Can Carson Wentz still win NFL MVP?

Vegas doesn’t think so. But maybe there’s a chance.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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A reader sent me a note just before Sunday’s win over the Rams:

What’s up Dan? You wrote an article in October about Wentz being doubtful to win the MVP. Now that we’re in December I wanted to see where you stood now. I bet $100 on him to win the mvp in July at 50/1 so need some big games out of him over the next month. Thoughts?

My thoughts are you just lost that hundo…

In July, betting on Wentz was a really smart play. As I wrote in October, it was a bad bet to pick Wentz for MVP at that time, if only because the odds for him winning kept getting better, which meant a smaller payout for anyone thinking of betting on him. Basically, my point was that you missed your chance if you waited until October. Now, it doesn’t matter anyway.

Truthfully, I never thought Wentz would win MVP back then. As I wrote at the time, voters almost never go for young players to win MVP when a veteran is having a comparable year. With Tom Brady still at the top of his game, it felt like a no-brainer that Brady would get more votes than a second-year player like Wentz.

But as the season rolled along, the Eagles kept winning games, and Wentz kept doing more and more in each of those victories to deserve consideration for MVP. Heading into this past weekend, here were the MVP odds:

Almost as important as his statistics is how Wentz had been playing in big situations — third down, red zone, national TV games seen by the entire country — which gave potential voters a look at how his base numbers do not tell the whole story of how good he’s been this year.

Wentz leads the NFL in touchdown passes with 33 — the only player in the league with 30 or more through 14 weeks. He has just seven interceptions on the season, which is one more than the league’s other MVP candidates — Brady; Drew Brees; and Jared Goff, who is on the outside of the conversation looking in. Alex Smith, the MVP of the first half of the season, has five interceptions.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Wentz completed just 60.2 percent of his passes, and as I wrote in October, no quarterback with a completion rate that low will ever win MVP when the other guy up for the award has a 67.4 percent rate. Hell, Brees has completed 71.7 percent of his passes this year, and on more attempts. While you can say that Brees has been doing more short passes while he relies on his rushing attack, he has more passing yards than Wentz this season.

And yet, Wentz’s numbers are remarkable in pressure situations. He completed 65.3 percent of his passes on third down, with 14 touchdowns and 62 first downs on 124 attempts. On third-and-10 or more yards Wentz had completed 76.7 percent of his throws.

In the red zone, Wentz completed 65.5 percent of his throws, which included 23 touchdowns on 58 pass attempts and zero interceptions. And the Eagles kept winning, in large part because of Wentz. If that isn’t the definition of “most valuable,” it’s unclear what the award means at all.

And yet, here are the MVP odds now:

Wentz has effectively been taken off the board, with Las Vegas bookmakers giving him no real shot to win. Even so, despite Wentz being put on injured reserve Tuesday with his torn ACL forcing him to miss the final three games of the season, there’s a case to be made that he still deserves consideration for MVP this year.

How Wentz could still win MVP

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly the award is now Brady’s to lose. And he might. The Patriots looked awful Monday night against the Dolphins, and Brady looked as pedestrian as he has in years. He completed just 24 of his 43 throws and threw two picks, while New England did not convert on third down once in the loss.

The Pats head to Pittsburgh this Sunday for a game that should decide home field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Even if Brady has a big game, if the Patriots lose, it will be hard to justify giving him the MVP. Not with two crucial losses in the final four games of the season to surrender home field advantage to the Steelers. A loss Sunday would open the door for any of the candidates below him.

Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz

Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Wilson still being in the conversation makes sense if you see what he’s been able to do with one of the worst offensive lines in the league and no substantive running game behind him. But Wilson’s completion percentage is not much better than Wentz’s and he has 11 picks in 13 games, throwing three interceptions in the loss to Jacksonville Sunday — Seattle’s second loss in the last four games. The Seahawks finish the season home to the Rams, at Dallas and home to Arizona. Another loss, or even another bad outing in a close win, should knock him from MVP contention for good.

Brees still has an outside shot at 20-to-1 odds, with games against the Jets and Falcons at home before finishing the season in Tampa. But if the Saints lose again, they not only won’t win the division, there’s a chance if that loss comes to Atlanta they won’t make the playoffs. Even if they do, at 11-5, Brees would have finished the season with as many wins as Wentz. At most, Wilson can finish with the same number. Shouldn’t that matter?

Note: Quarterback wins is not a real stat, but I bring it up only to illustrate that things like QBWINZ do matter to voters. And if Wilson or Brees ends the season with as many wins as Wentz in three more tries, who does that say more about, really?

Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz

Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers Killer Bs are the wildcard in the MVP race. If Pittsburgh beats the Patriots on Sunday, one of those three will be thrust into the top of the race, perhaps even over Brady. But with three great players leading an offense like the Steelers have, how can voters justify picking one as the “most” valuable?

Defining Value

Carson Wentz and Aaron Rodgers

Carson Wentz and Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Press-Gazette-USA TODAY Sports

Semantics matter. Or, they should.

The Associated Press gives out the Most Valuable Player award every year, not the Most Outstanding Player or the Best Player or some other name for the award that would indicate greatness. The award is about value.

Who is the most valuable player to his team this season? Given the Eagles’ record and the amount Doug Pederson has put on Wentz to run his offense, it’s hard to think of any player in the NFL more valuable this season than him. Not Brady, not Wilson, not Brees.

Should the Eagles lose the next three weeks, Wentz’s value will be abundantly clear, as nothing would prove a player’s value more than the team totally falling apart without him.

Which is where Aaron Rodgers comes in.

When Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone against Minnesota, the Green Bay Packers were 4-1 and a top contender in the NFC. Now, as Rodgers returns this weekend with three games to play — all against potential playoff teams — the Packers are 7-6. If Green Bay manages to finish the season 10-6 and sneak into the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine anyone being considered more valuable than Rodgers.

And so, if Rodgers getting Green Bay into the postseason after playing half the season (and going 7-1) would thrust him back into the MVP conversation, it stands to reason Wentz would be just as valuable in leading the Eagles to a potential first-round bye.

So is the award about value, or not?

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