Russell Wilson should have won MVP in 2015. At the very least, I think he was a better candidate than eventual winner Cam Newton. Wilson had 34 touchdowns, eight interceptions, led the NFL in passer rating, and was just as inconsistent as Newton was that year but without a schedule as giving as the Panthers’ schedule that led to Carolina going 15-1.
Newton scored 45 total touchdowns that year and was very good but I don’t think he was even the biggest reason for the Panthers dominant record (defense leading the league in takeaways helps a lot) and Wilson had to overcome a lot to get the Seahawks into the playoffs; Marshawn Lynch was no longer much of a help, missing more than half of the season and averaging 3.8 YPC; Jimmy Graham landed on IR after 11 games; the offensive line the offensive line; the defense was still great but with a lot less turnovers forced.
Anyways, that was an argument for late 2015/early 2016 and we’re living in the now of late 2017. A not-so-apocalyptic “future” in which Newton fights for relevance as a quarterback who in the two seasons since his MVP has gone 14-12 with 35 touchdowns, 25 interceptions, 6.9 Y/A, 56.1% completions, and a passer rating of 78.9, with 874 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
In that same time, Wilson is 18-9-1, 47 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, 7.6 Y/A, 63.7% completions, a passer rating of 94.5, with 691 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
The total body of work almost looks like a regression to Wilson’s mean compared to how he played in the final seven games of 2015 (24 touchdowns, one interception) but in fact Wilson is doing a lot more work and with significantly less support. Because of that, I am actually starting to believe that he will be the MVP for 2017. Here are a few of the biggest reasons why.
As Sean Clement noted the other day on Field Gulls, people are starting to pay attention to Wilson’s MVP candidacy and many are even calling him the frontrunner. That was not happening in 2015. Not with Wilson, at least. He doesn’t have the perfect record that Newton had after a 14-0 start but like Newton that year, he’s the guy now getting the MVP talk in December.
I think Wilson is going to win the MVP in large part because the voters are telling us that he could be the MVP.
The Volume Passing Stats
Wilson has often been dinged for not being “enough” of his offense when the team’s offensive identity circled around Lynch and the running game. That obviously cannot be the case anymore as the Seahawks don’t have Marshawn Lynch or a running game. Because of that, Wilson leads the NFL in pass attempts (442) and total yards per game (307.3).
Unless something happens to Tom Brady, nobody else except for Brady is going to lead the league in passing yards. But Wilson only has a short climb to go from his current passing yardage ranking of sixth to catch Matthew Stafford for second. Passing yards is probably not as important to an MVP race as passer rating, but this season you definitely can’t fault Wilson for not trying.
The rapid increase in attempts means that Wilson has seen his Y/A dip and his total interceptions rise, but not to a hugely negative degree. He’s clearly going through some of the same mid-career transitions and progressions as what guys like Brady and Ben Roethlisberger went through after being heavily contained early on as pros.
He’s a quarterback who is his offense, both through the air and the ground.
That One Weird Stat - Leading the Seahawks in Rushing
Beyond just having good passing stats, an MVP may also have that standout stat or fact that pushes him over the top. For Matt Ryan in 2016, it was hard to ignore his 9.3 Y/A and 117.1 rating. For Newton, it was 45 total touchdowns. For Adrian Peterson in 2012, he crossed the 2,000-yard threshold.
Wilson’s standout stat must also be his involvement in the run game, as being Seattle’s closest thing to Adrian Peterson.
Not only does Wilson lead the Seahawks in rushing yards (432, three touchdowns) but he has more than double than any teammate. Mike Davis is going to be the primary ballcarrier for now, but he’d have to have a monster final quarter of the season to push Wilson for the 2017 season lead — he’s only at 82 yards with four games to go. Even if Eddie Lacy took over again (and why?) he’s only at 179 yards.
MVP voters always want to defend their MVP pick with just one simple fact. “Look, Newton had 45 total touchdowns.” “Look, Ryan lapped the field in Y/A.”
“Look, the guy threw for over 4,000 yards and led his team in rushing.” It’s an easy argument.
Lesser Help Elsewhere
The Hawks are getting good pass protection since trading for Duane Brown at left tackle, but literally everyone in the world knows that Wilson has spent the vast majority of this season without adequate help in that area. He still kept producing and giving the offense opportunities to score. There’s also the matter of a defense that constantly got the most attention and credit for Seattle’s success, but right now they stand just above average, while losing stars like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Cliff Avril. He still keeps them in games. I think the Seahawks defense has been a lot better than what most people think, but in this case all that matters is what most people think.
Most would agree this is not the dominant defense we’re used to seeing from this team, and so more credit goes to the quarterback.
Big Wins, Big Opportunities
Wilson got a lot of attention (even for him) after winning a shootout against Deshaun Watson. He had a great game while Seattle took care of the Philadelphia Eagles and the former leading MVP candidate, Carson Wentz. He has two game-winning drives, a third against Washington that was wiped out by a terrible defensive drive by the Seahawks, and still nearly led them back into field goal range, and also gave his team a chance to tie the Falcons at the last second.
The opportunities that lie ahead: Beating the number one pass defense on the road (Jags) and sweeping the LA Rams. These next two games, if they are wins, would get Seattle to 10 wins for the sixth time in six years under Wilson and perhaps be enough for him to lock down the award with two weeks to spare. (The final games never matter in the MVP voting anyhow.)
Wentz - Was an “obvious” MVP when he led the NFL in touchdown passes and the Eagles were 10-1. He still leads the NFL in touchdowns (29) but Wilson is tied for second (26) and isn’t far behind. Philly is now 10-2, which is great, but still has a head-to-head loss against Wilson under the spotlight. He’s got the Rams defense this week and if he struggles against Aaron Donald and the number three pass defense, it potentially puts him out of the conversation; November/Early December is definitely the time of year you want to dominate, not deflate. Wilson and Wentz both have extremely tough matchups this weekend.
Tom Brady - He’s the NFL leader in passer rating and he’s Tom Brady, but that almost seems like a detriment. Voters must find voting for Brady to be boring because I think he should have beaten Ryan last year and probably won MVP at least a couple of other times. There’s also always a considerable amount of credit going to Bill Belichick.
A running back - You almost have to rush for 2,000 yards to be considered. Le’Veon Bell leads the league with 1,057 yards but he has six touchdowns and three fumbles. Todd Gurley has 11 touchdowns, but five fumbles and probably loses some votes because of the presence of Jared Goff and Sean McVay.
I don’t really know who else you could possibly give the award to besides Wilson, Wentz, or Brady. Drew Brees has 17 touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers got hurt. Jared Goff is obviously still behind Wentz. Matthew Stafford only has the Lions at 6-6. It’s a three-way race and nobody seems to be talking about Brady while Wentz is coming off of the primetime loss to Wilson.
There seems to be a clear frontrunner. And it’s not Cam Newton.