There’s nothing like a game-winning drive to cap off what should be a MVP-clinching performance from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in Week 15.
The clear front runner for the award, Newton threw five touchdowns and totaled 440 yards against the New York Giants, including 49 on the final drive to set up Carolina’s game-winning field goal with no time left. The Panthers improved to a perfect 14-0, while Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 or more yards with five touchdowns and rush for at least 100 yards in a single game.
With two games left, the MVP is Newton’s to lose. I’m not sure what he’d have to do—or not do—over the final two weeks to have another player pass him. There are plenty of legitimate candidates, but Newton has afforded himself some serious wiggle room.
As we enter Week 16, here is a look at the top five MVP contenders:
1. QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton is now on pace to amass over 4,500 yards with 46 total touchdowns. It also seems more likely than not that the Panthers will win the final two games and finish 16-0. What more do you need from an MVP?
Newton has put up impossible numbers for a potentially perfect team. He’s even turned Ted Ginn into a 10-touchdown receiver. Newton is your 2015 MVP. Just accept the reality.
2. QB Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
In any other year, Palmer would be a slam dunk candidate. He’s on pace to throw for almost 4,900 yards and 37 touchdowns for the Cardinals, who are 12-2 and ranked second in the NFL in scoring offense. Through 14 games, Palmer has the third-most passing yards (4,277) and touchdowns (32), and the second best passer rating (106.7). In fact, he’s probably been the most consistently great quarterback from the start of the season to now.
While it’s going to be very difficult to pass Newton for the top spot, Palmer does finish the season with showdowns against Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. If he blows the two out of the water, it could get very interesting.
3. QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots
It almost feels wrong to have Brady at No. 3, given the kind of season he’s enjoying for New England. He’s currently first in the NFL in passing yards (4,405) and passing touchdowns (35), all while leading the injury-plagued Patriots to a 12-2 record and a likely first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. Would voters be swayed if Brady hit 5,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns?
A history of superlative play is probably working against the Patriots quarterback. He doesn’t amaze us anymore, because his greatness is consistent. It’s not fair to Brady, but I think he’ll survive.
4. QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
One of the most incredible stretches of quarterback play in NFL history has thrown Wilson right into the thick of the race. Over the last five games, Wilson has 19 touchdown passes against zero interceptions as the Seahawks have surged into the postseason picture. No quarterback has ever thrown that many touchdowns with no interceptions over a five-game period, and Wilson also became the first ever to have five straight games with at least three touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
As it stands now, Wilson is ranked first in passer rating (111.4) and second in completion percentage (68.8) and yards per attempt (8.55). What if he throws another eight touchdowns without an interception over the final two games? Could he leap the other three quarterbacks and win it? Wilson is the wild card.
5. WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
The only non-quarterback on this list is Brown, who is on pace to finish a potentially historic season with 133 catches for 1,813 yards and 10 touchdowns. Only one receiver in NFL history has produced a season with over 130 receptions, and only two have ever went over 1,800 receiving yards. Zero have hit both milestones in the same season.
Brown would probably be on track to break the single-season records for both receptions and receiving yards had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stayed healthy for all of 2015. Over the nine games Roethlisberger has started and finished, Brown has caught 88 passes for 1,243 yards and nine touchdowns. Those numbers extrapolated over 16 games: 156 catches, 2,209 yards and 16 touchdowns.