Like the Seahawks during that Super Bowl season, the Eagles have been the NFC’s best team thanks to a combination of excellent play from their second-year quarterback, a strong running game and a stingy defense that likes to take the ball away.
A quarterback has been named the NFL’s MVP in 12 of the past 15 seasons. With no running backs threatening to top 2,000 yards or 20 touchdowns, a quarterback is going to win the award again — and it could be one of the two facing off this Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.
Here’s a closer look at the MVP cases for Wentz and Wilson from ESPN NFL Nation reporters Tim McManus and Brady Henderson.
Why he’s a front-runner for MVP
Wentz has the credentials in spades. Let’s start with the touchdowns. Wentz is the league leader in TDs (28) through 12 weeks. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, Dan Marino and Kurt Warner are the only two QBs to lead the NFL outright in TD passes in their first or second year since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Wentz has been near-flawless in the red zone (20 TDs, 0 INT) and lethal both on third down (66 percent completion rate, 11 TDs, 2 INTs) and against the blitz (11 TDs, 0 INT). Wentz is just the third NFL quarterback to throw 28-plus TDs and no more than five interceptions through 11 games, joining Brady and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
Wentz has lifted the level of play of those around him. The Eagles’ league-leading 351 points (32 per game) are the most in franchise history through 11 games. Most importantly, his team is winning. The Eagles are 10-1 for the fourth time in franchise history. The last two times they got out to that kind of start (2004, 1980), they went to the Super Bowl.
While he isn’t the front-runner, Wilson is firmly in the conversation. He’s third in passing touchdowns (23) and tied for fourth in passing yards per game (275), but Wilson’s case for MVP goes beyond the surface-level numbers.
It’s also about how he’s carrying Seattle’s offense at a historic rate. Wilson has accounted for almost 86 percent of Seattle’s scrimmage yards. According to the NFL, that would be the highest percentage for any player in the Super Bowl era. He has either thrown or rushed for all but one of Seattle’s 27 offensive touchdowns. His 401 rushing yards lead the team by a wide margin over the 208 from running back Chris Carson, who hasn’t played since Week 4. And Wilson has done it all with little threat of a running game and behind an offensive line that has struggled to protect him for much of the season.
Brady and Wentz have the better overall numbers, but perhaps no player in the league has been as valuable to his team as Wilson.
Where he could improve his case
The one stat for Wentz that sags relative to the rest is his completion rate. His 60.2 completion percentage ranks 29th in the NFL. “That’s definitely a number that I’d like to get higher,” Wentz said. “I’m not really crazy about stats at the end of the day — what really matters is wins and losses — but without a doubt I’d like that to get higher. But I do think it’s a product of taking more chances down the field, taking more shots, being aggressive.”
To Wentz’s point, he is averaging 9.66 air yards per attempt this season, per ESPN Stats & Information, third in the NFL behind Houston’s Deshaun Watson and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston. When you push the ball downfield, the connection rate is going to drop.
There is really no other area of his game that you can pick at right now.
Some of what will have to happen for Wilson to win the MVP award is out of his control, but one way he could help himself is by playing better early in games. Slow starts have been an ongoing issue for Seattle’s offense in general, Wilson included.
His splits by quarter are eye-popping. In the first quarter this season, Wilson has thrown three touchdowns to three interceptions with a 57.6 percent completion rate and 71.7 passer rating. In the fourth quarter: 14 TDs to one interception, a 70.8 percent completion rate and 134.9 rating. No quarterback could sustain that type of fourth-quarter production over a full game, but Wilson’s overall numbers — and therefore his MVP case — would be better if he and the rest of Seattle’s offense could get off to stronger starts.
What it will take for him to win it
The Eagles haven’t faced great competition this season, playing just two teams that currently have winning records. They’ll double that number over the next two Sundays with games at the Seahawks and Rams. If Wentz can outplay Wilson and Rams quarterback Jared Goff on the road, that will bolster an already glowing résumé. This is a key stretch for the Eagles. They play three straight road games beginning this Sunday (they’re at the Giants on Dec. 17) and do not return to Lincoln Financial Field until Christmas night, when they take on the Oakland Raiders. NFC contenders and home-field hopefuls such as the Vikings (9-2), Saints (8-3), Panthers (8-3) and Rams (8-3) are in position to pounce should the Eagles stumble.
If Wentz can navigate his team through this challenging stretch, the playoffs should run through Philly, and the second-year signal-caller out of North Dakota State should be the MVP.
Seattle making the playoffs, for one thing. The MVP usually doesn’t go to someone on a non-playoff team, and the Seahawks — currently seventh in the NFC — have their work cut out for them if they’re going to make it back to the postseason for the sixth straight year.
Their game against Philadelphia marks the start of a challenging three-game stretch, particularly for a defense that’s now without cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks then head across the country to play the Jaguars (7-4) before returning home to host the Rams (8-3). Wilson needs a strong finish to get Seattle back in the playoffs and make up ground on the other MVP candidates.
He can start by outdueling Wentz this Sunday night.