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Who Will Win a Wide-Open NFL MVP Race?

Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are the current favorites. But recent history has shown that doesn’t mean much.

AP Images/Ringer illustration

Considering how parity is consuming the NFL this season, perhaps it’s no surprise the MVP race has been similarly cloudy. With three weeks left in the 2021 regular season, it’s unclear who will win. At the very least, it doesn’t feel like there’s a dominant, clear-cut leader heading down the stretch. Maybe it’s because the season is so long. Or maybe it’s because we’ve grown jaded to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady being absurdly good for so long.

Throughout the year, players have driven MVP discourse for a week or two, only to have an underwhelming outing the next. The latest example was Brady following up a dramatic (and record-setting) overtime performance against the Bills in Week 14 with a shutout loss—his first in 15 years—against the Saints in Week 15.

The best way to get a sense of the MVP race at this point is to look at betting odds. And the current odds show a two-horse race for the trophy:

NFL MVP Betting Odds

Player FanDuel Odds EPA/play (rank among QBs)
Player FanDuel Odds EPA/play (rank among QBs)
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers -160 0.27 (1st)
Tom Brady, QB, Buccaneers -160 0.18 (5th)
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs +850 0.19 (4th)
Matthew Stafford, QB, Rams +1000 0.23 (2nd)
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts +1200
Josh Allen, QB, Bills +1500 0.16 (8th)
Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers +2500 0.18 (6th)
Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals +4000 0.16 (7th)
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys +4000 0.08 (19th)
Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams +10000
Data courtesy FanDuel, rbsdm.com

Looks like that’s settled. Brady or Rodgers. However, while those two are both pretty good bets to win MVP, given how chaotic the NFL season has been on a weekly basis, nothing is guaranteed. Let’s break down the cases for those within shouting distance.


Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts

MVP moment(s): Week 11 at Bills; Week 15 vs. Patriots

It’s been almost a decade since a running back won MVP. Since 2000, only four tailbacks have won the award. Taylor has the chance to join that rarefied group as he continues to power the Colts offense. He leads the league in rushing yards (1,518) and rushing TDs (17), and ranks behind only the injured Derrick Henry in rushing yards per game (108). Taylor’s advanced stat profile pegs him as the NFL’s best ballcarrier, too, as he’s averaging a league-best 1.58 rushing yards over expected and leads the NFL in rush yards over expected by more than 200 yards (418), according to Next Gen Stats.

Last week marked the height of Taylor’s MVP candidacy, somehow usurping his five-TD showing against the Bills. Taylor devastated the Patriots defense, tallying 170 yards on 29 carries. He broke a 67-yard touchdown to seal the win.

Last week’s performance is a major reason Taylor breached FanDuel’s top five for the first time all year. Still, in the scope of the MVP race, it’s unlikely that Taylor ends up winning. But he has favorable matchups lined up against the Cardinals, Raiders, and Jaguars. Momentum might not fade for Taylor.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Rams

MVP moment(s): Week 3 vs. Buccaneers; Week 14 at Cardinals

Stafford’s Rams tenure started exceptionally hot, as he guided the NFL’s most explosive passing game through the first half of the season. Then the team lost receiver Robert Woods to a season-ending injury, keying the offensive downturn during L.A.’s No-Win November. The past two weeks have offered a glimmer of hope for Stafford and the Rams to finish on a high note, though.

Stafford enters Tuesday night’s matchup against the Seahawks second among QBs in EPA per play. He’s coming off arguably his most complete performance as a Ram when he completed 23 of 30 passes (76.7 percent) for 287 yards and three scores in a Monday night win against the division-leading Cardinals.

MVP is often a narrative-driven award, and Stafford suffers from having had some of his worst performances in prime-time games. But with matchups against the Vikings (18th in pass defense DVOA), Ravens (28th), and 49ers (20th) remaining, Stafford could creep back into the conversation if the Rams continue to rack up wins and vie for top seeding in the NFC.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs

MVP moment(s): Week 10 at Raiders; Week 15 at Chargers

Well, well, well. Mahomes opened the season favored to win the MVP award. The Chiefs’ early-year defensive struggles were finally corrected. But the Chiefs offense, surprisingly, began to sputter, and it looked as though Mahomes wouldn’t come close to the MVP. Now, he’s right back in the discussion and trending up.

The Chiefs’ Week 15 overtime win against the Chargers felt significant for Kansas City’s offense. L.A.’s defense is built specifically to thwart big-play passing attacks like the Chiefs’ and found initial success, but the dam broke in the fourth quarter. Mahomes said afterward the Chiefs offense never lost its swagger.

“We’ve had to learn [how to be patient on offense],” Mahomes said. “We’ve always been this big-play team that’s had short drives in under three minutes. … With the way defenses are playing us, you have to learn how to take the short stuff and do these long drives. I think it’s made us better because we can always have the big plays. … If we can show everybody that we can drive down the field methodically with patience, that will be hard for defenses to stop.”

The Chiefs are back atop the AFC standings and have matchups remaining against the Steelers, Bengals, and Broncos—all teams on the fringes of the playoff picture. This closing stretch should provide a true glimpse into just how playoff-ready Kansas City is and propel Mahomes back where he started in the MVP race.

Tom Brady, QB, Buccaneers

MVP moment(s): Week 1 vs. Cowboys; Week 12 at Colts; Week 14 vs. Bills

Finally, Tom Brady looked like a 44-year-old quarterback and not a 25-year-old cyborg under center. Brady and the Bucs offense were shut out in a 9-0 defeat to the Saints on Sunday night, despite New Orleans being without head coach Sean Payton. In-game injuries to Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Leonard Fournette, as well as Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s game plan, seemed to restrict Brady from having a big night.

The 26-for-48-passing (54 percent), 214-yard, one-pick performance occurred at a brutal time considering Brady had just led an exciting OT win against the Bills. Brady still leads the NFL in TD passes (36) and yards (4,348), and is on pace to crack the 5,000-yard mark. But with Godwin out for the year (torn ACL) and the Bucs dropping a game behind Green Bay in the NFC standings, it could be an uphill battle for the GOAT to land what would be his fourth league MVP.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

MVP moment(s): Week 3 at 49ers; Week 8 at Cardinals; Week 12 vs. Rams

Rodgers holds the inside edge, considering Green Bay has already clinched its division and Rodgers leads the NFL in several advanced passing metrics. That includes the all-important EPA per play; Rodgers won MVP last season after winning the EPA crown, too.

The last player to win back-to-back MVP awards was Peyton Manning (2008, 2009). It would cap quite an eventful year for the 38-year-old, who is undoubtedly the most important player (the Packers lost their only game without him this season) on the team with the NFL’s best record (11-3). This looks like Rodgers’s award to lose. But as we’ve seen throughout the year, being the clubhouse leader for one week doesn’t mean anything the next.