It seems crazy to think we’re already in Week 13 of the NFL season. As the battles for playoff contention continue to heat up, so do the stars of the teams within the races.
While playing for a team that is a playoff contender is not a necessity in order for a player to win an MVP award, it certainly does help their case when it comes voting time. The successes of a playoff team and the dynamic performance of an MVP caliber player certainly do go hand in hand often. Three of the four players to make the cut for my list find themselves playing for the division lead.
Through 12 weeks of the NFL season, these four players have each made a worthy case to generate MVP hype. From a rookie to a shoe-in first-ballot Hall of Famer, this year’s MVP race has it all.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys: 243 rush attempts, 1,199 rush yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns
The electrifying rookie out of Ohio State has done nothing but turn heads all season, including mine, so it’s no surprise Elliott tops my list. It’s hard to find players who have burst onto the scene and made as large of an immediate impact as he has this year for the 10-1 Dallas Cowboys, who are Super Bowl favorites at this point in the season. If Zeke stays healthy and can keep setting the pace for the Boys behind the NFL’s best offensive line, he’s on pace to lead the league in rushing, and potentially bring home the hardware for Rookie of the Year and MVP.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots: 2,201 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 1 interception, 68.4% completion percentage
Tom is back, in case you hadn’t heard. The future Hall of Famer has been on a mission since returning from his four-game suspension for his alleged role in “Deflategate.” Brady has been nearly flawless since his return to the Pats, boasting a remarkable 18/1 TD/INT ratio. Brady’s MVP hopes are helped dramatically by the success that his 9-2 Patriots have had this season. If he keeps up his current pace, it would be a shock if he didn’t bring home his third MVP award.
Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit Lions: 2,883 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 66.8% completion percentage
Matthew Stafford has stepped up for the Detroit Lions in a big way this season to become a surprise candidate for MVP. After losing one of the best wide receivers in NFL history to early retirement in Calvin Johnson, very few people expected the Lions to be contenders in the NFC North. But, here we are in late November, and the Lions are 7-4 and leading the NFC North. Stafford is a huge reason why the Lions are in great position to win the division for the first time since 1993. Stafford truly fits the description of “Most Valuable Player.” Perhaps no player in the NFL is more responsible for his team’s success than Stafford is for the perennial bottom-dwellers of the division.
David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals: 210 rush attempts, 921 rush yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 55 receptions, 613 receiving yards, 13 total touchdowns
Eleven games in the books, 11 games with 100-plus total yards for the second year all-purpose back out of Northern Iowa. Johnson emerged late last season as one of the best young backs in the league and has solidified himself as perhaps the most complete running back the NFL. Johnson is on pace to become only the third player in NFL history to eclipse the 2,250 total yard mark and is Elliott’s biggest competition for the league rushing title. If Johnson were fortunate enough to be playing on a team within playoff contention, his case would undoubtedly be much stronger. Barring a dramatic turnaround of the Cardinals’ season, an MVP award probably isn’t in the cards for Johnson this year. But don’t count him out yet, because he is definitely playing at a MVP-caliber level and there is still plenty to be said for that alone.