The 2018 NFL season is over, and the MVP race appears to have left one man standing: Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs’ second-year quarterback is a solid betting favorite when it comes to the league’s top regular season honor, and it’s not hard to see why.
Mahomes was the engine that pushed Kansas City to the top seed in the AFC, overcoming the league’s 31st-ranked defense en route to a 12-4 season. The Texas Tech product emphatically answered every single question about his big-league readiness by turning the NFL on its side, carving up opponents with efficiency. He’s just the second player in league history to record a 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown season. The other? Peyton Manning — who earned MVP honors for hitting both milestones in 2013.
While the Chiefs’ quarterback may be a safe bet to win at this point, several other quarterbacks have put in strong enough seasons to keep the Mahomes victory from being a unanimous one. Drew Brees led the Saints back to the playoffs and ensured the NFL’s road to the Super Bowl runs through New Orleans. Andrew Luck proved he’s the difference between a 3-13 season and a playoff bid. Deshaun Watson proved he’s the difference between a 1-9 finish and the AFC South title.
So who’s angling for this year’s award? Let’s look at the six men remaining who could garner votes at February’s NFL Honors.
Current 2018 NFL MVP odds
A lot of names on this list are either people we’d like to see win it and/or truly deserving names, but we all know that only goes so far when it comes to the actual voters. So before we dig into a closer look at the candidates, let’s make a quick scan of the odds.
These are the two remaining players getting odds from BetOnline.ag, and were last updated afterWeek 17.
- Patrick Mahomes: -250
- Drew Brees: +170
Now, let’s take a deeper look at the candidates — starting with the man at the top of the odds sheet.
The Chiefs’ second-year star: Patrick Mahomes, QB
Mahomes had a downright silly sophomore season, erasing any doubt he’d be able to take over for Alex Smith in Andy Reid’s offense. While he was buoyed by his stars — Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce combined for 190 catches, 2,815 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns — 10 different players had at least 96 receiving yards in Kansas City’s spread offense.
Those numbers don’t tell the full story of his 2018 brilliance. He consistently escaped pressure to extend plays and save games.
He even threw a completion with his non-dominant hand.
PATRICK MAHOMES with the left hand. WHAT CAN'T HE DO?!— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 2, 2018
No player put up better raw numbers. No player was more exciting to watch. No player was more valuable to his offense in 2018. Mahomes is a worthy favorite for MVP honors.
The Saints’ venerable veteran: Drew Brees, QB
Brees was the MVP frontrunner after 12 games, but his late-season slump likely cost him the chance to win the one major NFL award that’s eluded him since 2002. Weeks 13-15 saw him throw only a pair of touchdowns, three interceptions, and just 177 yards per game. It’s a testament to the revamped Saints’ strength they were able to go 2-1 in that stretch, and he was better in Week 16 in a comeback win over the Steelers, which gave Brees the latitude to sit up a meaningless Week 17 loss to the Panthers.
In 15 games, the soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback completed a league- and career-best 74.4 percent of his passes. Not even Mahomes could top his 115.7 passer rating — sixth-highest in league history. In any other year, his 32:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio would make him an easy choice for MVP. Instead, he’ll have to hope some voters appreciate the work he’s done with fewer playmakers when it comes time to weigh his 2018 season against his Kansas City counterpart.
The man who may finally lead the Chargers to the promised land: Philip Rivers, QB
Rivers won 12 games in 2018 and was rewarded for his efforts with a road Wild Card game against the one team that solved him best this season. The veteran’s awful performance against Baltimore in Los Angeles sabotaged his slim MVP hopes in 2018, and now he’ll have to face the Ravens and their top-ranked defense in Maryland to kick off his first playoff appearance since 2013.
Rivers has been good enough to turn his Chargers into a legitimate contender, but his recent swoon is cause for concern. He’s headed into the postseason having thrown six interceptions in his last three games. That includes a 55.2 passer rating in his past two games — contests against the swarming pass rushes of the Ravens and Broncos.
First-career interception for @isaacshowtime‼️#LACvsDEN pic.twitter.com/44wmTCibZn— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 30, 2018
The 37-year-old still had a tremendous year, but it came with a decidedly un-MVP finish.
The man behind the Colts’ quest to field 2018’s finest revival: Andrew Luck, QB
Luck got stronger as his season wore on, and so did the Colts. Indianapolis rallied from a 1-5 start and into the playoffs as the young veteran threw 23 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions over his team’s final 10 games to pay off anyone bold enough to take a longshot bet on the Colts playoff hopes back in October.
More importantly, he showed up in a big way when Indianapolis had no margin for error late in the season. Luck picked apart the Texans in Week 14 with a 399-yard performance, upset the Cowboys with an efficient 192-yard showing the following week, and then tuned up the Titans for three passing touchdowns in a de facto playoff game in Nashville. The Colts may still be a year away from threatening the league’s top teams, but Luck makes Indianapolis a tough out for anyone this postseason.
The man who refused to let the Seahawks tank: Russell Wilson, QB
Wilson’s overlooked excellence took a talent-strapped Seahawks team and pushed it back to the postseason. The former Super Bowl champion teamed with Chris Carson and a revamped rushing attack to give Seattle the kind of formidable offense that could cover for a defense that struggled to recover from the departure of nearly all its stars.
Head coach Pete Carroll asked Wilson to be better than he’s ever been, and Ciara’s husband rose to the challenge. His 35 passing touchdowns were a career high and his seven interceptions tied a career low. He averaged an efficient 8.2 yards per pass and his 110.9 passer rating was also a personal record.
More impressively, he did this all while being sacked 51 times, because the Seahawks’ offensive line still sucks. So while his numbers aren’t great, Wilson over-delivered in a season when he faced one of the league’s toughest degrees of difficulty, and Seattle’s back in the playoffs as a result. Pretty valuable.
The Texans’ second-year stud: Deshaun Watson, QB
Luck’s comeback has been great, but it’s overshadowed another immensely important return in his own division. In 2017, Watson was the starting quarterback of a 3-4 Texans team when he was lost for the season due to a torn ACL; Houston finished the year at 4-12 as a result. Now he’s back, and his first full year at the helm of Bill O’Brien’s offense pushed Houston to an 11-5 season and an AFC South championship.
Like Mahomes, Watson’s ability to extend plays in the pocket makes him a nightmare for even the toughest coverage downfield. He hasn’t been shy about running on his surgically repaired knee, either; he ran for 551 yards and tied for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns.
Watson’s 2018 was defined by steady growth that saw him take fewer — but safer — risks downfield. His completion rate rose from 61.8 to 68.3. His interception rate dropped from 3.9 to 1.8 percent. He didn’t throw a pick in nine of his final 10 games — a streak that saw Houston go 8-2.
And if we’re crediting Wilson for the increased degree of difficulty set by the Seahawks’ blocking, Watson deserves some kind of medal. He did all this while being sacked a league-high 62 times — a mark that ties for the fifth-highest in NFL history.