Four games to play. It’s getting to start sorting out the winner of this year’s “Quarterback of the Year” award.
Otherwise known as the Associated Press Most Valuable Player award.
But only quarterbacks need apply.
Chosen by a panel of 50 media members who cover the sport nationally, a quarterback has won the award for the past eight years, with running back Adrian Peterson the last non-quarterback to win in 2012.
It will be a quarterback again this year, and although I’ve got Aaron Rodgers ranked No. 1 in my weekly quarterback power rankings, Tom Brady of Tampa Bay is the likely frontrunner with Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City making up ground on the outside.
Why Brady over Rodgers? He’s got more passing yards (4,134) and more touchdown passes (36). The fact that I favor Rodgers (3,219 yards with 27 touchdown passes and only four interceptions to 10 for Brady) is irrelevant. Rodgers may have alienated a voter or three with his vaccination subterfuge, as well as the game he missed because of it.
Both have three MVP awards on their resume.
Two legit contenders, Dak Prescott of Dallas and Kyler Murray of Arizona, have dropped out of contention. Prescott simply hasn’t been that impressive of late. Murray missed three games due to injury and threw a pair if interceptions in a loss to the Rams Monday night.
There have been 66 players recognized as MVP since the award was instituted, and that includes two years where players tied for the award (Brett Favre and Barry Sanders in 1996, Peyton Manning and Steve McNair in 2003).
Of those 66 names, 45 have been quarterbacks, 17 have been running backs (including Jim Brown three times), two have been defensive players (Alan Page in 1971, Lawrence Taylor in 1986) and believe it or not, place kicker Mark Moseley of Washington won in 1982. No wide receiver has ever won the award — not even Jerry Rice.
As good as Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor has been this season (1,348 yards, 10 touchdowns), he’ll have to be content with a top-five finish.
How the quarterbacks rank in terms of playoff seeding:
AFC: 1, Mac Jones (New England); 2, Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee); 3, Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City); 4, Lamar Jackson (Baltimore); 5, Justin Herbert (L.A. Chargers); 6, Carson Wentz (Indianapolis); 7, Josh Allen Buffalo.
NFC: 1, Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay); 2, Tom Brady (Tampa Bay); 3, Kyler Murray (Arizona): 4, Dak Prescott (Dallas); 5, Matthew Stafford (L.A. Rams); 6, Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers); 7, Taylor Heinecke (Washington).
Here’s how they rank going into Week 15:
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (at Baltimore) Last week: 1
The Packers trailed 27-21 at halftime but it was mostly just an illusion. Rodgers owns the Bears and was 29 of 37 for 341 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 45-30 win. Oh, and apparently his toe still hurts.
2. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay (vs. New Orleans) Last week: 2
Brady’s 58-yard yard touchdown strike to Breshad Perriman in overtime gave Tampa Bay a 33-27 win over Buffalo in a game they led 24-3 at halftime. Was 31 of 46 for 363 yards. Bucs are 10-3 and on track to be one of top two seeds in the NFC.
3. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (at L.A. Chargers) Last week: 3
Mahomes completed 20 of 24 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns and the Chiefs were up 35-3 by halftime against the overmatched Raiders. That’s six straight for Kansas City and talk of Mahomes’ “slump” is a faint memory.
4. Justin Herbert, LA Chargers (vs. Kansas City) Last week: 6
A 60-yard touchdown strike under pressure by Herbert to Jalen Guyton will probably be the most gorgeous downfield throw you’ll see all year. Ridiculous. Was 23 of 31 for 275 yards, three scores and no picks in 37-21 win over the Giants.
5. Dak Prescott, Dallas (at N.Y. Giants) Last week: 5
Prescott delivered an important win against Washington, but in going 22 of 39 for 211 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, has clearly played his way out of the MVP race. Has a number of so-so games of late.
6. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati (at Denver) Last week: 8
Burrow rallied Cincinnati, down 20-6 in the fourth quarter, to a 23-20 lead in overtime before the 49ers came back and won. Finished 25 of 34 for 348 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and looked every bit worthy of his No. 1 draft status two years ago.
7. Matt Stafford, LA Rams (vs. Seattle) Last week: 10
Not sure which touchdown pass was more impressive for Stafford in Monday night’s win over Arizona — the 52-yard strike to Van Jefferson to put the Rams up 20-13 or the 4-yard, almost-closed window strike to Cooper Kupp for a 27-13 lead. Stafford (23 of 30, 287 yards, 3 TDs, zero picks) looked back to his early-season form.
8. Kyler Murray, Arizona (at Detroit) Last week: 4
Murray was statistically spectacular (31 of 48, 383 yards, 61 yards rushing) but a little erratic (two picks, almost had two more, took a late sack) in loss to the Rams. Murray is always must-see TV. Will be even more so in the postseason.
9. Josh Allen, Buffalo (vs. Carolina) Last week: 7
After trailing 24-3 at halftime against Tampa Bay, Allen and the Bills staged a furious rally to get the game into overtime before losing 30-27. Was 36 of 54 for 308 yards and rushed for 109 yards on 12 carries. Had one interception, left in a walking boot.
10. Russell Wilson, Seattle (at L.A. Rams) Last week: 9
Wilson refuted rumors he’s back into making lists for which teams he would waive his no-trade clause. Looked like himself again going 17 of 28 for 260 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-13 win over Houston.
11. Mac Jones, New England (at Indianapolis) Last week: 11
Guessing Jones will have to throw more than three times against Indianapolis after getting a week off following their ground assault win over Buffalo. Coordinator Josh McDaniels has handled Jones beautifully so far, with help from the New England defense.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 13, 2021
12. JIMMY GAROPPOLO, 49ERS (vs. Atlanta) Last week: 15
We’ll overlook the dropped interception late and give Garoppolo credit for driving the 49ers to the win in overtime. He was 27 of 41 for 296 yards. The 49ers don’t want to throw nearly that much but in the end, Jimmy G delivered (with a big thanks to George Kittle). Last five games have been pretty damned good.
13. Tua Tagovaiola, Miami (vs. N.Y. Jets) Last week: 12
His critics say Tagovaiola throws horizontally instead of vertically too much. But he’s extremely accurate and a Miami team that was once 1-7 is now 6-7 and Tua is a big reason why.
14. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota (at Chicago) Last week: 13
Threw a pair of second-half picks that helped Pittsburgh get back in a game that appeared to be a blowout. Cousins (14 of 31, 214 yards) was fortunate Minnesota kept opening such huge holes for Dalvin Cook (27 carries, 205 yards). Cousins wasn’t the best quarterback on the field.
15. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (vs. Tennessee) Last week: 17
Whatever your feelings about Big Ben, he got knocked around like a piñata and trailed 29-0 against Pittsburgh. Came within a whisker of getting within a TD pass and two-point conversion to tie. Was 20 of 29 for 248 yards, three TDs, one interception in second half in 36-28 loss. Damn impressive.
16. Derek Carr, Las Vegas (at Cleveland) Last week: 18
Back to the old Arrowhead days for Carr. He was 33 of 45 for 263 yards and a touchdown. His one interception went through the hands of a receiver. Had zero time to throw. Nothing Carr could do about this one but take the beating and then try to sound optimistic afterward. Total systems failure from his supporting cast.
17. Carson Wentz, Indianapolis (vs. New England) Last week: 14
Four teams stand between Wentz and vindication as the Colts make a drive to the postseason — Patriots, Cardinals, Raiders and Jaguars. Win three, get to 10-7 and a pretty risky move by Indianapolis in bringing in Wentz looks pretty good.
18. Taylor Heineke, Washington (at Philadelphia) Last week: 16
Had a pick six that put Dallas up 24-8 in an eventual 27-20 loss. Eventually departed with a knee injury but didn’t look too sharp leading up to it. Was 11 of 25 for 122 yards and a touchdown. Expected to be ready to face Eagles.
19. Matt Ryan (at 49ers) Last week: 20
Falcons improved to 6-7 and stayed on the playoff fringe with a 29-21 win over Carolina. Ryan didn’t turn it over, was 19 of 28 for 190 yards and a touchdown. Gets a shot at his old O-coordinator Kyle Shanahan Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
20. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore (vs. Green Bay) Last week: 19
Went out early with an ankle injury which may or may not sideline him for a week or two. Ravens were down 24-3 before backup Tyler Huntley came in and was 27 of 38 for 270 yards and a touchdown as Baltimore got within two points before falling. Jackson hasn’t looked like himself for some time now. Needs to get healthy, find his mojo.
21. Teddy Bridgewater, Denver (vs. Cincinnati) Last week: 21
The Broncos improved to 7-6 and showed they could flex their muscle against bad teams in win over the Lions. Bridgewater was 18 of 25 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Broncos rushed for 184 yards on 39 carries.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 12, 2021
22. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland (vs. Las Vegas) Last week: 24
Jumped to 21-point lead against Baltimore, kept the chains moving enough to hold on for the win. Mayfield was 22 of 32 for 190 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Browns were 6 of 13 on third downs.
23. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee (at Pittsburgh) Last week: 22
Hard to fathom Titans running backs are averaging more yards per carry than Derrick Henry was before he was sidelined for the season. But Tennessee, even at 9-4, is a different team and Tannehill (20 of 31, 191 yards against Jaguars) is a different quarterback.
24. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia (vs. Washington) Last week: 23 (Minshew?)
Coach Nick Siriani said initially he planned to go back to Hurts after Gardner Minshew carved up the Jets in his absence. And maybe he still will, considering Minshew could draw some late-round trade interest as a backup if he rests in that game.
25. Daniel Jones, NY Giants (vs. N.Y. Giants) Last week: 25
It was the Mike Glennon show again with Jones injured. Glennon was 17 of 36 for 191 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The touchdown didn’t come until the Giants were down 37-7 to the Chargers.
26. Jared Goff, Detroit (vs. Arizona) Last week: 26
It was back to earth for Goff after last week’s initial win of the season. Was 24 of 39 for 215 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Lions got no closer than 14-10 in a 38-10 loss.
27. Taysom Hill, New Orleans (at Tampa Bay) Last week: 27
Hill needed a little batting practice after a horrid start against Dallas and the Jets provided the perfect tonic. Was 15 of 21 for 175 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions as Alvin Kamara returned to rush for 120 yards and Hill added 73 of his own and two scores in a 30-9 win.
28. Justin Fields, Chicago (vs. Minnesota) Last week: 31 (Dalton)
Fields returned to action and continued to look like someone either Matt Nagy or another coach can work with. He was 18 of 33 for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns with two interceptions in loss to Green Bay. Also rushed for 74 yards on nine carries.
29. Zach Wilson, NY Jets (at Miami) Last week: 28
Managed to throw 42 passes without an interception against the Saints but didn’t do much else in the passing game, completing 19 passes for 202 yards and no touchdowns. Was the Jets’ leading rusher with 33 yards on four scrambles. He’s “building character,” as they say.
30. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville (vs. Houston) Last week: 29
Let’s see — 24 of 40 for 221 yards, four interceptions, no touchdowns and a 20-0 loss to Tennessee. Hard to fathom Jacksonville ownership is going to put this investment in the hands of an Urban Meyer-coached team for another year.
31. Cam Newton, Carolina (at Buffalo) Last week: 30
Benched briefly after a pick six against the Falcons, then returned. Finished 15 of 23 for 178 yards and led the Panthers in rushing with 10 carries for 47 yards. Signed on to a sinking ship. Interesting to see what 2022 holds.
32. Davis Mills, Houston (at Jacksonville) Last week: 32 (Taylor)
Rookie out of Stanford given the start ahead of Tyrod Taylor and went 33 of 49 for 331 yards, a touchdown and one interception. Produced only 13 points, but that’s more than enough to be the starter for the rest of the year, health permitting.