The past two NFL Most Valuable Player award winners have been exciting young quarterbacks, but that doesn’t mean the older generation has faded away.
A wild Week 7 featured a few turn-back-the-clock performances from some of the league’s aging superstars, most notably a five-touchdown game from the six-time Super Bowl champion in Tampa Bay.
Here’s a look at who’s trending up in the race for MVP through Week 7:
1. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (last week: No. 1)
Wilson doubled his interception total from three to six in a 37-34 overtime loss to the Cardinals, and yet he still maintains his top spot in this race. That’s how good he’s been this season. Even though he made plenty of mistakes Sunday night, including a bad interception in overtime that led to Arizona’s game-winning field goal, he threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns and added 84 rushing yards. He’s still the clear leader in the expected points added (EPA) plus completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) composite ranking put together by Ben Baldwin of The Athletic. He also ranks eighth in the league in QBR (80.7) and is Pro Football Focus' highest-graded quarterback. He tied Peyton Manning for the most touchdown passes through the first six games with 22, putting him on pace to break Manning’s single-season record of 55 set in 2013. This is still Wilson’s award to lose.
In what was a banner week for the old guard, Rodgers threw for 283 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-20 win over the Texans, recording the second-highest passer rating of the week (132.4) behind the Browns' Baker Mayfield. With star receiver Davante Adams back from injury, the 36-year-old quarterback was nearly unstoppable, connecting with Adams for 196 yards and two scores. The Packers rank second in the league with 32.8 points per game and haven’t even been completely healthy, with star left tackle David Bakhtiari sidelined Sunday. Rodgers leads the league in QBR (85.5), is PFF’s second-highest graded quarterback and ranks second among qualified passers in EPA per play (0.371). Oh, and the Packers are 5-1.
3. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (last week: not ranked)
Rodgers has better stats, but Brady beat him head-to-head two weeks ago and put together a dominant performance Sunday in a 45-20 win over the Raiders. The 43-year-old threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns and ran for a score, and he’s not just dinking and dunking his way down the field. Brady leads all quarterbacks in PFF’s big time throws (described as a pass with excellent ball location and timing) with 24 and ranks second in the league with 18 touchdown passes. Since Week 3, he has a league-leading 15 touchdown passes to just one interception. He’s turned the Buccaneers (5-2) into a Super Bowl contender in his first season, and now Antonio Brown joins his receiving corps. He might not be behind Rodgers and Wilson for long.
Mahomes didn’t have a spectacular day Sunday, throwing for 200 yards and a touchdown in a 43-16 rout of the Broncos in snowy Denver. He was in danger of ending his franchise-record streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass at 16 before finding Tyreek Hill on a 10-yard pass into the end zone with 11:15 to go. He keeps cruising along with 16 touchdown passes this season, tied with the Bills' Josh Allen for fourth most in the league, while ranking third in EPA per play (0.335) and second in QBR (84.9). All it takes is a couple of big performances in marquee games for Mahomes to vault to the top of this list, and showdowns with the Buccaneers and Saints loom. Plus, he can pad his stats next week against the lowly Jets.
5. Bills QB Josh Allen (last week: No. 5)
Allen failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season as the Bills (5-2) were held out of the end zone in a frustrating 18-10 victory over the winless Jets. He still completed nearly 70% of his passes for 307 yards and ran for 61 yards, with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis nullified by a penalty. His overall numbers rank among the league’s best, as Allen sits fourth in EPA/CPOE composite, third in QBR (82.5) and fourth in PFF’s big time throws (17). As long as the Bills remain atop the AFC East and contend for the No. 1 seed, Allen will be in the MVP discussion.
In the running
Titans QB Ryan Tannehill
A golden opportunity to state his claim as one of the AFC’s top quarterbacks fell by the wayside in a 27-24 loss to the Steelers in a battle of unbeatens. Tannehill rebounded from a slow start to throw for 220 yards and two touchdowns, but he also lost a fumble near the goal line that wasn’t reviewed and had a few other turnover-worthy plays. With the Steelers bottling up running back Derrick Henry, Tannehill was less effective, and the Titans mostly abandoned the play-action passing game that their veteran quarterback has been thriving with. Still, Tennessee is 5-1 and capable of finishing with the AFC’s best record, keeping Tannehill’s faint MVP chances alive.
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With an improbable comeback over the undefeated Seahawks, the Cardinals are 5-2 and in contention for their first playoff berth since 2015. Murray was outstanding Sunday night, throwing for 360 yards with three touchdowns and one interception and rushing for 67 yards and a score. He’s overtaken Lamar Jackson this season as the league’s top dual-threat quarterback, ranking 11th in the league in rushing yards (437) with a league-leading seven rushing touchdowns. His passing numbers — 16th in EPA/CPOE composite, 14th in PFF’s passing grade, 14th in QBR — could be better, but he remains one of the league’s best playmakers.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
How Jackson performs coming out of the bye week will be one of the most important storylines to follow the rest of the season. Under coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens turned their offense into a juggernaut after last season’s bye, helping Jackson win MVP. He’s struggled to find his groove through six games and has been occasionally out of sync with his receivers, but he’s completing 63% of his passes with 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions while rushing for 346 yards and two touchdowns. As is the case with his friendly rival Mahomes, a few big performances from Jackson in marquee games, starting Sunday against the undefeated Steelers, will push him back into the thick of the race.
Roethlisberger had a day to forget Sunday with three interceptions, but he was able to make enough plays to help the Steelers stay undefeated, throwing for 268 yards and two touchdowns against the Titans. Roethlisberger’s inclusion in this discussion is a nod to the team’s perfect record more so than the 38-year-old quarterback’s play, since he ranks 15th in EPA per play (0.214), 23rd in QBR (58.4) and 20th in PFF’s grading. Still, with a deep and talented receiving corps and perhaps the league’s best defense behind him, he could make a push later in the season.