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The Case for Russell Wilson, 2017 NFL MVP

Seattle’s quarterback is carrying a historically heavy load. It’s time we all start paying attention.

Philadelphia Eagles v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Sunday night’s matchup pitted two NFC contenders with gray bird-of-prey mascots shrouded in hideous shades of green, and the Seahawks came away with incredibly specific bragging rights. The visiting Eagles, who had a chance to clinch the NFC East with a win, looked as vulnerable as they had all season as they fell to Seattle 24-10 at CenturyLink Field. Seattle, playing without cornerback Richard Sherman or safety Kam Chancellor, held the Eagles’ dominant offense to just 10 points, shattering a slew of streaks in the process.

As the playoffs approach, Seattle answered serious questions about whether its defense could still perform at a high level with a diminished Legion of Boom (yes) and tightened its grip on a wild-card spot as it improved to 8-4 in a crowded NFC.

Seattle needs to make the playoffs so the entire country can appreciate what Russell Wilson is doing this season. He is producing at a historically high clip for an offense that would wilt without him. With almost no help from his offensive line, while moonlighting as the team’s top running back, Wilson has practically invented a new style of football—DIY.

Wilson was the star of Sunday’s game for Seattle, as he finished 20-of-31 for 227 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers while adding six rushes for 31 yards. It was another prime-time game where his numbers failed to capture the extent to which he carried the offense—sometimes he’s just making stuff up as he goes along, like this pitch (which was definitely an illegal forward pass) to running back Mike Davis that picked up a first down on third-and-9. He plays in the NFL the way Johnny Manziel played in college.

Up until this week, the NFL’s MVP race was largely assumed to be a two-man contest between Tom Brady and Prince Harry of North Dakota. On Sunday, Wentz didn’t hurt his case, going 29-of-45 for 348 yards with a touchdown and a pick while tossing one of the best throws of the year.

Yet while Wentz is valuable to the Eagles offense, Wilson is the Seahawks offense.

He is on pace to shatter the NFL record for percentage of yards accrued by a single player in an offense, currently at a staggering 85.7 percent. For every 10 Seattle yards, Wilson is responsible for 8.5. Wilson has 432 rushing yards on the season, more than double anyone else on the roster. (The only other Seahawk to crack 200 yards is Chris Carson, who has been on IR since Week 4.) Seattle’s offensive line is among the worst run-blocking groups in the league, rated 28th by Football Outsiders entering the week, and the Seahawks have to rely on Wilson doing everything himself.

And it’s not like Seattle’s pass-blocking is much better. The team is tied for 26th in pass-blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Seahawks have allowed 122 hurries this season, second most in the league. Meanwhile, Philadelphia protects Wentz with the sixth-most efficient group in football, and the 67 hurries they’ve allowed are the second fewest in the league.

In what looks more like Madden than real life, Wilson’s solution to the near-constant pass rush he faces is to run around in circles. He’ll sense pressure and flee 15 yards in the backfield before flinging the ball downfield toward his receivers, which is the opposite of how you are supposed to play quarterback, but it almost always works. Take this wild, winding scramble from Wilson against the Cardinals in Week 10.

Plays like that should be impossible, but Wilson has made the miraculous look routine all year. He’s the closest thing you’ll see to a one-man NFL show, a much friendlier football version of Russell Westbrook. If he keeps carrying such a heavy load for the Seattle offense and the team keeps winning at the same rate, is there really any other choice for MVP?