stretch and finish the season as NFC East Champions, he could be a dark horse candidate to challenge some of the elite QBs for the MVP this year.
RB Honorable Mentions: Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch
Defensive Honorable Mentions (a defensive player has not won the NFL MVP award since Lawrence Taylor did it in 1986, and since the NFL awards a Defensive Player of the Year award, it’s highly unlikely that a player on that side of the ball will win, but these are some of the most likely candidates):
Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams
Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks