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Can Josh Allen win MVP? Evaluating the contenders for the NFL’s top honor

Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, or Josh Allen. Who will it be?

The 2020 NFL regular season has one week remaining, and Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen is a legitimate candidate for MVP. We don’t need to speak it into existence—along with Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen has been one of the three most valuable players in the league this year.

How well does Allen stack up against the competition? Is there a case for the first Buffalo Bills MVP since Thurman Thomas? Let’s examine the portfolios for each of the contenders and see how Buffalo’s best stacks up against the rest.

Josh Allen

378/547 (69.1 percent) for 4,320 yards (7.9 Y/A), 34 TDs, 9 INTs, 25 sacks. 100 carries for 418 yards (4.2 Y/A), 8 TDs, 9 fumbles. 1 catch for 12 yards and 1 TD. 43 total TDs.

The case for Allen

Josh Allen was once a “parody of an NFL draft prospect.” As a rookie, he looked like he didn’t know how to play from the pocket, and he was one of the league’s worst passers. In year two, Allen mastered the Kaio-ken, doubled his passing touchdowns, and tightened up his accuracy. He wasn’t a great passer, but Bills fans saw a path to winning through Allen’s raw playmaking talent, even with the mistakes that accompanied it.

This year, in year three, Allen became a Super Saiyan. He started the season as the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for September, and he’ll end it as the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in December. He already won four AFC Offensive Player of the Week awards, and he’ll likely win a fifth. Who else won five of those awards in a single season? MVP Lamar Jackson and MVP Tom Brady, to name a few.

Allen broke every Bills passing record this year (the passing yards record is technically 40 yards away, or approximately 1.0 Buffalo Bills offensive drives). He’s not just a “running QB” now—although he’s still dangerous on the ground. With eight rushing TDs this year, Allen has scored more rushing touchdowns to start his career than any quarterback not named Cam Newton. His 43 total touchdowns (34 passing, 8 rushing, 1 receiving) are second-best in the league behind Aaron Rodgers.

Allen’s been so dangerous because he transformed into a surgical passer. He modified his throwing mechanics and saw his accuracy zoom into the elite tier of the NFL. He’s gifted at reading defenses pre- and post-snap, executes offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system with A+ performance, and occasionally incorporates his own improvisation like a jazz drummer carrying the beat. Allen entered the league looking like Blake Bortles, but now he’s playing like Brett Favre.

In his first year playing with Allen, Stefon Diggs became an All-Pro caliber player. He leads the league in catches and receiving yards, and even if he doesn’t play next week, he still might maintain that lead. Cole Beasley is having his best season ever, and currently ranks 18th in receiving.

The Bills are 12-3, their greatest season since 1993. They could win 13 games, something that has only happened twice in 60 seasons. They’ve won their division for the first time in 25 years, have one of the league’s most potent offenses, and just wrapped up a full month of steamrolling their opponents on national television. None of that would be possible without Allen.

The case against Allen

Allen’s season is statistically remarkable, but it doesn’t stand head and shoulders above the competition. Aaron Rodgers is a more efficient passer who’s scored more touchdowns, and Patrick Mahomes put together more yards and a better win-loss record. Specifically comparing turnover-worthy plays, Allen has nine interceptions and nine fumbles. For Mahomes, it’s six interceptions and five fumbles, while Rodgers only has five interceptions and four fumbles.

As incredible as Allen’s start and finish to the season were, he had a disappointing middle stretch that dampened his numbers. From Week 5 through Week 8, Allen threw four TDs and four INTs, rushed for a touchdown but lost a fumble, only threw for 6.56 yards per attempt, and saw his team dominated by the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills finished 2-2 in that stretch, with a closer-than-you’d-like 18-10 win over the Jets, and a victory grasped from the jaws of defeat against the New England Patriots.

Neither Rodgers nor Mahomes endured a stretch of football that bad.

With no runaway favorite, and Allen’s season coming as such a surprise, we may see the voters looking to stick with a known quantity—a former MVP like Mahomes or Rodgers. Allen’s best chances may come in a muddy three-way field, where his narrative could give him enough sway to earn the plurality of votes, but it’s a tough argument to make. The Bills have already guaranteed at least the third seed in the AFC playoffs, so will they want to play their starters for a chance at the second seed? Allen might rest next week, which takes away any opportunity for a stronger closing argument.

Patrick Mahomes

390/588 (66.3 percent) for 4,740 yards (8.1 Y/A), 38 TDs, 6 INTs, 22 sacks. 62 carries for 308 yards (5.0 Y/A), 2 TDs, 5 fumbles. 40 total TDs.

The case for Mahomes

It’s been another remarkable year for the 2018 MVP, whose team is a league-leading 14-1 this season. Mahomes has had three fourth-quarter comebacks this year as he helped preserve his team’s number-one seed.

Mahomes operates an offensive juggernaut to near perfection, and he leads the NFL in total yards by a healthy margin. He helped Travis Kelce set a record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season—with one game still remaining.

Aesthetically, he’s still making the same breathtaking plays week after week. Mahomes is fully the “face” of the NFL at this point, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

The case against Mahomes

We like to see an MVP dominate the league, but after a red-hot first half of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs have been on shakier ground—and Mahomes is a factor, there. They’ve won their last seven games, but only by an average scoring margin of 3.9 points. Mahomes has had some of his worst games of the season in December—eight TDs, four INTs, eight sacks, three fumbles (one fumble lost) in his last four games.

Now, obviously, that’s not a bad stretch of football—but it’s a dip in production as the season comes to a close, and it allowed other contenders to strengthen their case, when Mahomes could’ve tied his up with a bow.

Aaron Rodgers

353/502 (70.3 percent) for 4,059 yards (8.1 Y/A), 44 TDs, 5 INTs, 19 sacks. 37 carries for 145 yards (3.9 Y/A), 3 TDs, 4 fumbles. 47 total TDs.

The case for Rodgers

The most efficient quarterback in NFL history might be having his greatest season ever. Remember, this is a two-time MVP—but this season looks even better. Rodgers has never completed 70 percent of his passes, but he’s at 70.3 percent with one game remaining. In 2011, Rodgers threw 45 touchdowns against 6 interceptions. Well, this year’s at 44 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, with one game remaining. Rodgers’s season-low for sacks (not counting injury shortened seasons) is 28, but he’s only been taken down 19 times this year.

Excuse me—I’m getting a call from the studio.

The studio has informed me that 19 sacks is even fewer than the injury-shortened 2013 (when Rodgers took 21 sacks in 9 games) and 2017 (22 sacks in 7 games).

Stat counting aside, Rodgers also deserves credit for leading his team to an NFC-leading 12-3 record. He’s helped Davante Adams blossom into the best receiver in the league this year, and he’s supported Robert Tonyan, who’s somehow been one of the league’s best tight ends.

Unlike Mahomes, Rodgers has something to play for next week—if the Green Bay Packers lose and the Seattle Seahawks win, the Packers lose the number-one seed. So Rodgers will have one more chance to pad his stats for the voters.

The case against Rodgers

There aren’t any easy targets here, which is why Rodgers should be considered the odds-on favorite for the award. You could say that Rodgers loses to Mahomes if Wins are the stat you care about most. Josh Allen’s record-breaking season is a strong narrative, but with one game to go, Rodgers can break plenty of Packers passing records himself.

You could argue that, because Rodgers will play in the final game of the season, his MVP status is the most at risk. A bad day against the Chicago Bears, and losing the number-one seed in the process, might sway the voters.

Either way, it’s hard to find a flaw here—so with neither Mahomes nor Allen seeing an incentive to play this weekend, Rodgers should win his third MVP award this year.