The regular season comes to a close on Sunday. For 12 of the NFL's 32 teams, the journey will continue into January. Personnel from the other 20 teams will head off to the golf course/night club/comic convention/reality television series of their choosing. Treat yourselves, guys.
Sunday also marks the final opportunity for this year's top MVP candidates to make an impression on voters. Truth be told, we wish more of the top MVP hopefuls were actually, you know, playing in Week 17, but you can't control these things. At least you can bemoan them.
Here's how the MVP race looks from where we stand. Just a reminder: 2016 MVP Matt Ryan will place the diamond tiara atop the head of the 2017 winner at midnight of Super Bowl Eve. (That's not actually how it works, but you can't deny that would be a way more entertaining scenario.) Anyway, let's get to it.
Why he'll win:
Historically, this is an award for the guy behind center. Recent trends suggest that won't change: Quarterbacks have won the MVP in nine of the last 10 years. This makes sense, considering quarterback is, by far, the game's most important position. Brady is the clubhouse leader for three reasons: 1) He's had another stellar season statistically 2) The Patriots are (still) the NFL's best team and 3) Several of Brady's greatest threats to the hardware have been knocked out of contention by injuries (more on that later). Don't discount the saucy narrative at play, either. Brady is doing all this at 40 years old, which is literally unprecedented. Peyton Manning, Brady's greatest rival, was a shell of his former self by his 39th birthday. An MVP vote for Brady is like landing an uppercut against Father Time -- and who wouldn't want to do that?
Why he won't:
Brady is the consensus pick for the greatest quarterback of all-time. If that's true, how can he only have two MVP awards in 18 seasons? It makes you wonder if voters find reasons not to vote for poor Tommy Boy. I'd guess it's probably less a far-ranging conspiracy and more the simple fact that voting Tom Brady as MVP is just, well, boring. If you're looking for a real reason to snub 12, you can fairly shine a light on some middling production of late. Over the past four weeks, Brady has thrown just four touchdown passes with five interceptions. His passer rating is a mundane 81.8 over that stretch, which includes a true primetime stinker against the Dolphins in Week 15 (and, to be fair, a game-winning drive to beat the Steelers the following Sunday). Shredding the Jets this weekend may be the final lift Brady needs for MVP No. 3.
Why he'll win:
The narrative that a running back can't win MVP unless records are crumbling at his feet is overblown. Yes, this is generally a QB award, but six running backs have claimed the trophy in the last 20 years. So let's not act like Gurley has no chance just because he didn't run for 2,000 yards like Adrian Peterson in 2012. Gurley actually compares quite favorably to All Day in '12 when you put their numbers side by side. Then there's this from our NFL Media Research Department: Gurley is the third player in NFL history with 2,000-plus scrimmage yards, 10-plus rushing touchdowns and six-plus rushing touchdowns in a season. Marshall Faulk and O.J. Simpson are the only other guys to do it. I mean, that's pretty historical, right? Faulk and the Juice both won MVP awards, by the way.
Why he won't:
No one will argue that Brady is the engine that makes the Patriots go on offense. You can probably say the same for Gurley and the Rams, but the remarkable turnaround in Los Angeles has many fathers -- Jared Goff and Sean McVay included. The Rams are on pace to become the first team in NFL history to go from last in scoring (14.0 in 2016) to first the following year (31.0 through Week 16). That is amazing, and it's the product of a near-perfect recalibration of the entire machine. Also not helping the MVP cause: Gurley won't play against the 49ers on Sunday, a shame considering the man has been on an absolute tear over the past month. One more week of obscene numbers might have been enough to give Gurley a slight edge of Brady. Instead, he'll stand where he is.
STRUCK DOWN BY THE GODS
If Wentz didn't blow out his knee, I believe there was a very strong chance he would have won this award going away. He was that good. And this was only his second season! All is not lost, denizens of Philadelphia.
How great was Brown before that blasted calf injury early in the Patriots Bowl? He'll end up missing essentially the final three games of the regular season and still has an excellent shot to lead the NFL in receiving (DeAndre Hopkins trails Brown by 155 yards entering Sunday). A healthy Brown could have sniffed 125 catches, 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns -- video game production that would've warranted serious consideration regardless of the wide receiver bias of MVP voters. Alas.
STILL ALIVE WITH A WILDLY HISTORIC WEEK 17 PERFORMANCE
Wilson is ground zero in the "What does 'most valuable player' really mean, mannnnn?" debate that will rage until the sun burns out. No team in the NFL has leaned harder on a single player than the Seahawks have on their star quarterback. Seattle has asked Wilson to do everything this year, and he pretty much went, "OK."
If this compromised Seahawks team finds a way into the playoffs this weekend, consider it one of Wilson's greatest career achievements. That said, his MVP candidacy officially died for us when the Rams went into Seattle in Week 15 and sucked out the soul of the perennial NFC West powerhouse. That's one of my (previously) unwritten rules: Once you lose soul ownership rights, you cannot win an Associated Press trophy.
Keenum won't land the tiara (there is no tiara), but how cool is it that his name has been surfaced at all in this conversation? Sports, man. Don't be stunned if a couple of voters get frisky and show the likable journeyman quarterback some love. Like I wrote earlier, narrative matters and Keenum is a great story. Maybe Keenum ends up being the Ross Perot of this MVP race: He won't seriously contend for the big chair, but he could shake up the establishment enough to swing the election.