The MVP is a narrative-driven award. Player performance and statistical dominance have their place in the equation, but ultimately you must tell a good story.
You just need to look back last season to see this message. Don’t for a second think the voters weren’t dying to give that award to Drew Brees. The golden boy from New Orleans’ style of going about his business is catnip to insiders and takesmen the world over. Giving one of the NFL’s “long-time good guys” his first MVP award at age 39 would have been a perfect story.
Brees’ end-of-season mini-slump made the case untenable with Patrick Mahomes and his 50 passing touchdowns staring everyone in the face. Don’t kid yourself that Brees’ story would not have been sweet for voters. In fact, it helped Mahomes’ case that he had one hell of a tale himself as a first-year starter obliterating the league.
Mahomes also brought signature moments to the table and that’s the key to taking home the hardware. The league MVP should not be just a dominant player. There are plenty of those in the NFL right now. The MVP should be a player who elevates their team and proves to be a figure you can’t tell the story of the season without them. Mahomes’ wild throws, his no-look passes and an outrageous knack for improvisation as he built the Chiefs into an AFC powerhouse became key themes on the 2018 NFL season.
Signature moments. That’s what each wild Mahomes play became on its own. He stacked those with outings like his six-touchdown eruption on the road against the Steelers in Week 2, the flip pass on “Monday Night Football” in Denver, an overtime win over Baltimore and many more. When we’re looking at the 2019 MVP race, that’s ultimately what will separate the contenders from those in the discussion to fill the troth of content consumption.
The theory of signature moments is why few are talking about Dak Prescott in the race right now. By multiple measures, Prescott is right up there with any quarterback. He leads the league with an 81.1 QBR and is captaining the NFL’s most efficient offense, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics. Dallas is a contender with a 5-3 record and would be the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs if the season ended today. A player with that resume should be squarely in the hunt for the MVP award.
Yet, Prescott is far in the distance from the top players competing for the award because he lacks signature moments. He has been steady, one of the best quarterbacks this year but isn’t a defining figure in the 2019 NFL season. Prescott would fall victim to the reality of the island game. His latest prime-time win came against the hapless Giants, while the one before he was outshined by his stop unit and Ezekiel Elliott chipping away at one of the NFL’s best run defenses to the tune of 147 total yards. You need better than that when the entire NFL universe is watching if you want a place in the MVP race.
On the other side of glory, Lamar Jackson rocketed to the peak of the conversation by dismantling a Patriots defense performing at a historic pace on “Sunday Night Football.” He added another dominant rushing game onto his likely record-breaking season while posting his second-best completion percentage and passer rating on the season against a ferocious New England secondary. The fact that his performance came in an island game will stick with the viewing public, outside of the handful of lunatics who still wish to doubt his worth as a thrower. Jackson’s signature moment helped lay the icing on the cake of his pristine sophomore season and now you can’t find a top-level MVP discussion that doesn’t include him.
Jackson would file in third place on my MVP pantheon for 2019, behind Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson (his signature moment thus far is throwing a TD pass after getting kicked in the eye). After those three, where things stand now, we really don’t need to have a discussion.
We can give Christian McCaffrey his due for being square in the middle of one of the best running back seasons of all time but we know the position doesn’t move the needle as much as the signal-caller. Sadly, we all know that a running back has no shot at winning the award when there are multiple high-end dynamic quarterbacks as the defining faces on teams ticketed for the postseason. Cramming a bevy of other names beyond McCaffrey is fine for the purposes of engagement and hot takes but ventures well into the wilderness removed from reality.
Wilson holding at the top of the MVP standings seems obvious. He has all the numbers to back up his case. Wilson is hyper-efficient leading the NFL in passer rating (118.2), touchdown rate (7.5 percent) and trailing only Mahomes in yards per attempt. You can’t forget what he does on the ground, tacking on three more scores while ranking sixth in QB rushing yards.
He also has a story to tell. No other quarterback has epitomized the greatest of quarterback traits; elevating the ecosystem around you. Few teams asked their franchise passer to play with one hand behind their back like Wilson. With the Seahawks’ conservative run-first philosophy, Pete Carroll and company invite close games. Lucky for them, Wilson is the master escape artist who can bail them out of almost any jam. When the Seahawks send out the bat signal calling for Russell to rescue them, he almost always delivers.
Wilson is the defining figure of Seattle Seahawks football. He has been at the helm of this team for years and has come to personify stability. Yet, he plays with the dramatics and fire that have come to make the Seahawks one of the more irresistible franchises of the past decade. He has been doing this for years. The 2019 season might be the finest masterpiece in his collection.
Even sitting with a comfortable lead in the MVP race past the midway point of the season, Wilson can start to run away with this thing beginning in Week 10. It comes back to signature moments. Wilson has a few classics where he saved the Seahawks from themselves in a close Thursday night win against the Rams and an overtime bit of brilliance against Tampa. All that would pale in comparison to going on the road on Monday night and taking down not just one of the best defenses in the league, but a division rival who is the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers’ defense is downright menacing. The transformed stop unit boasts the highest pressure (31.8 percent) and sack rate (11.7 percent) while flanking only New England in passer rating (65.7) and adjusted yards per attempt (4.6) allowed. No one wants to face this group right now. Not a damn soul. Only a joker masquerading as a serious entity would question this defense’s legitimacy. With that being said, this group has yet to face someone like Wilson. You won’t find anything close to the league’s most valuable player on the spikes they’ve staked outside Levi’s Stadium.
If the Seahawks quarterback maestros his offense led by a tantalizing skill position group of Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and now Josh Gordon over this elite defense, the implications are massive. Not only will Wilson increase his own MVP profile, but he’ll narrow the gap between San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC West race. He can bring a first-round bye into the equation for his team. Taking out the 49ers will be far from an easy quest but the spoils of victory will be bountiful.
If Russell Wilson indeed slays this dragon, you can go ahead and start carving his name into the MVP trophy. He’ll have wrapped this thing up. A win over the 49ers’ imposing defense would give Wilson all the ingredients needed in an MVP season. He’ll have the team success, statistical prowess and most important, a story to tell highlighted by a signature moment.
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