NFL

Hurts the frontrunner, Allen fading fast? - Handicapping the NFL MVP race with four weeks to go

By Sports Desk December 12, 2022

There are four weeks remaining of the 2022 NFL season, meaning we are in the home stretch not only in the race for the playoffs, but also in the battle for the MVP.

Week 14 was one in which the race appeared to settle into one between four quarterbacks. Other positions are worthy of recognition, but since Adrian Peterson's win in 2012 the MVP has been solely a quarterback award, and there is a quartet who have separated themselves from the rest.

Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins had received some hype as a potential MVP, but his successive disappointing displays against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers have likely removed him from the equation.

This has become a fight between the quarterback piloting the best team in the NFC and a trio of signal-callers each hoping to lead their respective rosters to the top seed in the AFC.

Right now, it is the former who stands as the favourite because of a near-perfect resume.

THE FRONTRUNNER: Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

The competition with more established NFL stars has been fierce but, after recent devastating performances against the Tennessee Titans and New York Giants, it is difficult to dispute Hurts as the MVP frontrunner.

A week on from brushing past the Titans, the Eagles swatted the Giants aside at The Meadowlands with another display of effortless dominance powered by Hurts’ ability to hit the deep ball and his influence on an ultra-diverse run game.

Hurts connected with DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown for touchdowns of 41 and 33 yards, and also rushed for 77 yards and a score on seven carries. His 13 touchdown passes of at least 20 yards are the most in the NFL while his 10 rushing scores are the sixth-most, and two more than any other quarterback (Justin Fields, eight).

He now has 3,157 passing yards with 22 touchdown passes and 10 rushing touchdowns this season, becoming the the fourth quarterback ever with at least 3,000 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes & 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season, joining Kyler Murray (2020), Cam Newton (2011 and 2015) and Kordell Stewart (1997).

Newton won the MVP in 2015 by posting such numbers for a 15-1 Carolina Panthers team that went on to reach the Super Bowl. The Eagles are on course to go 16-1 thanks to Hurts’ growth as a thrower – his well-thrown rate of 82.7 percent is a substantial improvement on his mark of 77.1 per cent from 2021. If they do so, there are unlikely to be many convincing counterarguments against Hurts as the MVP.

DON'T COUNT HIM OUT: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

A three-interception performance by Mahomes against the Denver Broncos may have helped tilt the MVP race in favour of Hurts, but the 2018 MVP is still performing at a level to be worthy of regaining the award.

Mahomes has 60 completions of at least 20 yards this season. No other quarterback has even reached 50, with Joe Burrow his nearest challenger on 46.

He ranks eighth among quarterbacks with a minimum of 200 attempts with a well-thrown rate of 83.5 percent, and has been extremely accurate when going deep.

Indeed, Mahomes' completion percentage of 50 on pass attempts of at least 21 air yards is fourth among quarterbacks with at least 10 such throws. On top of his downfield explosiveness, Mahomes has done an excellent job of creating yardage for himself on the ground, his yards per carry average on scrambles of 7.44 bettered by only Justin Fields (7.98) and P.J. Walker (8.67).

Recent issues with turnovers and the fact the Chiefs lost to Josh Allen's Buffalo Bills and Joe Burrow's Cincinnati Bengals may have dented his case but, with four games to go, Mahomes has built the foundations of an MVP resume and still has the chance to earn the prize for a second time if he can lift Kansas City to the one seed.

FADING FAST?: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

The resume in terms of achievements for Allen is pretty sparkling. If the season ended today, the Bills would be the number one seed in the AFC and he delivered the tiebreaking win over the Chiefs with a tremendous fourth-quarter performance at Arrowhead.

Allen's deep ball has been extremely impressive this season. No quarterback in the NFL has accounted for more yards on throws of at least 21 air yards than his 833. 

The Bills star is also on the right side of the ledger in terms of accuracy, delivering a well-thrown ball on 82 percent of his passes. The league average – minimum 50 attempts – is 81.4.

However, like Mahomes, Allen has 11 interceptions this season, and has a pickable pass rate of 4.89 percent that is nearly a full point above the average of 4.09%.

His carelessness with the ball has contributed to key defeats to the likes of the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings, costing the Bills wins that would have given them clear separation atop the AFC.

Allen is clearly one of the league's premier quarterbacks and will be for many years to come, but the consistency has not been there for him to be considered the MVP at this point.

THE SLEEPER: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

After a slow start, the man who spearheaded the Bengals' improbable charge to an AFC Championship is once again performing at a level that saw him elevate Cincinnati to the ranks of the elite.

Even in hard-fought Week 14 win over the Cleveland Browns with a Bengals' offense that has been one of the most productive in the NFL since Week 6 did not fire on all cylinders, Burrow's deadly precision was a difference-maker, most notably on a pinpoint 15-yard touchdown throw to Ja’Marr Chase on a post route to open the scoring.

Burrow delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 87.5 percent of his passes against the Browns. For the season, his well-thrown rate of 85.9 percent is fifth among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts. His pickable pass rate of just 1.52 percent is the NFL's best.

Burrow is outperforming Hurts, Mahomes and Allen when it comes to delivering accurately and taking care of the ball, and has a signature win over Mahomes to his name from Week 13.

If the Bengals go on to wrest the AFC North from the Baltimore Ravens, Burrow will have an excellent case for the MVP, one that will be even stronger if 9-4 Cincinnati manage to catch Kansas City and Buffalo in the race for the one seed.

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