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NFL MVP Race Has Never Been More Wide Open as Brady, Murray Make Their Cases

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 6, 2021

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 05: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 05, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Almost simultaneously on Sunday, while reigning NFL MVP (and 2021 MVP candidate) Aaron Rodgers watched on during the Green Bay Packers' bye week, quarterbacks Tom Brady and Kyler Murray generated a combined eight passing and rushing touchdowns as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals scored a combined 63 points in victorious performances.

The Bucs and Packers are both 9-3 now, one game back of the league-leading Cardinals (10-2). Murray remains the league's highest-rated passer, and Brady now leads the league in touchdown passes by a considerable margin with 34 (nobody else has more than 30). 

It's been an extreme NFL campaign in terms of parity and unpredictability, and that has rubbed off on the MVP race. Rodgers has a 23-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio for a Super Bowl contender, but he's far from comfortable. Murray has better rate-based stats and is quarterbacking the winningest team in football. Brady is the man behind the NFL's highest-scoring offense. And then there's Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Kansas City Chiefs superstar signal-caller Patrick Mahomes and fringe candidates like Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. 

A hot run in the coming weeks could put any of those guys over the top, and the same might even apply to Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, Baltimore Ravens dual threat Lamar Jackson and Las Vegas Raiders passer Derek Carr. 

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 05:  Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates with fans after Arizona defeated the Chicago Bears 33-22 at Soldier Field on December 05, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The case for Brady

While Murray and Rodgers have both missed some time, the 44-year-old delivered fairly consistently and is the guy orchestrating Tampa's league-leading offense. He was "merely" the league's fifth-highest-rated passer entering Week 13, but he and his cohorts score like nobody else. Sunday's monster performance on the road against the division-rival Atlanta Falcons was a big rebound after three consecutive weeks putting up passer ratings below 90. 

The case for Murray

While representing the league's top team in the standings, Murray now has 24 total touchdowns to just seven interceptions despite missing three games. He wasn't a huge factor with his arm Sunday but entered the day leading the league in yards-per-attempt average and completion rate by huge margins. 

The case for Rodgers

Only Murray has a higher passer rating, but Rodgers' TD-to-INT ratio is much better than Murray's, and the Packers are once again in the mix for the top seed in the NFC. He's also got a 129.4 passer rating in the fourth quarter of one-score games, which ranked behind only Stafford prior to Sunday.

As for everyone else...

Allen: It'll be tough to win this thing with a sub-100 passer rating, and a lack of consistency and recent turnovers are hurting Allen. Still, last year's runner-up has what it takes to make a run for the AFC's highest-scoring offense. A statement Monday night against the division-rival New England Patriots would help. 

Mahomes: The highest-rated passer in NFL history has to be part of the conversation, even if he and the Chiefs haven't been at their best for much of this season. He did have one of the most explosive performances of the season as the Chiefs crushed the division-rival Raiders two weeks ago, and he had another chance to send a message Sunday night against the Denver Broncos. 

Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

Stafford: He and the Rams saved their season with a convincing win Sunday. Struggles prior to that really hurt the 33-year-old's chances, but he ranks second to only Brady in touchdown passes, and only Murray, Rodgers and Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings had higher qualified passer ratings entering Sunday.

Prescott: Dak also hasn't been himself of late, but that Week 11 loss to the Chiefs was still his only truly bad game this year. A 23-to-8 touchdown-to-pick ratio for an 8-4 team has him in the mix. 

Jackson: The Ravens remain in first place in the AFC North, and Jackson keeps killing it with his legs. Despite missing some time, he was the league's ninth-leading rusher entering Week 13. He was also second in the league in completed air yards per attempt.

Herbert: He entered Week 13 with the league's best QBR even before throwing three touchdown passes as the Bolts lit up a solid Cincinnati Bengals team on the road. The consistency hasn't been there, but the sophomore could be in the mix if both he and the team get hot down the stretch. 

Carr: It was tough sledding against Washington in Week 13, but Carr had completed an NFL-best 43 deep passes entering Week 13.

The key is that all of those quarterbacks represent teams that are absolutely in the postseason discussion for now, which isn't surprising because nobody's been able to pull away from the packs in either conference. 

Nobody has dominated the NFL in 2021, either collectively or individually. That certainly becomes obvious when you look at the MVP candidate pool. But if trajectory counts for something, Brady and Murray are in good shape at the moment.

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.

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