It's a four-man race for the 2015-16 NFL MVP.
Nobody can complain about the four men playing quarterback either—not after watching a Wild Card Round where AJ McCarron and Brian Hoyer were starters and even Landry Jones made an appearance.
No, quarterback's an easier position to play the odds at than usual, but the top-tier players have no equal. Four men sit as front-runners for the award this year with nothing on the horizon to suggest any major surprises.
Here's a look at the four with projected odds:
|Projected odds, author's opinion.|
Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks has the worst chance, though that's not saying much.
Completing 68.1 percent of his passes with 34 touchdowns to eight interceptions,Wilson had to overcome an odd year with and without running back Marshawn Lynch. But he struggled out of the gates before the strong 6-1 finish to the season in which he tossed 21 touchdowns to one interception.
While Wilson's a magician in and out of the pocket, consistency has to come into play with this award.
Hence the fact Tom Brady is sitting above the Seahawks signal-caller. The New England Patriots quarterback posted 36 touchdowns to seven interceptions while getting the team a first-round bye in the playoffs as he dealt with tight end Rob Gronkowski's being in and out of the lineup as well as losing major names such as Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis.
In fact, Brady didn't have much in the way of help this season. Edelman was the second-leading receiver behind Gronkowski despite only appearing in nine games. The ground game averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, so Brady's ability to get the Patriots to where they are now certainly has him as one of the leaders for the individual hardware.
Some might decry the fact Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals is sitting above other names. He tossed 35 scores to 11 picks while having a triple-headed monster at wideout with Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd, as well as one in the backfield at different times thanks to Chris Johnson, David Johnson and Andre Ellington.
Weapons around Palmer shouldn't undermine his accomplishments, though.
He helped the Cardinals win the brutal NFC West and did so while ranking highly in one of the most underrated categories around, as Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders detailed:
Scott Kacsmar @FO_ScottKacsmar
Highest QBR under pressure, 2015 1. Tyrod Taylor 58.2 2. Ryan Fitzpatrick 53.6 3. Carson Palmer 48.1 32. Brian Hoyer 1.5 33. Nick Foles 1.22016-1-8 15:41:03
Loaded roster or not, Palmer's a great story and one of the league's best as he pursues a Lombardi Trophy about a decade after the knee injury heard around the world.
The order of the above three doesn't really matter, though, because nobody's passing over Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.
Newton's a guy the globe wrote off before the season began when his top wideout, Kelvin Benjamin, went down with an injury.
All Newton did was respond with 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions through the air with another 636 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground, leading the Panthers to a 15-1 record and an NFC South crown.
In the process, Newton made Ted Ginn Jr. look like a No. 1 wideout with his 739 yards and 10 scores and otherwise hid the fact that nobody on the roster besides himself was an effective runner for most of the season.
Newton's performances certainly have other players buying into the idea of him winning the award. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said as much, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
#Saints QB Drew Brees was on @NFLHQ this morning & was asked if Cam Newton is a worthy MVP: "Absolutely." https://t.co/cqZ0dJa6iV2015-12-29 14:24:56
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy weighed in on the matter too, according to ESPN.com's David Newton:
Because of what he [Newton] does with who he has. Besides (wide receiver) Ted Ginn -- and of course (tight end) Greg Olsen is a very good talent -- but when Kelvin Benjamin went down everybody was in a panic like, ‘OK, what are they going to be able to do now?’
Well, the things he’s been able to do ... he’s got three different games with five touchdowns. That’s incredible to do in one season.
There's really no debate. Newton has it all—injuries around him, a tough schedule, the almighty stats, an almost-perfect season and more to come.
Most important of all? Newton isn't the usual quarterback. He's not tossing out of clean pockets, leaning on a decent ground game and getting the ball to guys who run crisp routes and make awesome plays after the catch. He's mostly doing it on his own in a way nobody else has this year.
If that's not MVP-worthy, nothing is.