Coppola’s Column: NFL MVP Contenders as season nears its conclusion

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The NFL season has held many surprises so far, with the league getting turned on its head early in the year. While we’ve seen things balance out somewhat, the MVP race is certainly one that holds many surprises. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the defending MVP from last year, is nearly absent from the conversation. While Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes is seen by many as the favorite for the second time in his young career, many can boast an equally strong case for the honor. 

Quick Honorable Mention: 

Jimmy Garoppolo deserves a brief mention before the start of this list. Historically, he has received a lot of hate, but after starting the season as a backup, he’s since led San Francisco to a 7-3 record in his ten starts. Garoppolo’s 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio is only outdone by two other quarterbacks on this list and his efficiency has been impeccable. If he had played more and avoided injury, he would’ve had a shot, albeit a long shot, at the award. 

Tua Tagovailoa: 

This must be prefaced with how the list is in no particular order. Even so, Tagovailoa is in many people’s books the MVP for this year so far. Like Garoppolo, his efficiency has been elite. He boasts the best passer rating in the league by far, while also leading the league in yards per passing attempt and touchdowns per passing attempt. 

A reason for his significant jump in productivity from last season comes from a lot of external factors, which perhaps is why people downplay this improvement. Tagovailoa is led by a new head coach, Mike McDaniel, who’s in the running for coach of the year. He also received the boost of Tyreek Hill, the only non-quarterback one could really consider for the MVP this year. Regardless, his productivity has been exceptional. It is also worth noting that the team was 0-2 when Tagovailoa was out but 8-2 when he started. 

Geno Smith: 

The Seattle Seahawks were expected to be relatively irrelevant following the trade of Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. Yet they sit at 7-5, second in their division and in a wild card spot. That’s thanks to a top-five scoring offense, with the only notable differences being rookie Kenneth Walker III at running back and 32-year-old quarterback Geno Smith. 

Smith has been uncharacteristically efficient in his third year as a starter. He allowed 34 interceptions in his first two seasons with the Jets, but only has given up six this season. Smith is second in passer rating and first in completion percentage with an impactful 72.7% rate. It’s hard not to root for a guy that’s had such a roller coaster of a career and the best may be yet to come. 

Jalen Hurts: 

The Philadelphia Eagles have surprised everyone this season. We knew there would be a revival, but it’s unlikely many predicted such a dramatic recuperation. Sure, the schedule has helped them along the way and they’ve remained relatively healthy, but they’ve been an unstoppable force for the entire season. Their top-three offense has benefitted from the addition of wide receiver A.J. Brown, who has become their number one guy. The jump from Jalen Hurts likely proved to be the catalyst for this rise. 

Many see him as the likely candidate for the award, neck-and-neck with Mahomes, but I’d argue he should be considered even greater of a favorite. Mahomes puts up video game-like numbers, but Hurts has the efficiency you need to consistently win games. He’s been on a streak of seven games where his passer rating hasn’t dipped below 94, with five of those being well above 100. You also have to mention his rushing ability, as he’s put up 50 yards a game and nine touchdowns just from his feet. Dual threats always receive special attention during this race and likely won’t change. 

Patrick Mahomes: 

It’s impossible not to mention Mahomes when talking about the MVP. Similar to how Brady was formerly deemed the best player in the league yet didn’t win the award year in and year out, Mahomes has found himself in that boat. He’s always been one of the best over the last five seasons, but there’s always been at least one guy that’s deserved it slightly more. 

The loss of Tyreek Hill would be detrimental to any offense, yet the Chiefs offense is scoring even more this season than last. Losing your favorite target and replacing them with JuJu Smith-Schuster is a tough situation to find yourself in, but his numbers have never been greater. The only issue would be questions over efficiency, as he’s completing slightly less than normal while also throwing more interceptions than in years past (a trend that began last year). Despite this, he finds himself leading the pack and it will be interesting to see if that continues. 

Joe Burrow: 

Wow, did Burrow turn things around. He began the season with two poor games against a bad Pittsburgh defense and Dallas, but since then, we’ve only seen one other contest where he sunk back to those lows. His eight interceptions, the same amount as Mahomes, is deceptive considering half of those came in the first game of the year. It’s easy to live in hypotheticals, but if that game didn’t happen, his efficiency and passer rating would rival that of Tagovailoa and Smith’s. 

The Bengals look to be roughly the same talented roster as last year, a lineup that brought them to the Super Bowl. The quest for their return to the big game rests on the shoulders of their star quarterback and his ability to elevate his game for the remainder of the season. 

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