In most years, the winner of the NFL MVP has been decided by about the 10th week of the season, and it’s almost always a quarterback. Last year, Denver’s Peyton Manning took home his fifth award by powering the league’s highest-scoring offense in history with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. He snatched 49 out of 50 votes.
But this year, the MVP vote won’t be quite so lopsided. Many players, at several positions other than quarterback, are headed for their best year as pros and also on the cusp of history.
Let’s take a look at the five candidates who should draw some major consideration from voters. Their stats through 14 games are included.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (3,837 yards, 35 TDs, 5 INTs)
The heavy Las Vegas favorite, Rodgers could lockup his second MVP award without breaking any records or leading the league in the major passing categories of yards and touchdowns just like when he won it the first time. Back in 2011, Rodgers put up a career-high 4,643 yards and threw for 45 touchdowns, neither of which led the league. But that year the Packers went 15-1 and looked unstoppable, right up until they lost to the Giants in the postseason.
This year, Rodgers is unlikely to set new career marks in yards or touchdowns, but he is an example of extreme efficiency on the field. He’s tops in the league with 7.6 pass attempts between touchdowns and a 1.1 interception rate, not to mention 8.4 yards per pass and a 111.2 passer rating. The Packers' 10-4 record isn’t nearly as impressive, but Rodgers is consistently the best quarterback in the league, and he’ll have the MVP as long as Green Bay makes the postseason.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (1,687 yards, 11 TDs)
Over the last 14 years only four running backs have won the award, with a quarterback taking it every other time. All four needed to make some dent in history to garner consideration. Adrian Peterson needed to post the seventh 2,000-yard season in history, while Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson set the single-season rushing touchdown records in consecutive seasons. Marshall Faulk was in the middle of four straight seasons with 2,000 total yards from scrimmage while racking up 26 total touchdowns en route to redefining the position when he won the award.
Murray’s already made some history with eight-straight 100-yard games, and he’s helped the Cowboys win 10 games for the first time in five years. But he’ll need to break past 2,000 yards and make sure Dallas gets into the playoffs to win MVP.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (3,847 yards, 32 TDs, 8 INTs)
Just like Rodgers, Brady isn’t wowing anyone with gaudy stats. He’s about to put up his lowest passing yardage total in four years, which is a result of his poor four-game start to the season. But in the last 10 games he’s guided New England to a sixth-straight AFC East title.
Four years ago is when Brady last won the award and New England finished with the best record in the AFC. At this point he’s probably Rodgers' biggest challenger, and can lead the Patriots to more victories. If he puts up two big games in the home stretch, Brady can steal the award.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys (3,188 yards, 28 TDs, 8 INTs)
Another Cowboy who is absolutely deserving of consideration. Romo could siphon votes from Rodgers and Brady for gutting through much of the season with back and rib injuries and leading Dallas to its first double-digit win total in five years. He’s also right behind Rodgers with a 110.4 passer rating, a career-high. And Romo’s second in the league with a 69.3 completion percentage.
Romo needs to make the postseason, a growing possibility given Philadelphia’s current troubles. But if Dallas can also somehow grab one of the top two seeds in the NFC, Romo’s in line for his first MVP.
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (64 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 1 INT, 5 fumble recoveries, 4 TDs)
Defensive players fail to get consideration for the MVP because of the Defensive Player of the Year award, but Watt may be a reason to challenge that thinking. This year technically hasn’t been the best of Watt’s career, though he does have two games to get four more sacks to tie his career mark from 2012.
Maybe Houston will put him in at tight end so he can flash some offensive skills and gain some MVP traction. His three touchdown catches off three receptions certainly helps his case, but the Texans' 7-7 record doesn’t. Unfortunately, that will fall on Watt's shoulders when it shouldn’t. But he’s a lock for his second Defensive Player of the Year award in three years.