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NFL MVP watch, Week 9: Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers cause a shake-up at the top

Through eight weeks, the race for the NFL Most Valuable Player award looked all but over. Russell Wilson had a sizable lead, and even though Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers were nipping at his heels, the Seahawks quarterback was on pace for a historic season.

With Wilson struggling, Mahomes and Rodgers delivering huge games and Josh Allen securing a signature victory, suddenly the race is wide-open.

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Here’s a look at who’s trending up through Week 9:

1. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (last week: No. 2)

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Mahomes threw his 100th career touchdown pass in Sunday’s 33-31 come-from-behind win over the Panthers, breaking Dan Marino’s record for the fewest games needed to reach that milestone with 40. He ranks second in the league in passing touchdowns (25), second in passing yards (2,687) and third in passer rating (115.9) this season, and has rushed for 165 yards and two touchdowns while picking up 10 first downs on the ground. What’s even more remarkable is Mahomes' ability to take care of the football. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Mahomes has the lowest interception percentage of any NFL quarterback to attempt at least 1,000 career passes. On 325 attempts this season, he’s thrown just one pick. The Chiefs are 8-1, with no signs of slowing down, and Mahomes is in the driver’s seat for his second MVP award in just his third season as the full-time starter.

2. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (last week: No. 3)

Not to be outdone, Rodgers threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-17 rout of the 49ers on Thursday night. Through nine weeks, he leads the NFL in passer rating (117.5), QBR (87.6) and Pro Football Focus grading (93.8). And like Mahomes, his ability to avoid turnovers is historic. In his past 40 games, Rodgers has thrown 75 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions, an unrivaled ratio over such a span. He’s 12 touchdown passes away from becoming the seventh quarterback in history to record 400, and will finish with by far the fewest picks among a group that includes Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Dan Marino and Brett Favre. The 36-year-old is having a season for the ages.

3. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (last week: No. 1)

It was a tough week for Wilson and the Seahawks, who allowed the most points in the Pete Carroll era in a 44-34 loss to the Bills. Wilson threw two interceptions and fumbled twice, giving him seven turnovers in his past three games. With the Seattle defense struggling to offer much resistance, Wilson needs to be nearly perfect each week to give his team a chance to win. Seattle’s 6-2 record is evidence that he’s been exceptional, having thrown a league-leading 28 touchdown passes and ranking second in expected points added per play. If he can drag the Seahawks to a division title and a top-three seed in the NFC, he’ll have a strong case to be MVP.

4. Bills QB Josh Allen (last week: not ranked)

After a poor stretch of games in Weeks 5-8, in which he threw four touchdowns and four interceptions and averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt, Allen fell out of contention for this award. After a huge win over the Seahawks and the former MVP front-runner Sunday, he’s back in the race. Consider this stat from NFL Research: Allen is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era with 400-plus passing yards, three-plus passing touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 130-plus passer rating in multiple games in a season. Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers and Mahomes are the only other players with multiple such games in their careers. He finished Sunday 31-for-38 passing for 415 yards and three touchdowns and added a late rushing score to seal the win. It’s not just bluster from Bills fans anymore to say that Allen is a true MVP candidate.

5. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (last week: No. 5)

In a thrilling battle between two young stars, Murray’s Cardinals fell to Tua Tagovailoa’s Dolphins, 34-31. Murray threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns and was nearly unstoppable on the ground, rushing for 106 yards and the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the third quarter. It wasn’t enough, but it took a heroic effort from Miami to deny him a victory. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Murray is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 25 or more times and have a passer rating of at least 150 and lose. On the bright side, he became the first player in league history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 500 yards through eight games. He’s been a game-breaking force as a runner, with more expected points added on designed runs than anyone in the league, including running backs. He might not win MVP this season, but he’s a budding star and has the Cardinals (5-3) in the thick of the playoff race.

In the running

Saints QB Drew Brees

Early in the season, Brees was criticized for his reluctance to throw downfield, and many experts thought the 41-year-old just didn’t have the arm strength to be an elite quarterback anymore. With four touchdown passes in the Saints' 38-3 demolition of the Buccaneers on Sunday night, he silenced those critics — for now. It was Brees' 17th career game completing at least 80% of his passes with three-plus passing touchdowns, tied with Manning for the most such games all-time. Since Week 4, Brees is completing 76.2% of his passes, and the Saints have won five straight after a 1-2 start. If New Orleans can emerge from a muddled NFC playoff picture with the top seed, he’ll be in the MVP conversation.

Buccaneers QB Tom Brady

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It was a night to forget for Brady and the Bucs. The 43-year-old threw three interceptions in a 38-3 loss to the Saints, knocking Tampa Bay out of first place in the NFC South and severely damaging their chances of claiming the NFC’s top seed. Brady has an uphill battle to get back in the race, but count out the G.O.A.T. at your own risk. His performance the previous few weeks proved he’s still capable of playing at a high level.

Titans QB Ryan Tannehill

Tannehill had another solid, yet unspectacular performance in a 24-17 win over the Bears, completing just 10 of 21 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Not turning the ball over against Chicago’s defense is cause for celebration, but Tannehill will have to pick up his game to get back in the mix.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

He’s not the Roethlisberger of old, but he’s finding a way to lead the Steelers to victory each and every week. Pittsburgh rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat the Cowboys on Sunday, 24-19, with Roethlisberger throwing two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to keep his team undefeated. His knee injuries are cause for concern, but as long as the Steelers keep winning, he’ll at least be in the conversation.

Vikings RB Dalvin Cook

The chances of a running back taking home the league’s top award are slim to none, but Cook deserves recognition for his recent torrid stretch. The Vikings star had 252 total yards and two touchdowns in a 34-20 win over the Lions, giving him 478 yards and six touchdowns in his past two games. He ranks first in the NFL in rushing yards (858) and rushing touchdowns (12) and has forced 41 missed tackles, the most in the NFL. He’s single-handedly keeping Minnesota’s playoff hopes alive.

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