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Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes leads a contentious NFL MVP race

The NFL season hasn’t reached the halfway point yet but at least three quarterbacks, one running back and even a linebacker have already made a case to be included on the shortlist for the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

Historically speaking, one of those quarterbacks has the inside track. The position has won 10 of the past 11 MVP awards, and the six running backs who have won over the past 30 years have been historically good, either establishing a record for touchdowns or rushing for more than 2,000 yards in a season. The last defensive player to win the award was Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants, way back in 1986.

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And since 2006, the first year ESPN has calculated their Total Quarterback Rating, eight of the last 11 quarterbacks to win the MVP award ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in QBR. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ranked No. 3 in QBR when he won the award last season, leaving Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers as the only true outlier (No. 11 in 2015). Newton strengthened his case for the award that year with 10 rushing touchdowns in addition to the 35 he threw through the air.

The top three passers in QBR through the first six weeks of the season include Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints) and Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams). But Mahomes has a clear edge in terms of performance: His 84.9 QBR implies his team should win between 13 and 14 games during a 16-game season. Brees and Goff, on the other hand, would be estimated to earn their respective teams one fewer win per season.

Mahomes passes the eye test, too. The 2017 first-round pick out of Texas Tech has completed almost 64 percent of his passes for 1,865 yards and a league-leading 18 touchdowns in addition to a league-low sack rate (2.8 percent), a key number considering the Chiefs (No. 8) have a lower rated pass-blocking unit than either the Rams (No. 3) or the Saints (No. 7) per the game charters at Pro Football Focus.

Brees and Goff have their own accolades — the former is on pace to set the NFL’s record for single-season completion percentage, and the latter is the steward of a 6-0 team — yet they have knocks on their resume as well.

For example, Mahomes has the statistical edge over Brees in QBR, net yards per attempt, adjusted net yards per attempt (an updated version of a quarterback’s passer rating which also correlates more with winning), touchdown rate, sack rate, rushing yards and rushing yards per attempt. Goff, meanwhile, could be overshadowed by his teammate, running back Todd Gurley.

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Gurley leads the NFL in rushing attempts (129), rushing yards (623), rushing touchdowns (nine), touches (150), yards from scrimmage (870) and total touchdowns (11). He exploded for a career-high 208 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Denver Broncos, making him the first Rams player to rush for 200 yards and two touchdowns since Marshall Faulk in 2001. Goff, by comparison, completed 14 of 28 passes for 201 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in that matchup against Denver. But even assuming Gurley continues his torrid pace, it is unlikely he surpasses the 2,000-yard mark or establishes a new rushing touchdown record like running backs Adrian Peterson (2012), LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) or Shaun Alexander (2005) did when they earned the league’s MVP award.

That leaves Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack as the last player who should challenge Mahomes for MVP honors.

Mack has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Bears. The three-time Pro Bowler has 15 solo tackles with five sacks, one hit, 19 hurries and one pick-six in 2018, per Pro Football Focus, earning him their fifth-best overall grade among edge rushers this season. However, that still leaves four edge rushers — Brandon Graham, Myles Garrett, Jerry Hughes and J.J. Watt — in front of him, opening the door for criticism he isn’t the best defender in the league, let alone the most valuable.

There is no doubt Mack’s departure has helped fuel the tailspin of the Oakland Raiders, who traded Mack away this offseason, adding credence to his value overall, but taking into account his position’s success rate for winning the award in addition to how much Mahomes towers over the offensive competition, it is clear Mahomes should be the front-runner for this year’s MVP award.

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