It's that time of year again. The race for the 2013 NFL MVP is starting to heat up, especially in light of Jamaal Charles' record-breaking performance against the Oakland Raiders. The front-runner for the award all season, Peyton Manning, faltered in Week 15, and Tom Brady failed to seize the opportunity, as his team fell as well.
Several candidates are legitimate contenders for this year's MVP, but one candidate stands above the rest.
*All statistics are courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise noted.
Brees' consistency this year has not been quite on par with past seasons, as a few poor performances have cost the Saints. This should not take away from his many incredible performances, however. He has four games of four or more passing touchdowns and no interceptions, and he is on pace for a third consecutive 5,000-yard season.
Give Philip Rivers a lot of credit for improving his play this year after a couple of tough, interception-laden years. The San Diego Chargers still have a shot at making the playoffs, due in large part to Rivers' solid play. He is posting career bests in passer rating and completion percentage (an NFL-leading 69.9 percentage rate) while also leading San Diego to huge victories.
LeSean McCoy or Nick Foles
Take your pick. Both players are largely responsible for the Philadelphia Eagles' second-half resurgence, with McCoy holding a considerable lead in rushing yards as well as leading in yards from scrimmage.
Or perhaps you prefer Foles, who has thrown 23 touchdowns and two picks while leading the NFL in passer rating since claiming the starting quarterback role.
The NFL has not seen a receiver as dominant as Calvin Johnson since Jerry Rice played for the San Francisco 49ers.
There is no doubt that the Detroit Lions would not be in the playoff picture without Johnson. With catches like this and incredible performances like this, the Lions wide receiver is putting up another season to remember. His candidacy could be especially enhanced if he can help lead his team to a win on Monday Night Football this week against the Baltimore Ravens.
The race for the NFC North could hardly be tighter, and Johnson is one of the main factors. Unfortunately, his position and his team's unfavorable record will likely prevent him from truly entering the MVP discussion. Even so, his accomplishments this season and his importance to his team's offense (he's responsible for 1,351 of the Lions' 3863 receiving yards) at the very least solidify his position as the NFL's top wide receiver.
Despite the Seattle Seahawks' NFL-best 12-2 record, Russell Wilson will likely have a hard time garnering much support in the MVP discussion.
Wilson's primary disadvantage is his team's defensive prowess. The Seahawks top the NFL in just about every defensive category, which has undoubtedly been one of the primary reasons Seattle finds itself with the best record in the league.
Despite the help from the defensive unit, it would be silly to overlook Wilson's value to his team. He ranks sixth in passer rating, with only two of the quarterbacks ahead of him having played all 14 games (Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers).
If he can finish the season two more wins, Wilson will give Seattle the top seed in the NFC. While that accomplishment would still not be enough to win him the MVP award, it should vault him into the top three—especially if Tom Brady and the New England Patriots continue to falter like they did in Week 15.
For a number of reasons, Brady had a case for the top spot on this list prior to Week 15. He'd led his team to a 10-3 record without the offensive weapons many of his counterparts enjoy, and he'd also led it to impressive (and crucial) comeback wins over the Saints and Broncos.
The Patriots' loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 15 is a big blow to Brady's MVP chances, though. He did not play particularly poorly—quite the contrary, actually, as he had 364 passing yards and an interception-free day until the final play. However, that interception came in the end zone with just seconds remaining in the game, costing his team the win.
If Brady can lead the Pats to victories over the Ravens and Buffalo Bills to close out the season, the MVP award won't be out of his grasp. But it would likely take a poor performance by the top two candidates for Brady to surpass them at this point.
We knew Jamaal Charles was a dual-threat running back, but did anyone expect an outburst quite like Sunday's? Charles' five touchdowns, including an NFL-record four receiving TDs by a running back, have vaulted him into the discussion for the NFL MVP.
Much of Charles' case hinges on the fact that he's helped his team win 11 games one year removed from winning just two. Granted, there have been numerous changes that've contributed to the drastic improvement, including the addition of new head coach Andy Reid. However, nobody can debate that Charles is currently the most dangerous (and most relied-upon) offensive weapon on the Chiefs.
One statistic that helps the running back's case is his scoring total, which leads all non-kickers. In fact, it really isn't all that close. His 108 points (11 rushing, seven receiving TDs) eclipses the total of Jimmy Graham, the next-closest scorer, by 24.
Furthermore, the Chiefs have only 19 offensive touchdowns in addition to Charles' scores, meaning he has accounted for nearly half of their scoring on offense.
Charles is also remarkably consistent, a somewhat rare trait for a running back. He has failed to reach 100 total yards just twice; unfortunately, one of those games came against the Broncos in Week 11. (He "only" had 96 total yards against the Bills the week before that.)
Most recently, Charles broke out for a monster performance against the division-rival Oakland Raiders Sunday. Aside from breaking the NFL record for receiving touchdowns by a running back in a single game, he amassed 195 receiving yards. He currently has 1,836 total yards (1,181 rushing, 655 receiving) to go along with his 18 touchdowns.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Charles isn't far behind Manning, but the Broncos quarterback holds the edge for a couple of reasons. One of the most significant of those is that the Broncos have topped the Chiefs twice this year, which has proved to be the difference in the division standings thus far.
Manning's statistics are also superior for his position. While an MVP candidate is not defined solely by his numbers, they are one of the primary ways of measuring his value. And in that regard, Manning has the edge. He is on track to surpass the single-season record for passing yards and touchdowns, accomplishments that would virtually guarantee him the award in the eyes of many voters.
Finally, as mentioned, Manning's Broncos are currently ahead of Charles' Chiefs in the AFC West standings via tiebreaker rules. Should the Chiefs end up winning the division, this race would get very, very interesting. For now, however, Manning reigns supreme in the NFL MVP discussion.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.