NFL Most Valuable Player honors are not won in Week 11, in much the same way that Best Picture Oscars are not won before a movie’s climax, or that presidential elections are not won before counting the ballots in Florida.

But after six straight victories, a couple of endlessly rewatchable runs and a cool pair of shades he donned on the Paul Brown Stadium sideline two weeks ago, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson finds himself in a position unimaginable only months ago. He’s the front-runner for the league’s top individual award.


Ahead of Monday night’s prime-time matchup with the Los Angeles Rams, Jackson has edged out Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as the slight betting favorite. There are other contenders, notably Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, but there is considerable ground to make up over the next six weeks.

For now, it is Jackson, the dual-threat force in charge of one of the NFL’s most productive offenses ever, against Wilson, the NFL’s leader in total touchdowns and top passer. Here’s how they stack up — and why Jackson has the edge, barely.

Running value

Wilson is a good runner. He has 50 carries for 265 yards and three touchdowns, all of which trail only starting running back Chris Carson’s team-high marks. Wilson’s rushing average (5.1 yards per carry) is the highest on Seattle, as is his first-down rate (28%). His scrambling ability kept alive what might be his season’s signature play, a Week 5 strike to Tyler Lockett in the corner of the end zone that had a 6.3% chance of completion, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

But Wilson is not Jackson. No one is.

Jackson is leading the NFL in yards per carry (6.9) and is 10th in rushing yardage (788), ahead of teammate Mark Ingram II, Green Bay Packers sensation Aaron Jones and Los Angeles Rams star Todd Gurley II. Jackson has run for a first down on 35.7% of his carries; no other player among the NFL’s top 20 rushers is above even 30%.

As Jackson predicted this offseason, his rushing workload this season has not been onerous. He’s averaging just 11.5 carries per game, down from 17 per game in his seven starts last season. Had he maintained his 2019 average on his rookie-year workload, Jackson would be on pace for 1,877 rushing yards, the most in a single season since 2012. At his current rate, he’s on pace for 1,260; Michael Vick’s record for a quarterback is 1,039.

Jackson’s presence has lifted others, too. Ingram is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, a mark he eclipsed just once in his previous eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints, and could threaten his career high of 1,124 rushing yards. Gus Edwards, meanwhile, has improved from 5.2 yards per carry to 5.5, and his first-down rate (36.6%) bests even that of Jackson.

Advantage: Jackson

Passing value

In 2016, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finished the regular season with 28 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, the best such ratio in NFL history. Perhaps the only mark against a season in which he also completed more than two-thirds of his attempts and averaged nearly 300 passing yards per game was that he missed four games. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was named MVP instead.

Wilson’s season is encroaching on Brady’s 2016. He didn’t throw a pick until the Seahawks’ Week 7 loss to the Ravens. After another one in Seattle’s overtime win over the then-unbeaten San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, he has 23 touchdowns against just two interceptions entering Week 12.

Even with a play-caller criticized for his commitment to the run, Wilson is first in the NFL in passer rating (114.9) and QBR (78.0), seventh in completion percentage (68.5%) and 10th in passing (273.7 yards per game). His NFL-best QBR of 78.0 means that, with all other variables constant, a team with Wilson’s level of quarterback play would be expected to win about 78% of the time.

And while quarterbacks this season such as the Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr and Rams’ Jared Goff have risen and fallen, respectively, with the state of their offensive line, Wilson has been brilliant behind subpar blockers. According to Football Outsiders, Seattle’s adjusted-sack rate ranks 20th in the NFL. ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate, which measures whether a team’s linemen can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer, has the Seahawks’ line as the league’s fifth worst.

With 2,258 yards, 19 touchdowns, five interceptions and 66.3% accuracy, Jackson has not had Wilson’s sustained excellence. But his highs have been higher. He’s only the second quarterback in NFL history, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, to post two perfect passer ratings in one season. Both performances rank in the top 10 all time of ESPN’s QBR rankings, which date to 2006.

His supporting cast likely trumps Wilson’s, too. The Ravens have a top-10 Pass Rush Win Rate, according to ESPN, while Football Outsiders rates their pass-protection efficiency as more middling. Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst give the Ravens the NFL’s best tight end group, and Ingram is a proven receiving threat. Their biggest weakness is at wide receiver, where only rookie Marquise Brown ranks among Football Outsiders’ 60 most efficient and among Pro Football Focus’ 80 highest rated.


Advantage: Wilson

Narrative strength

If you hadn’t noticed already, the NFL has fallen back in love with the Ravens — hard. After their sixth straight win Sunday, it was impossible to find power rankings that didn’t have them among the league’s top two teams, or daytime sports talk that wasn’t heaping praise on the rejuvenated defense.

No one’s Q score has soared more, though, than Jackson’s. Every week, his game seems to go viral. In the Ravens’ past four wins, he has convinced his coach to go for it on fourth-and-short in a win over Wilson’s Seahawks; accounted for three touchdowns against the Patriots defense, one of the NFL’s best-ever early-season units; had a breathtaking touchdown run (and perfect passer rating) against the Cincinnati Bengals; and bested Houston’s Watson in a matchup of division leaders, with another highlight carry for good measure.

Wilson’s MVP case has suffered in part because of bad timing: Seattle was off in Week 11. Before that, he was the clear favorite. All he'd done the previous two weeks was beat the 49ers in prime time on "Monday Night Football" and throw for five touchdowns and 378 yards in an overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


If voters favor rewarding the best player on the best team — within reason, of course; no one’s considering the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle for MVP — Jackson should have the edge. The Ravens defense has been among the NFL’s best since the team’s last loss. And if highlights sell a candidacy, Jackson has broken enough defenders’ ankles to carry him through December.

But it would be unwise to doubt Wilson’s chances, as one sportsbook did Wednesday in paying out Jackson’s MVP bets, or discount the Seahawks’ stage. They return to action Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the week’s best matchups, and follow that with prime-time games against the Minnesota Vikings and Rams. A rematch against San Francisco awaits in their season finale.

Before pulling away late in their Oct. 20 meeting, the Ravens swapped leads with Seattle a few times in a tense road win. This MVP race could have the same back-and-forth frenzy.

Advantage: Jackson


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