The NFL season is now officially three-quarters of the way complete, and there is still plenty left to be ironed out over the final four weeks.
The Seahawks seem to have the top spot in the NFC all tied up already, and the Broncos appear to be headed for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but a lot of other races are still very much up in the air, including the one for NFL MVP.
Much like last season, Peyton Manning jumped out to the early lead in the MVP race, planting himself as the clear frontrunner for the award as early as Week 1. His momentum has tapered off of late, though, and some other worthy challengers have staked their own claim for the award.
Russell Wilson is playing quarterback at an All-Pro level, and his team is playing arguably the best football in the league right now, establish him as a worthy candidate. Meanwhile, the perennial clamoring for Drew Brees and Tom Brady on the MVP watch list have begun to sprout up across the league, making Manning’s bid for his fifth MVP award that much more challenging.
With the season headed into the final home stretch, this seemed like as good a time as any to break down the top-five candidates in the MVP race through Week 13.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Stats: 68.1 completion percentage, 4,125 yards, 42 total touchdowns (41 passing, one rushing) and nine interceptions
Earlier this season, Manning seemed like the unquestioned favorite to win the MVP. His numbers were astounding, his team was near unbeatable and the Broncos looked like runaway Super Bowl favorites. The last few weeks have at least altered some of those thoughts, though, as Manning has shown some sense of mortality and the Broncos have lost their invincibility cloak, as games against the Colts and Patriots have shown. Manning’s lead has slimmed a considerable amount, and, even with the lofty stats, he’s left himself susceptible to be overtaken for the top spot.
2. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Stats: 64.9 completion percentage, 2,672 yards, 23 total touchdowns (22 passing, one rushing) and six interceptions
His stats may not be quite on par with Manning — then again, whose are? — but Russell Wilson is having a pretty spectacular second season. Wilson isn’t exactly slinging it nearly as much as Manning and some other top quarterbacks, namely because he has Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been equally as effective. Wilson ranks just 17th in total passing yards on the year, but he also has the seventh highest completion percentage, sixth-most touchdowns and is tied for the fewest interceptions (Alex Smith) among quarterbacks to start all 12 games for their team. And let’s not forget that the Seahawks are still the best team in football, boasting an 11-1 record. While the defense deserves a lot of credit for their success, Wilson’s impact and efficiency can’t be overlooked.
3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Stats: 72 receptions, 1,299 yards and 12 touchdowns
If the Browns were better, Josh Gordon would be in this conversation, even having missed two games this season. However, as good as Gordon has been, Megatron is still the standard for wide receivers league-wide. Matthew Stafford‘s reemergence has been a major piece in the Lions’ turnaround from 4-12 disappointment in 2012 back into playoff contenders, but Johnson, who is on pace for another miraculous season, has been the glue keeping them together.
4. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Stats: 67.7 completion percentage, 3,794 yards, 30 total touchdowns (29 passing, one rushing) and eight interceptions
For a time this season, Brees wasn’t even the best MVP candidate on his own team — that honor would go to Jimmy Graham — but he’s certainly established his case as the season has carried on. Brees is in the top five among quarterbacks in completion percentage (third), passing yards (third) and touchdowns (second) However, Brees’ stock has taken a hit of late as the Saints have fallen on hard times, going just 4-3 over their last seven games and suffering an ugly loss in Seattle to the NFC-leading Seahawks.
5. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Stats: 60.7 completion percentage, 3,267 yards, 19 total touchdowns (all passing) and eight interceptions
Five weeks ago, Brady’s inclusion on this list would be a joke. Even now, looking at his numbers alone might trigger some snickers from casual observers. However, what Brady has been able to do with the challenges he’s faced over the first 13 weeks is nothing short of miraculous. Working with a patchwork receiving corps through much of the season, Brady has still been able to lead the Patriots to a 9-3 record and return New England’s offense to their prolific standards after a dismal start to the season. Since Rob Gronkowski returned, Brady has been even better, too, completing nearly 69 percent of his passes while tossing 11 touchdowns and three interceptions over the last five games. He may not be the prototypical MVP candidate, but, considering the challenges he’s faced, he certainly seems worthy of consideration.
Honorable Mention: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers; Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs; LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles.