The NFL's 2013 MVP race is heating up as the league gets ready for Week 16.
At this point, nobody has done enough to supplant Peyton Manning at the top of the list, but there's been some movement below the projected winner after the action of Week 15.
What exactly is an MVP?
The Most Valuable Player award means different things to different people. For the purpose of this column, the key attributes the winners should possess are these:
- Plays for a playoff-contending team
- Is a leader for said playoff team in one way or another
- Puts up jaw-dropping stats
- Makes players around him better
- Player's team would be lost without him
With these keys in mind, here's a look at the top three contenders to win the NFL's MVP Award for the 2013 season heading into Week 16.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning's Broncos are currently the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a record of 11-3.
The three losses came during three of the worst outings Manning has had this season. Essentially, when he's not razor sharp, Denver loses.
Manning leads the league in passing yards (4,811) and touchdowns (47), and with four more touchdowns in his final two games, he'll break Tom Brady's all-time record for most touchdown passes in a single regular season.
During his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts and now again with the Broncos, Manning always makes his teammates better.
He's been playing this year with two starters missing from his offensive line, too. All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season in Week 2 and center Dan Koppen blew out his knee back in July.
Denver would be a .500 team without Manning behind center this year—at best.
Bleacher Report's Alessandro Miglio had some nice insight as to why other MVP candidates are gaining traction at this point in the season:
Manning is the most valuable player in the league this year, and it's not even really that close.
2. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs exploded for 101 points the past two games after losing three brutal games in a row to the Broncos, San Diego Chargers and Broncos again. The biggest reason for their uprising is the surging Jamaal Charles, who has been unstoppable.
The Chiefs are locked into the playoffs with a record of 11-3 and the team's offense would be lost without its dynamic playmaker.
One of the best dual-threat running backs in the league, Charles is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield. Against the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins (two of the worst defenses in the league), he totaled 373 yards and seven touchdowns.
His four receiving touchdowns helped Charles set a new NFL record, as detailed by ESPN:
His production has been outstanding all season long. He's the league's fourth-ranked rusher with 1,181 yards, has caught 65 passes for 655 yards and he's scored a combined 18 touchdowns to lead all non-quarterbacks.
Despite his accomplishments this season, Charles remains humble.
“I’m not in the race. That’s not for me to decide if I deserve something like that," Charles told Peter King of MMQB after Kansas City's big win in Week 15. "I deserve to work hard and get ready to play the best football I can. After that, it’s not up to me.”
Manning is still ahead at this point, but if Charles puts together a couple more performances like he has done recently, it could be a lot closer in the end than most realize.
3. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham is the key offensive weapon for the New Orleans Saints—a team that currently holds a tenuous half-game lead over the Carolina Panthers for the NFC South crown.
The Saints have lost just four games this year. Not surprisingly, Graham was held to minimal stats in three of those four defeats. When Graham plays well, the Saints almost always win, and when he struggles to get open, then Drew Brees struggles, too.
|Graham and Brees During the Saints Four Losses|
|Game||Jimmy Graham||Drew Brees|
|Week 6 @ New England||0 catches||47.2%, 236 yards, two TDs, one INT|
|Week 9 @ New York Jets *||Nine catches, 116 yards, two TDs||58.8%, 382 yards, two TDs, two INTs|
|Week 13 @ Seattle||Three catches, 42 yards, one TD||60.5%, 147 yards, one TD|
|Week 15 @ St. Louis||Two catches, 25 yards||69.6%, 393 yards, one TD, two INTs|
|Exception to the rule.|
That simple truth clearly illustrates Graham's immense value to the Saints, and he's got the raw numbers to qualify as an MVP candidate.
For the season, Graham has put up numbers you'd expect from a top receiver, catching 76 passes for 1,071 yards and 14 touchdowns. Calvin Johnson (12) wishes he had 14 touchdown receptions this season, as Graham's total leads all receivers.
Many will argue that Brady deserves a spot in the top three, and it's an argument impossible to dismiss. He has been brilliant under crappy circumstances this year. As a result, the Patriots will likely win the AFC East again with a 12-4 or 11-5 record.
But given the huge statistical season that Graham has had, combined with his obvious impact on the Saints, Graham deserves the No. 3 spot over Brady.
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