Tuesday, January 25, 2022

2021 NFL MVP watch: Aaron Rodgers still ahead of Tom Brady, with Jonathan Taylor, Cooper Kupp close behind

We’re through the first 16 weeks of the 2021 NFL season, which means it’s once again time for our weekly check-in on the MVP race. We have been and will continue to use this space over the final few weeks of the regular season to take the temperature of our rotating panel of experts, trying to get a feel for who is in the lead, who is in contention, who is hanging on the fringes, and how those groups are changing from week to week. 

Each of our experts was asked to submit their top-five MVP rankings. Five points were awarded for a first-place vote, four for a second-place vote, three for a third-place vote, two for a fourth-place vote, and one for a fifth-place vote.

We’re into the stretch run of the campaign now, and the picture is solidifying. It appears we have a two-man race at the top between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, with a whole mess of candidates fighting for down-ballot votes. Whether or not any of them have a chance to crash the party obviously remains to be seen. 

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Without further ado, let’s get to the voting…

The panel of voters: Jonathan Jones, Will Brinson, Ryan Wilson, John Breech, Jared Dubin, Jordan Dajani, Bryan DeArdo, Cody Benjamin, Josh Edwards, Chris Trapasso, Tyler Sullivan, Jeff Kerr

The full MVP leaderboard

1. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (55)

2. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (44)

3. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor (24)

4.  Rams WR Cooper Kupp (19)

5. Bills QB Josh Allen (15)

6. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (9)

7. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (5)*

8. Bengals QB Joe Burrow (4)*

T-9. Rams QB Matthew Stafford (1)

T-9. Steelers DE T.J. Watt (1)

*New on the list this week

Dropped out: 49ers WR Deebo Samuel, Chargers QB Justin Herbert, Cardinals QB Kyler Murray

Most first-place votes:

  • Aaron Rodgers (9 out of 11)
  • Tom Brady (2)
  • Cooper Kupp (1)

Most second-place votes:

  • Tom Brady (7)
  • Cooper Kupp (3)
  • Aaron Rodgers (2)

Most total ballots: 

  • Aaron Rodgers (12 out of 12)

  • Tom Brady (11)
  • Jonathan Taylor (8)
  • Cooper Kupp, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes (7)

Positional representation:

  • QB (7)
  • WR (1)
  • RB (1)
  • DE (1)

So who will actually win?

Rodgers is both the leader in our poll and a heavy betting favorite. Caesars Sportsbook lists Rodgers’ odds at -170, with Taylor and Brady trailing behind at +700 apiece. The only other players with better than 50-to-1 odds are Mahomes (+900), Allen (+1200), Prescott (+1800), Kupp (+2500), Burrow (+4000), and Stafford (+5000). 

We’ve been saying for the last several weeks that the race for the top seed in the NFC will play a major role in determining who ultimately wins MVP, and that still seems likely to end up being the case. Rodgers and the Packers are currently in the driver’s seat, and if they win their last two regular-season games (against the Vikings and Lions), it’s difficult to see somebody else surpassing him in the voting. 

If the Packers falter, however, that could open the door for somebody else. Specifically, the Cowboys have the best shot to take over the No. 1 seed down the stretch, due to their ownership of the conference record tiebreaker. If Prescott plays anything remotely like he did against the Football Team on Sunday night, against he Cardinals this weekend and the Eagles in Week 18, leading Dallas to the No. 1 seed, he could jump into the mix. 

If Dallas were to lose one of its two games as well, then Brady and the Buccaneers could capture the No. 1 seed, perhaps vaulting him back ahead of Rodgers after getting knocked off his perch last week. The Chiefs are in line for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and if Mahomes continues playing like he has over the last several weeks, then he might actually be best positioned to take the award away from Rodgers. 

It’s notable that Taylor now is tied with Brady for the second-best odds at Caesars, though it is extremely difficult to see a running back from a team that finishes in second place in its own division actually winning MVP. (If the Titans beat the Dolphins on Sunday or the Texans in Week 18, they’ll clinch the AFC South.) Stafford and Kupp’s fortunes in the race seem somewhat tied together, as it’s unlikely for Stafford to succeed unless the passing offense runs through Kupp, as it has for much of the year. If Burrow and the Bengals beat the Chiefs this Sunday, then there could be a groundswell of support for the second-year quarterback based on his comeback from an ACL year, monster game against Baltimore last week, and de-throning of a probable Super Bowl contender. 

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