Rodgers takes lead in MVP race

By C.J. Doon
The Baltimore Sun/TNS

The penultimate week of the NFL season decided plenty, from division titles to playoff seedings to fantasy football championships. It also might have decided the winner of the Most Valuable Player award.

Here’s a look at who’s trending up in the race for MVP through Week 16:

1. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (last week: No. 2)

2020 stats: 70.3 percent comp., 8.1 yards/attempt, 44 TD passes, 5 INTs, 8.70 ANY/A, 0.353 EPA/play, +6.7 percent CPOE; 145 rushing yards, 3 TDs

Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes were neck and neck entering the weekend, but a spectacular performance in prime time Sunday night might have given the Packers star the lead for good. Rodgers completed 21 of 25 passes for 231 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the snow at Lambeau Field as the Packers throttled the Titans, 40-14. Green Bay can lock up the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye this week with a win over the Bears or a Seahawks loss to the 49ers, which might seal the deal for Rodgers. Since 2010, all but one of the league’s MVP winners - running back Adrian Peterson in 2012 - have been a quarterback on a top-two seed. After two unremarkable seasons - for his standards anyway - Rodgers has been the league’s most efficient passer. He’s likely to become the first quarterback to ever have a season with a 70 percent completion rate, 4,000 passing yards and five or fewer interceptions and leads the league in the expected points added plus completion percentage over expectation rankings put together by Ben Baldwin of The Athletic.

2. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (last week: No. 1)

2020 stats: 2020 stats: 66.3 percnt comp., 8.1 yards/attempt, 38 TD passes, 6 INTs, 8.33 ANY/A, 0.325 EPA/play, +2.9 percent CPOE; 308 rushing yards, 2 TDs

Mahomes missed a chance to punctuate a terrific season Sunday, completing just 24 of 44 attempts for 278 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a 17-14 win over the lowly Falcons. Sure, the Chiefs secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the coveted first-round bye and moved to a league-best 14-1, but Mahomes hasn’t been his usual dominant self down the stretch. Over his past three games, he’s completed 59 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, and Kansas City has had to sweat out seven straight one-score victories. In any other season, he probably did enough to win the award; in fact, he’s one of just four quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to throw for at least 4,700 yards and 38 touchdowns through just 15 games, joining Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. But Rodgers has the edge in nearly every major category.

3. Bills QB Josh Allen (last week: No. 3)

2020 stats: 69.1 percent comp., 7.9 yards/attempt, 34 TD passes, 9 INTs, 418 rushing yards, 8 TDs (entering Monday: 7.55 ANY/A, 0.269 EPA/play, +5.9 percent CPOE)

Move over, Jim Kelly. With four touchdown passes in a 38-9 rout of the Patriots on Monday night, Allen set the franchise record for the most in a single season with 34. He toyed with New England’s defense, completing 27 of 36 passes for 320 yards and rushing for 35 yards as the Bills became the first AFC East team to sweep the Patriots since 2000 - Bill Belichick’s first season as head coach. At 12-3, Buffalo is on pace to finish with the No. 2 seed and has emerged as the toughest contender to the Chiefs in the AFC. Allen won’t win MVP this year, but he has a compelling case to be the betting favorite entering the 2021 season.

4. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (last week: No. 4)

2020 stats: 69.7 percent comp., 8.1 yards/attempt, 38 TD passes, 13 INTs, 6.93 ANY/A, 0.159 EPA/play, +7.4 percent CPOE; 484 rushing yards, 2 TDs

It’s been too little, too late for Wilson. Although he helped deliver the NFC West title with a 20-9 win over the Rams on Sunday, he threw for just 225 yards and one touchdown while completing 20 of 32 attempts. Were it not for a few too many turnovers during a midseason rough patch, Wilson might have had a strong case to be firmly in the debate alongside the top three. He still might finish second in the league in touchdown passes behind Rodgers, and just completed his fourth season of 4,000 or more passing yards, a franchise record. Seattle still has a chance to claim the top seed in the NFC if they beat the 49ers, the Packers lose and the Saints lose or tie, but even that likely won’t be enough to help Wilson get that elusive MVP vote.

5. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (last week: not ranked)

2020 stats: 65.9 percent comp., 7.8 yards/attempt, 36 TD passes, 11 INTs, 7.34 ANY/A, 0.159 EPA/play, +3.5 percent CPOE; 3 rushing TDs

It wasn’t always pretty, and Brady’s relationship with coach Bruce Arians might not be perfect, but he certainly delivered in his first season with his new team. By ending a 12-season playoff drought, the Bucs drilled the Lions, 47-7, on Saturday with Brady completing 22 of 27 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. It was a flawless performance that earned the 43-year-old some precious moments of rest on the sideline before the postseason. It followed a dominant second-half performance against the Falcons, putting Brady’s past six quarters - 668 yards, six touchdowns - in historic territory. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brady became the first player over the past 40 years with 600-plus passing yards over a four-quarter span. A potential matchup against the NFC East winner in the opening round of the playoffs means we might get to see Brady vs. Rodgers at Lambeau Field in the divisional round, pitting two of the best to ever play the position. Rodgers might have a new piece of hardware, too.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates a touchdown pass to Equanimeous St. Brown #19 against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at Lambeau Field on Dec. 27, 2020 in Green Bay, WI.