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Choosing the NFL’s MVP all depends on how you define it

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Ask 10 people what it means for a player to be the most valuable and you might get 10 different answers. Is it the best player in the league? The most indispensable? Do we measure value by stats such as yards and touchdowns or in wins? How about performance in relation to salary?

The best way to go about it? That’s for you to decide, but here is a player for each definition to help you along.

Best player on the best team

The best team has the most success against the toughest opponents. Sure, the Carolina Panthers are undefeated, but they’ve compiled that record against a schedule that includes the Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons. Every NFL team will play sub-par opponents, but according to the Simple Rating System, which adjusts margin of victory for strength of schedule, the Panthers were 8.9 points per game better than average. That’s third in the NFC and seventh overall in the NFL. The team that scored the most against the toughest competition? The Arizona Cardinals (12.4 SRS).

And the best player on the Cardinals is quarterback Carson Palmer.

Palmer has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 4,277 yards with a 32-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, giving him the highest Total Quarterback Rating in the NFL at 83.5. The game charters at Pro Football Focus assign a grade to each individual play and have Palmer as the highest rated quarterback both now and throughout the season.

Palmer also passes the smell test: he ranks third in passing yards, third in passing touchdowns, second in passer rating (106.7), fifth in yards per game (305.5), first in yards per pass (8.8) and first in yards per completion (13.7).

Player who had the best season

Cam Newton.

Newton has thrown for 3,402 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this year, adding another 580 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground — making him one of the NFL’s true dual-threat quarterbacks. He also leads the league in touchdown percentage, with 7.5 percent of his passes resulting in a score, and game-winning drives (four).

He has won NFC offensive player of the week honors three times in five weeks, becoming the first quarterback since Tom Brady (2007) to win a conference offensive player of the week award three times in a five-week span.

On Sunday, Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history with five passing touchdowns and 100 rushing yards in a single game. He became just the second player in NFL history with 300 pass yards and 100 rush yards in the same game, joining Russell Wilson in 2014. It was also his third game with five touchdown passes this season — since 1999, only Peyton Manning has more (four).

Most indispensable player

The game charters at Pro Football Focus assign player grades that allow us to compare the impact of players from different positions. For example, Palmer is the highest rated passer (54.9) while the Rams’ Aaron Donald is the best interior defenseman (78.8). However, no player has a bigger advantage over their closest competition than the Raiders’ Khalil Mack (69.3).

The defensive player of the year candidate leads the NFL with 15 sacks and has a hand in 16 sacks, six hits and 48 hurries on his 468 pass rushes this season. His play against the run has also been a problem for teams all year.

Mack’s run stop percentage of 9.8 percent is second best among outside linebackers playing in a 3-4 scheme and he had 45 solo tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, six more than Oliver Vernon, the next best edge rusher per Pro Football Focus.

The Raiders’ struggled to become a playoff team this year, but take away Mack from the defense and their next best edge rusher is Mario Edwards Jr., who had 15 total sacks, hits and hurries against opposing quarterbacks with just seven solo tackles for a loss.

Plus, Mack did it on a contract that had a cap hit of $4.24 million, making him one of the best values in the NFL.