Analysis

MVP rankings: Who's leading race for top honor in Week 15?

*Now that we've hit the stretch run for the 2016 NFL season, Gregg Rosenthal will handicap the MVP race each Friday until the end of the regular season. *

The best two players in the NFL were suspended to start the season. That presents a challenge for voters. How much do they penalize Brady and Le'Veon Bell for missing time? To stand apart from the pack despite his suspension, Brady needed a spectacular game on a national stage. Three touchdowns and 400 yards without Gronk against the Ravens' defense will suffice. If he pulls off anything similar against the top-ranked pass defense in Denver this week, Brady should be the heavy favorite for the award.

Julio Jones' injury could wind up helping Ryan's case. He proved in Los Angeles that Atlanta's deep strike attack can still be dangerous without Jones and Mohamed Sanu. It was a reminder that Ryan is the engine that makes the league's best overall offense go.

Even in a relative "down" week, Zeke put up over 100 yards on the road against a quality defense. The schedule works in Elliott's favor down the stretch. All these prime-time games will be watched by voters, allowing Elliott a chance to leave a strong closing statement over the final weeks.

As these rankings show, I'm not holding the suspensions against Brady and Bell as disqualifying factors. The numbers for Bell are overwhelming. He is averaging 161.6 scrimmage yards-per-game, second most in NFL history. But watching Bell sets him apart. No other back moves like him, stops and starts like him, makes his opposition look childish like him.

Johnson's season is nearly as overwhelming as Bell's and he has the added benefit of playing every week. Put his numbers in perspective, Johnson's receiving yardage total (745) is nearly as much as Michael Floyd and John Brown have this season combined. Johnson has an outside chance to be the first player with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in a season since Marshall Faulk in 1999.

At this point, we're surprised when Stafford goes a week without making a ridiculous scramble followed by a ridiculous throw downfield followed by a ridiculous fourth-quarter comeback.

If "second-half MVP" was a thing, Rodgers and Bell might be at the top of the list. Since it's not and Rodgers' erratic first half still counts against his record, he will probably have to settle for being mentioned on lists like these in a supposed down year.

Carr probably has a better chance to win the real MVP than he does winding up at the top of my list. That takes nothing away from his incredible season; we just see his overall play coming in a tick below the other top-shelf quarterbacks on this list.

The Defensive Player of the Year award might well come down to Miller or Khalil Mack. Perhaps the award -- and Denver's season -- will be decided in Week 17 when the two teams face off.

Luck has to be sensational each week to overcome the team around him. He has been up to the task most weeks, but a lackluster game against Houston all but ended any MVP hopes.

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