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Carson Wentz’s biggest challenge of his MVP campaign comes against the Seahawks

Seattle isn’t the Legion of Boom anymore, but it’ll be the toughest test of Wentz’s breakout year.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Carson Wentz is an early favorite to take home 2017 NFL MVP honors after carrying his Eagles to a 10-1 start. The only way to prove his newfound bonafides will come by getting Philadelphia win No. 11 in a hostile environment.

Wentz will take his team to face 7-4 Seattle on Sunday Night Football with the chance to make a statement in front of a national audience. To do so — and to hold off Tom Brady in the MVP race — Wentz will have to get past the toughest passing defense he’s faced all season in one of the NFL’s toughest venues.

Wentz can convince skeptics if he carves up the Seahawks in Seattle

The Seahawks are not the Legion of Boom of years past. Two of the team’s most important defenders, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, won’t be patrolling the secondary Sunday night after sustaining season-ending injuries. Another important member of the defense, pass rusher Cliff Avril, appeared in only four games before hitting injured reserve this fall.

Despite these losses, Seattle still boasts a top-10 passing defense in nearly every major statistical category. More notably, they’ll represent a bigger challenge from the rest of a relatively easy schedule the Eagles have dominated through Week 12.

The Seattle defense ranks among the best the Eagles have faced so far this year:

How the Seahawks stack up vs. the Eagles' 2017 opponents

Team Opp. Passer Rating (Rank) Pass Yards Allowed Opp. Completion Rate Opp. Yards/Pass Sack Pct.
Team Opp. Passer Rating (Rank) Pass Yards Allowed Opp. Completion Rate Opp. Yards/Pass Sack Pct.
Seahawks 2 3 2 2 4

Wentz has stepped up in the face of pressure before, albeit without the big numbers that have helped define his MVP candidacy. The Chargers boast a ferocious pass rush between Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and a secondary led by the league’s best cornerback Casey Hayward. Though he completed fewer than 55 percent of his passes, Wentz helped lead a 6:44, clock-killing drive that extinguished any hopes of a Los Angeles comeback at home. The Eagles won that Week 4 matchup, 26-24.

He hasn’t been tested often, however. Six of the 10 teams the Eagles have played this season rank 20th in the league or worse when it comes to opposing passer rating allowed. Half of the teams he’s gone up against rank in the league’s bottom 16 when it comes to sack percentage. While there’s no denying Wentz’s greatness through the first 11 games of 2017, he’s rarely had to face the level of competition he’ll see in the playoffs.

That changes Sunday night.

But Carson Wentz doesn’t need to be prolific to be successful

Wentz has only thrown for 300+ yards in three games this season. In Philadelphia’s last six games — all wins — he topped out at 268 yards against Washington. With a devastating and deep running game in tow, he’s carved up opponents with accuracy and efficiency instead.

The sophomore quarterback’s efforts have been bolstered by the league’s No. 2 rushing attack. The Eagles have run for 147.5 yards per game this season, a mark that ranks only behind the Jaguars. But while Jacksonville uses the running game to account for nearly 37 percent of its touchdowns, only 22 percent of Philly’s scores have come on the ground.

That’s the difference between starting a guy like Blake Bortles and the showcase Wentz has put on in 2017. Wentz is throwing touchdowns on nearly eight percent of his passes, the highest mark among qualified quarterbacks. That’s been the catalyst behind a sterling 28:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio that’s pushed him into the top tier of NFL quarterbacks.

According to the NFL, only two players in league history have gotten through their team’s first 12 games with 30 touchdowns and fewer than five interceptions. That was Tom Brady in 2007 and Aaron Rodgers in 2011 and 2014. All three seasons ended in MVP honors for these future Hall of Famers.

If Wentz can find a way to keep his momentum rolling against one of the toughest defenses he’ll face in the regular season, he’ll join that pair on a very exclusive path. If not, it will be a bump in the road for a promising career — a reminder the Eagles’ playoff hopes rest on a second-year player.

The Seahawks, even minus a few key players, will present plenty of questions for Wentz to figure out on Sunday night. He doesn’t have to ace this test to be 2017’s MVP, but he’ll need at least a “B” to solve Seattle.