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Tom Brady leads tight MVP race heading into final stretch of 2017

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With a month left in the 2017 NFL season, let's take the temperature of what has turned into a very close MVP race.

There really isn't very much separating the first three of the top 10 candidates listed below; one could make a realistic argument for each of these players to be No. 1. This list reflects how I'd order the MVP race as of today, but it could change by next week.

First, a note: I feel there should almost be two MVP awards, one for quarterbacks and one for everybody else. I understand why quarterbacks have dominated this award in recent years, given how much more directly involved they are with what happens on the field than any other player, and that's why they naturally make up the top half of the list below. But I'd like to show some love to those who toil at other positions, as well. So the best non-QB candidates round out the bottom five.

One other thing: I couldn't list every player having a strong season. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, for example, is playing well, but I couldn't find room for him among the QBs, so he missed the cut.

THE QBs (OR, THE CONTENDERS)

1
Tom Brady
QB
Patriots

Brady's numbers are impressive enough on their own. When you consider that he's 40 years old and playing in his 18th NFL season, they're jaw-dropping. This Patriots team is not quite as strong as some past editions, but Brady just continues to win. Brady's leading the NFL in completions (300) and passing yards (3,632), with a yards-per-attempt figure (8.3) that matches the second-best of his career. He seems to know what the opposing defense is going to do before it happens. He can fire the ball in there or feather it, and he has a sixth sense to tell when rushers and blitzers are coming. Like Sandy Koufax, the older Brady gets, the better he gets.

2017 stats: 12 games | 68.5 pct | 3,632 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 26 pass TD | 4 INT

2
Russell Wilson
QB
Seahawks

Wilson and Carson Wentz are extremely close. These kinds of races come down to two things: numbers and feel. Given how similar Wilson's and Wentz's stats are, feel is the deciding factor. On Sunday morning, I had Wentz ahead of Wilson. But then Wilson's Seahawks beat Wentz's Eagles and, well, a W will do more for you than an L. Wilson is winning despite Seattle's run-game deficiencies and a defense missing Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril. Yet, Seattle (8-4) has a better record through Week 13 than it did at this point last season. The offense has no identity beyond Wilson -- everything runs through him. The quarterback has had a hand in all but one of Seattle's offensive touchdowns in 2017.

2017 stats: 12 games | 62.4 pct | 3,256 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 26 pass TD | 8 INT | 432 rush yds | 3 rush TD

3
Carson Wentz
QB
Eagles

In just his second NFL season, Wentz has helped turn the 10-2 Eagles into a legitimate Super Bowl contender. He has three more wins already than he did in his rookie season, plus a league-leading 29 touchdown passes (vs. 16 last year) against just six picks (vs. 14 last year). His yards-per-attempt figure has improved from 6.0 to 7.5. Of course, Wentz has been helped by Philadelphia's improved running back group and receiving corps. Even so, he's just barely behind Wilson and Brady in a chase that will likely come down to a photo finish. The amazing thing about Wentz is just how athletic he is for a player of his size (6-foot-5, 237 pounds). Nothing holds him back.

2017 stats: 12 games | 60.7 pct | 3,005 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 29 pass TD | 6 INT | 283 rush yds | 0 rush TD

4
Drew Brees
QB
Saints

Don't be fooled by Brees' statistical output, which is jarringly low for a quarterback who has averaged 5,000-plus passing yards over the past seven seasons. Most teams that start 0-2 tend to fold up the tent, but New Orleans (9-3) didn't, and I'm sure Brees' presence and leadership played a large role in overcoming that early stumbling block. Like Wentz in Philadelphia, Brees has benefitted from an improved supporting cast, with the defense and the Alvin Kamara- Mark Ingram running back duo taking on a larger-than-usual share of the burden in New Orleans. But that doesn't diminish Brees' importance to the Saints. The 17th-year pro has the kind of amazing ability to read defenses that only comes with experience. He knows when to get out of a play, and you can see how he orchestrates things on the line of scrimmage -- he's more or less a coach on the field.

2017 stats: 12 games | 71.5 pct | 3,298 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 17 pass TD | 5 INT | 2 rush TD

5
Jared Goff
QB
Rams

This has to be the biggest surprise of the top five candidates. Before the season started, there was some question as to whether Goff could even be the Rams' quarterback long-term. Since then, he's helped push Los Angeles (9-3) to Super Bowl contention while improving each week. Now we can see why Goff was picked first overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. He's just doing everything better, from spinning the ball to going to the right receivers. Goff has been helped by the resurgence of Todd Gurley -- the way the quarterback and running back feed off each other, they remind me of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys last season. Coach Sean McVay has played a huge role in Goff's success, coming up with some concepts that are totally new and novel -- if Goff were to win this award, he and McVay should split the trophy in half.

2017 stats: 12 games | 62.2 pct | 3,184 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 20 pass TD | 6 INT | 1 rush TD

NON-QB DIVISION

6
Antonio Brown
WR
Steelers

Brown is having another great season; he's on pace to post his fifth consecutive season with 100-plus catches and 1,200-plus receiving yards. He's been targeted 142 times and recorded just two drops. Moreover, Brown has an astounding 72 clutch catches (a catch that went for either a first down or touchdown) -- that's 81.8 percent of his catches. Even while sharing the offensive spotlight with standout running back Le'Veon Bell in Pittsburgh (10-2), Brown shines.

2017 stats: 12 games | 88 receptions | 1,296 receiving yds | 9 receiving TD | 14.7 ypc

7
Luke Kuechly
MLB
Panthers

The Panthers are 8-4 despite having a turnover differential of minus-6 and ranking 18th on offense -- and Kuechly is the reason for their success. Since entering the NFL in 2012, Kuechly has accumulated 782 combined tackles -- the most in the NFL in that span -- and 15 picks, a lot for a linebacker. He's very smart and has an outstanding (almost uncanny) ability to diagnose plays.

2017 stats: 11 games | 89 tackles | 5 passes defensed | 3 interceptions | 1 forced fumble

8
Calais Campbell
DE
Jaguars

The Jaguars (8-4) have allowed a league-best 178 points while piling up 45 sacks -- that's 12 more than the team had in all of 2016. The defense is loaded, but Campbell has been a significant spark, providing 12.5 sacks (that marks the first time in his career that he's reached double digits in that category).

2017 stats: 12 games | 46 tackles | 12.5 sacks | 1 pass defensed | 3 forced fumbles

9
Everson Griffen
DE
Vikings

Griffen has already matched a career high with 12 sacks -- and he's been a driving force on one of the best defenses in the NFL. Minnesota (10-2) has allowed just 204 points (second-best in the league) and just 289.1 yards per game (also second-best). He and Campbell can essentially be flip-flopped.

2017 stats: 11 games | 36 tackles | 12.0 sacks | 3 forced fumbles

10
Todd Gurley
RB
Rams

Gurley has more rushing yards now than he had all of last season, with a healthy improvement in yards per carry (3.2 to 4.2) and a much bigger role in the passing game (a per-game increase in targets from 3.6 to 5.5). His play has helped Jared Goff thrive. The quarterback has the edge in terms of ranking here because he does touch the ball on (and, thus, directly affect) every offensive play. But Gurley's impact can't be ignored.

2017 stats: 12 games | 223 attempts | 939 rushing yds | 4.2 ypa | 8 rushing TD | 48 receptions | 563 receiving yds | 3 receiving TD

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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