One week remains in the NFL season and, while some players are fighting for a playoff position, others are more concerned with individual hardware. The league MVP is the crown jewel of the NFL’s individual awards and this year’s race is going down to the wire.
The way we see it, five players have distinguished themselves from the rest. Among them is Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who is looking to become the first defensive player to win the award since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. Can Watt really earn the trophy on a team that likely won’t make the playoffs, or will one of the top QBs take home the award, per usual?
Let’s take a look at the odds for the top candidates (in reverse order).
Odds to win the NFL MVP (2014-15):
DeMarco Murray (20-1) – The Cowboys running back not only leads the NFL in rushing, but does so by a huge margin (over 400 yards). Murray has 77 more carries than any other back in the league this year and, at 4.7 yards per carry, is tied with a large group of backs for seventh in the league. He is also tied for the league-lead in rushing touchdowns (12) and 20+-yard runs (14).
If Dallas was not going to the playoffs, one could imagine the coaching staff allowing Murray to carry the ball 30 or 40 times in their regular season finale against Washington in an attempt to become the eighth 2,000 yard rusher in league history. (Murray need 255 yards to reach 2,000.) Four of the previous seven earned MVP awards and, if Murray ends the year with a monster performance, he will be more seriously considered.
Tony Romo (10-1) – Murray’s teammate has surged into the MVP conversation by playing his best ball down the stretch. Dallas has won three consecutive games and Romo has completed 79% of his throws (with ten touchdowns and no interceptions) in that span. Going back a little further, Romo has 17 scores and no INT’s in his last six (five of which were Dallas wins).
Dallas’ signal caller leads the NFL in Quarterback Rating and is fifth in the league in touchdown passes. Though his total yards will not be anywhere close to a career-high (thanks to the emergence of the running game), by every other statistical measure (QBR, Completion Percentage, TD to INT rate) this is the best year of his career. Romo’s value to the Cowboys was really on display when he was injured against Arizona and Brandon Weeden was at the helm. (The Cowboys were stagnant on offense for much of the game and lost, 28-17.)
JJ Watt (5-1) – In 1971, Vikings DT Alan Page became the first defensive player to win the MVP. Taylor is the only other to do so. Minnesota won the NFC Central by 3.5 games in ’71, and Taylor’s Bears went 14-2 in ’86, winning the division by five games. Houston needs a win and losses by San Diego and Baltimore to reach the playoffs this year. It’s more likely that Watt’s defense will lead the Texans to the seventh or eighth-best record in the AFC.
That being said, Watt is second in the NFL with 17.5 sacks, leads the league with five forced fumbles, and is second on the team in tackles with 72. Watt also has five touchdowns on the year (four on offense and one on defense), which is more than Anquan Boldin, Marques Colston, and Michael Crabtree. His case will be bolstered significantly if Houston reaches the postseason.
Tom Brady (4-1) – At the age of 37, one could argue Brady is again the best player in the league. The Pats are likely to earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and Brady’s consistency is the biggest reason why. He’s fourth in the league in touchdown passes, eighth in passing yards, and sixth in quarterback rating.
Brady has not had his most prolific season, but he has done exactly what has needed to be done to put the Patriots in a position to win the Super Bowl for the first time since 2004. He has more weapons out wide than last year, but the Patriots still don’t have an elite receiving corps. It’s hard to imagine where the offense would be without Tom Terrific under center. (Lost in mediocrity is the correct answer.)
Aaron Rodgers (3-5) – A year after being injured, Rodgers has returned to the field and ranked among the top-five in every major statistical category for quarterbacks. With over 4,000 yards passing, Rodgers is fifth in the NFL; his 35 touchdown passes are number three; and he is second in the league with a 111.0 QBR.
If the Packers beat Detroit on Sunday, Rodgers will have led Green Bay to seven wins in their final eight games and put them in a position to earn a first round playoff bye. Rodgers is the favorite and has great numbers, but they do not rival his 4,643 yards, 45 TD’s, 122.5 QBR from his 2011 MVP campaign. Those making a case for Brady will point to Rodgers’ elite targets – Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb – who are both top-ten in the league in receiving yards.
(Photo credit: By Mike Morbeck (Flickr: Aaron Rodgers) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)