If there’s anything we’ve learned at the three-quarter mark of the 2021 NFL regular season, it’s that remarkably little is certain at this point. Generally at this point on the calendar, the league’s elite teams have separated themselves from the pack, the race for a clear top seed is in view, and the major awards all have a small field from which to select.
This year, none of that is true.
After Week 12, the NFL doesn’t have a single undefeated team. It also lacks a 1-loss team and it only has one 2-loss team, but the Arizona Cardinals don’t exactly feel like a proven powerhouse. (It also doesn’t help that J.J. Watt is gone for the season and Kyler Murray has been out). Other than the Cards, every other team has lost at least three games with one of those losses coming to an also-ran franchise.
If there’s been any season that has confirmed the “any given Sunday” maxim, it’s this one.
Patrick Mahomes is hardly out of the NFL’s Most Valuable Player race.
That’s also true of the MVP race where there’s not a clear-cut quarterback (or other position player) who has dominated the rest of his peers in such a way as to eliminate the competition. Instead the league has been a mixed bag in terms of individual performances as well. Even the best players have had down weeks and/or dealt with injuries or issues that might cast a shadow on their chances for Most Valuable Player.
That means that despite some early season issues or offensive frustrations, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is not out of the race for MVP at all.
If there’s a year in which another position could have stepped up to win MVP other than a quarterback it was this season, but Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry would have been the obvious choice there at the season’s midpoint. Instead he was injured and won’t be generating stats anytime soon. Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is having a nice year as well but he’ll need to absolutely take over (and the Colts need to win consistently) if he’s going to get credit.
As for receivers, Cooper Kupp of the L.A. Rams is having quite a year and he’s on pace for 1,800 receiving yards if he plays in 16 of 17 games at his current pace (112.5 yards/game). However, he would be the first wide receiver in NFL history to win the MVP award. So we’re going to not give this idea any more thought than we already have.
That leaves quarterbacks and it’s here that we have some very solid seasons without anyone putting up blistering numbers—at least through Week 12.
- Tom Brady has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in the chase at 8-3 overall and leads the league in passing touchdowns with 30. However, he does have 9 INTs to go for only 4 for someone like Aaron Rodgers.
- Kyler Murray is leading the Cardinals to a fantastic year and leads the league in passer rating with 110.4, but he’s already missed three games and he might miss a fourth on Sunday.
- Justin Herbert leads in the QBR metric and has five fourth quarter comebacks in 2021. But the Chargers are falling lately and Herbert is tossing more INTs in recent weeks than before. The trend here isn’t good.
- Derek Carr leads the league in passing yards with over 3,400 coming into Week 13, but he’s thrown just over half the amount of touchdowns as Brady at 17. Not to mention the Raiders are a bit of a mess.
- Rodgers has thrown very few interceptions but he’s also 7 off the mark of Brady for touchdowns. Dak Prescott has thrown 23 TDs as well, but has double the INTs as Rodgers.
- Elsewhere, Matthew Stafford and Josh Allen, like Mahomes, are among the leaders in many of these categories without leading in a single one. In short, they’re all “among the best” without being the best.
While all of this might sound confusing and weird, the point is just to note that Mahomes is right in the thick of things. The Chiefs are red hot at the right time and are coming off of the bye. He’s fifth in passing yards, third in touchdowns, and first in first downs. What’s even more interesting here is that, for all the noise made early in the year about Mahomes throwing interceptions, he actually has thrown less than Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow, two less than Ryan Tannehill, and one more than Herbert and Allen. In short, the strengths and the weaknesses are generally in line with everyone else.
The leader right now for the MVP award would likely belong to Tom Brady and perhaps Aaron Rodgers or Kyler Murray could be there, too, assuming Murray comes back soon. But with so many games left to play, there’s just no reason to discount anyone mentioned here from being a part of the MVP mix. Mahomes is still very much in the race and the stretch run should decide it all.