With one week left in the NFL’s regular season — a week that means more to some than to others — it’s time once again to take a look at the individual performances at the heart of the best teams’ success.
Yes, it’s the MVP poll, in which nine of our esteemed ESPN experts weigh in on the topic of most valuable player in the league. While it’s possible that something could happen in Week 17 to change the way this poll came out, right now it doesn’t appear to be even close.
Our panel of voters: Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Dan Graziano, Mina Kimes, Vince Masi, Mike Sando, Aaron Schatz, Kevin Seifert and Field Yates.
Mahomes collected eight of our nine first-place votes and easily claimed the top spot. With one week left, Mahomes has thrown 48 touchdown passes, tied for the fourth-most in a single season. He needs one this week to tie 2005 Peyton Manning for the No. 3 spot on that list and two to tie 2007 Tom Brady for second. It seems unlikely that he will get the seven touchdown passes he’d need to tie 2013 Peyton Manning’s record of 55 in a season, but Mahomes has two games already this season with six, and at this point, is there anything we’re putting past this kid?
Mahomes leads the league in Total QBR and is second in passing yards, passer rating and yards per attempt. The Chiefs are 11-4 and one win away from securing the top seed in the AFC playoff field, and Mahomes’ season for the ages is a central reason for that.
Brees, who has somehow never won this award, collected the other first-place vote, seven second-place votes and one third-place vote from our panel. He’s right behind Mahomes in QBR and is the one ahead of him in passer rating, plus he is completing a staggering 74.4 percent of his passes for an impressive 8.16 yards per attempt. Brees has 32 touchdown passes and just five interceptions for a 13-2 Saints team that has been the best in the NFC all season, and there’s likely to be a sentimental push to throw some votes his way since he has never won MVP, and it seems like that should be on his resume. In a season in which Mahomes wasn’t doing what he’s doing, Brees might be a runaway winner.
Rivers got one second-place vote and seven third-place votes. He’s top-five in QBR, yards per attempt and passer rating, and he ranks seventh with 31 touchdown passes against just 10 interceptions. His Chargers are 11-3, and if they win this week and the Chiefs lose, they’ll snatch that top AFC seed away from Mahomes & Co. at the finish line. Comeback victories in Pittsburgh and Kansas City in recent weeks have stamped this Chargers team as a dangerous Super Bowl contender, and the veteran QB is leading the way with maybe the deepest team he has ever had.
Donald got one third-place vote in our poll, which is cool because while he probably can’t win the award, he deserves recognition as a candidate. He already has 19.5 sacks, which is the 12th-best single-season total of all time, the most by a defensive tackle and one fewer than Lawrence Taylor had in 1986, when he was named MVP of the league. No defensive player has won the award since, and Minnesota’s Alan Page is the only other defender who has won it. This is a quarterback award, for the most part, and with Mahomes, Brees and Rivers having the seasons they’re having, this isn’t the year for a defensive player to break tradition. But Donald’s value to the Rams, who are one of the league’s very best teams, is unquestioned.