We aren’t too far away from the midway point of this NFL season and we’re still trying to figure things out. The San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys are looking like Super Bowl contenders, the Seattle Seahawks don’t seem that invincible and the Broncos still look to be the AFC favourite. Another thing about this season is it doesn’t look like it’s the same old story of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady duelling for the league’s MVP award. New England’s inconsistency has affected Brady’s stock and while Manning is still in the discussion, there is plenty of competition. Quarterback play has been a little underwhelming, at least compared to recent years.
Making a list of early MVP candidates at this point would have to include several non-quarterbacks, even though the MVP award has become a quarterback’s award in this era. Pretty soon they’ll have to rename it the MVQB award. Here are the early season MVPs in the NFL.
5) J.J. Watt – DE – Houston Texans
What doesn’t J.J. Watt do for the Houston Texans? While the Texans have fallen to the .500 mark after a 2-0 start, Watt keeps the Texans in every game. He makes his teammates better and he’s always making an impact on the field. Whether he’s blocking a pass, sacking a quarterback, returning a fumble for a touchdown, or even chipping in on offence, he is the definition of the MVP award; most valuable player to his team.
Without Watt, the Texans would be rudderless. No way is a team supposed to do that well when Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starting quarterback, but Watt’s performance has kept Houston in playoff contention and a wild card spot in the AFC is still up for grabs. Watt can be the player that gets the Texans there.
After six games in Houston’s season, Watt has four sacks, 26 tackles, six passes defended, one interception, two fumble recoveries and three total touchdowns. He’s the guy every other team has to account for when playing Houston. All the attention is focussed on him, making the defence around him better. Watt’s only no.5 on this list, but if the Texans make the playoffs after a 2-14 season last year, Watt will jump up the list and would have a chance to buck the trend of offensive players, and particularly quarterbacks, sweeping the MVP award. A defensive player hasn’t won the award since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. It may be time to start valuing defensive players more.
4) Peyton Manning – QB – Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning is inevitably going to be on MVP lists, so why fight it? Manning has already raked in five MVP awards in his career, and when the Broncos finish with 12 or more wins this season, Manning’s name will pop up once again in discussions.
While Manning actually isn’t in the top five, not even top 10, in many of the quarterback stat columns, he’s earned the benefit of not having to throw for 400 yards every game for you to appreciate how dominant he is. The Broncos became an elite franchise the second they got Peyton Manning two years ago and it’s going to continue through this season. Manning has completed over 65 percent of his passes, and has an incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15 to 3. Only Rivers has a better one with 15 to 2.
Manning’s 11th in passing yards with 1,530, but are you really going to argue that Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins are MVP candidates? Of course not. Manning is leading a Super Bowl contender and the MVP award is regular season only, so Manning’s name has to be in the discussion practically by default.
3) Andrew Luck – QB – Indianapolis Colts
These next three entries are the undisputed top dogs in the MVP discussions. You could make a valid argument for any of these next three.
Luck got the Colts to the playoffs as a wildcard in 2012, as the AFC South winner in 2013 and has them on their way to another division title this year. After an 0-2 start, the Colts have rattled off four straight wins and are in the driver’s seat in the division after a big win over Houston on Thursday night football in week 6.
There’s no need to look beyond numbers in this case; Luck leads the NFL in passing yards with 1,987 after six games, has completed 66.2 percent of his passes, has thrown 17 touchdowns to four picks and owns a QB rating of 99.6. He also chips in on the ground, as his scrambling ability has gotten him 93 yards and two touchdowns. The offence goes as Luck goes and the Colts go as Luck goes.
The only thing keeping Luck from being no.1 on this list is the Colts’ performance against tougher opponents. They lost to Denver and Philly to start the season and then bounced back with wins against the lowly Jaguars and Titans. Luck raked up stats in those games the most. The team’s 20-13 win over Baltimore has to be credited to their defence forcing three turnovers. The Colts have some tough games left on their schedule, including New England and Dallas. If Luck gets the Colts victories over the likes of those teams, then he can move up the MVP ladder.
2) Philip Rivers – QB – San Diego Chargers
There’s one team in the AFC that looks capable of dethroning the Denver Broncos as kings of the AFC and it’s the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers gave Denver all they could handle last season in their head to head meetings and this year they’re making it tougher on the Broncos to take hold over their own division.
If not for a bad fourth quarter in Arizona in Week 1, the Chargers could very well be undefeated right now. Philip Rivers has been the driving force behind the Chargers’ victories. He’s looked like a completely different quarterback since Mike McCoy took over the Chargers and the team added some help for Rivers by drafting D.J. Fluker and Keenan Allen. Even Antonio Gates looks five years younger.
Rivers has constantly been asked to do more with less in San Diego and now that he has gotten some support, he is playing some of the best football of his career. He’s completed 69.3 percent of his passes, has 1,756 yards passing, and 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions. His passer rating is an astounding 117.6.
There’s still plenty of race track for the Chargers to cover if indeed they are going to surpass the Broncos this year. They still have to play them twice, and they also have a late season game in Baltimore, at home to New England and upstate to San Francisco (okay, Santa Clara). The Chargers got through an easier stretch of their schedule that included Buffalo, Jacksonville and Oakland. San Diego, and Rivers in particular, will get their true test soon enough. If Rivers puts up numbers anywhere close to what he has against those teams, then it will be tough to argue going against him as league MVP.
1) DeMarco Murray – RB – Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have finally figured out what everybody’s been trying to tell them for years; put the ball in DeMarco Murray‘s hands and he’ll win games for you.
Murray has been the workhorse and juggernaut of this Cowboys team; a team that has shockingly started 5-1. That’s because Murray is bearing the load, with 159 carries through six games, totalling 785 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. He has become the first player to rush for 100 yards in six consecutive games since Jim Brown in 1958.
The only knock against Murray is some fumbling issues, with three fumbles lost through the first six games.
Dallas’s dominant offensive line is the driving force behind Murray’s hot start, as Zack Martin has proven to be the safe, steady and productive pick that he was supposed to be. Dallas’s front five of Martin, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Ronald Leary and Doug Free has been a ferocious, dominant group. Murray being the league’s top MVP candidate and Tony Romo managing to protect the ball is a testament to how great that line has been. However, no one offensive lineman will ever be named MVP, so Murray will have to be the beneficiary here.
Murray can very well approach the 2,000-yard milestone if he stays healthy. That’s what it took for Adrian Peterson to end the run of quarterbacks winning the award back in 2012. That and the team has to make the playoffs. Murray has proven he can produce against the best of the best, as he just led Dallas to an upset win in Seattle in week 6.
Many thought the NFC East wouldn’t produce a wildcard team, but with the Cowboys and Eagles playing the way they are, they could very well both make it to the postseason. If the Cowboys make the playoffs, especially if they overtake the Eagles for the NFC East, it will be due to DeMarco Murray running away with the rushing title. If that happens, he’s a shoo-in for MVP. Even now, it’s almost impossible to argue against him. If you’re the Cowboys, you can’t change your approach on offence; keep feeding Murray the ball.