Patrick Mahomes is probably the NFL MVP. The race for the league’s most prestigious award was coming down to the wire, but it looks like the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-year starter locked it up in Week 13.
Mahomes finished with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 40-33 win against the Raiders — his seventh game with at least four touchdowns. But securing MVP honors Sunday had less to do with Mahomes’ performance and more to do with the poor performances of the two other MVP favorites: Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.
Brees was coming on as an MVP favorite, but finished with 127 passing yards against the Cowboys. He led the Saints to just 176 yards, the franchise’s worst offensive performance since Aaron Brooks was the quarterback in 2001.
Meanwhile, Mahomes did what he’s done all year: rip a defense to shreds.
Now, Mahomes has 41 touchdowns — nine more than Luck and 11 more than Brees. With the Los Angeles Chargers breathing down the Chiefs’ neck in the AFC West, expect Mahomes to keep the pedal to the metal for the last four games of the season. That means Mahomes looks likely to become the third quarterback ever to eclipse 50 touchdowns in a season.
He’s the reason the Chiefs currently have the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and he’s more than deserving of the MVP award. But Mahomes’ season is more than that — it’s one of the best years ever by an NFL quarterback. Let’s review:
Let’s talk about the touchdowns, first and foremost. Because, whew buddy, Mahomes is scoring a bunch.
Mahomes is on pace for 54.7 passing touchdowns, so Peyton Manning’s record of 55 touchdowns is definitely within reach. Maybe even the 57 touchdowns he needs for Heinz ketchup for life, if the offer still stands. Mahomes needs nine more in the final four games of the year to join Manning and Tom Brady as the only ones to ever reach 50.
He also has 238 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Manning’s career-high was 157 rushing yards way back in 2001, and Brady’s is 110 yards in 2002.
Given his current pace, Mahomes is on track to finish with 5,231 passing yards, 54.7 touchdowns, 317 rushing yards, and 2.7 rushing touchdowns. That’d be a tour de force you could argue is the best season ever for a quarterback — even if comes up shy of passing records. He’s already running laps around the rest of the NFL. Mahomes has accounted for 43 total touchdowns, which is more than 28 teams in the NFL have scored this season.
And here’s the part where we’ll remind you that Mahomes turned 23 years old this year and is in his first season as the Chiefs’ starter. For most quarterbacks, that’s a time that involves slogging through mistakes and adjusting to the speed of the NFL. Mahomes isn’t perfect — he has 10 interceptions, but that’s not many for a quarterback who throws downfield as often as he does.
The only quarterback to ever post a passer rating above 105 in a season before turning 24 was Dan Marino, who he had a 108.9 rating in 1984. Mahomes’ is 118.1, which would be the fifth-highest rated season ever.
Mahomes’ season is basically statistics porn — even by 2018 standards — and more than enough for an MVP award.
Valuable is the key word in MVP.
If there’s an argument against Mahomes, it’s that the Chiefs had double-digit wins in each of their last three seasons with Alex Smith at the helm. Kansas City was No. 5 in total offense in 2017 and it’s now No. 3 a year later.
So is Mahomes really a touchdown prodigy, or just the latest guy reaping the benefits of Andy Reid’s offensive genius?
There’s no doubt that Reid has helped with Mahomes’ rapid ascension to one of the NFL’s elite. But all it takes is just watching a little bit of a Chiefs game to see that Mahomes is a special kind of player.
Smith threw a career-best 26 touchdowns during the 2017 season. Mahomes may double that number because he can do absurd things like this:
Mahomes has been helped by an offensive line that allows him to get sacked on just 12.4 percent of his dropbacks — the third-lowest rate in the NFL behind Luck’s 9.1 percent and Brees’ 12.1 percent. He’s also helped by Reid’s offensive scheming, and by receiving options that include Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins.
But the main reason the Chiefs are leading the league with 37 points per game because Mahomes can do things nobody else can do. Like the fact that flushing him out of the pocket may even be more dangerous than keeping him in it.
Patrick Mahomes finished 9/12, 147 yards and 3 TD when throwing "On the Run" in the Chiefs 40-33 win against the Raiders.@PatrickMahomes5 now has 10 TD this season when traveling 8+ MPH at time of throw. No other quarterback has more than 6.#KCvsOAK #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/Nsj7FSB7QC— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 3, 2018
Make him throw quickly and he’ll burn you.
Patrick Mahomes has been one of the best QBs in the NFL on quick passes (when time to throw < 2.50 sec).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 7, 2018
Mahomes’ ability to get the ball out quick should help keep one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, Chandler Jones, in check in their Week 10 matchup.#ARIvsKC #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/Z2ZA3GVyHi
How do you stop him? Uh ... we’ll let you know once a team figures that out.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team to keep Mahomes from throwing a touchdown pass this year, but he scored a rushing touchdown in that game and didn’t need to throw much in a 30-14 win. He still finished with over 300 passing yards — something only he and Ben Roethlisberger have managed to do against the Jaguars’ defense since the beginning of the 2017 season.
The Chiefs’ only two losses of the year can’t be pinned on Mahomes either. He threw for 352 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions in a 43-40 loss to the Patriots. And in the game of the year, Mahomes had 478 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions in a 54-51 loss to the Rams.
Imagine the Chiefs producing anywhere near that level with Mahomes’ backup, Chad Henne, at the helm. Henne has 58 touchdowns and 63 interceptions in his career. He and Mark Sanchez the only two quarterbacks with over 1,000 pass attempts in the last decade and more interceptions than touchdowns.
So yeah, Mahomes is as valuable as it gets.
MVP likeliness: 9.6
It’d be surprising if Mahomes found a way to lose his grip on MVP honors in the last month of the regular season.
Of course, there’s always the possibility he has the come-down-to-Earth game that stunted the chances of Brees and Luck. The Chiefs are set to play top-10 scoring defenses in each of the next three weeks (the Ravens, Chargers, and Seahawks).
Brees’ argument for the award is efficiency and consistency, and Luck’s was a streak of three-touchdown games that dragged the Colts into the playoff race. Both of those narratives deteriorated in a big way in Week 13. One bad showing by Mahomes wouldn’t be enough to erase his nine-touchdown lead over the rest of the NFL.
There’s also Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who somehow has 16.5 sacks through 12 games, despite rushing from the interior and facing double teams on the majority of his snaps. But even if he challenges the single-season sack record, it’d be hard to argue he’s more valuable to his team than Mahomes.
As long as Mahomes doesn’t have a December meltdown, his stats warrant the NFL’s top award. After Sunday, it looks like the race is over.