2016 NFL MVP race: Can Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott catch Tom Brady, Derek Carr?

We're headed down the home stretch, not only for the postseason, but also for postseason awards, including Most Valuable Player. With five regular-season games remaining, the race is wide open.

We're going to put this to a vote and update the results every week. Specifically: We've asked our colleagues at CBSSports.com for their top five MVP candidates, along with an explanation. The CliffsNotes takeaway: Despite the Cowboys' 10-1 record, and the unexpected emergence of rookies Dak Prescott and, to a lesser degree, Ezekiel Elliott, the unanimous MVP choices among voters don't play in Dallas. Instead, Tom Brady, the 39-year-old two-time MVP winner who spent the first month of the season on the couch because of the Deflategate silliness, joins Derek Carr, who is in only his third NFL season.

Brady has 2,201 yards, 18 touchdowns and just one interception in seven games, and boasts a 116.7 passer rating. Carr, meanwhile, has 3,115 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions in 11 games to go along with a 100.5 passer rating. And if you're into the whole advanced stats thing, Brady is No. 1 in value per play among passers, according to Football Outsiders' metrics, and Carr is No. 5. And according to Pro Football Focus, Brady grades out as the league's best quarterback while Carr is third.

If you're wondering, Prescott -- a fourth-round afterthought six months ago who has since displaced Tony Romo on the NFL's best team -- is No. 2 in value per play and seventh in PFF's grading system. Not too shabby for a guy who wasn't even Jerry Jones' first pick to succeed Romo.

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Can a rookie win the MVP award for the first time since 1957? USATSI

All right, let's get to it. Below, the total vote tally, followed by our picks and those of our co-workers.

The leaderboard

  1. Tom Brady, Patriots: 19 points
  2. Derek Carr, Raiders: 15
  3. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys: 13
  4. Matt Ryan, Falcons: 11
  5. Dak Prescott, Cowboys: 8
  6. Russell Wilson, Seahawks: 4
  7. Matthew Stafford, Lions: 4
  8. David Johnson, Cardinals: 1

My picks

  1. Carr
  2. Brady
  3. Wilson
  4. Stafford
  5. Ryan

So here's the deal, I left Prescott and Elliott off for five very simple reasons: The Cowboys' offensive line is arguably more deserving than the two guys who line up behind them. This isn't a slight against the rookies, or ignoring the fact that Prescott and Elliott haven't been good -- look, I acknowledge that Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Darren McFadden were slightly less successful in the roles last season -- but it's also hard to overlook what the other names on this list have accomplished.

(Fun fact: The last rookie who won MVP? Jim Brown in 1957.)

I've already talked about Carr and Brady. And Wilson, for all his detractors, is finally healthy after battling an ankle injury for the first half of the season. Here's your math equation of the day: (Matthew Stafford + Marvin Jones) x Jim Bob Cooter > Matthew Stafford + Calvin Johnson. And Ryan, who we figured never again would regain his early career form, looks like a completely different player in 2016 (he ranks No. 2 in both FO's and PFF's QB rankings).

Will Brinson's top 5

  1. Carr
  2. Brady
  3. Ryan
  4. Stafford
  5. Wilson

There are many reasons the Raiders are 9-2, but Carr is probably the biggest. He's been incredible in the fourth quarter and led Oakland to a comeback victory with a dislocated finger against the Panthers on Sunday.

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Derek Carr has led the Raiders to an impressive 9-2 start. USATSI

Brady has been dominant since he came back. The Patriots won without him but they aren't chasing a Super Bowl sans Brady. Ryan is leading the league with a ridiculous 9.3 yards per attempt and somehow is not getting any attention even though the Falcons just keep rolling. Megatron retired and Stafford not only didn't skip a beat, he got BETTER. The Lions aren't a great football team, but they keep finding ways to win despite trailing in the fourth quarter in every single one of their games this season. It's Stafford's development that's cause the improvement. Finally, recency bias is pushing him down, after Wilson's terrible game against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Otherwise he's been incredible considering the bad offensive line play and injuries he's encountered.

Sean Wagner-McGough's top 5

  1. Brady
  2. Elliott
  3. Prescott
  4. Carr
  5. David Johnson

The first four aren't controversial, considering they're among the league-leaders at their positions and their teams are among the league's best. Johnson, though, isn't on a good team, so I just wanted to clear up why I included him: Simply put, he's been remarkable. He leads the NFL with 1,534 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage, which means he's outproducing Elliott. He deserves to be in the conversation.

John Breech's top 5

  1. Brady
  2. Elliott
  3. Ryan
  4. Prescott
  5. Carr

I decided to use my vote to spite Roger Goodell. I'm just kidding, that's only half true. The way I look at MVP is simple: If I need one player on my team to win a game this season, who do I want, and that person is definitely Brady. The Patriots quarterback has been unstoppable with an 18-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio that no one in the league can come close to. The problem with Elliott and Prescott is that I'm not sure who's more important to that offense, but I think it's Elliott. Basically, if Tony Romo started playing tomorrow, I think the Cowboys would still be one of the best teams in the NFC. However, if the Dallas lost Elliott tomorrow, I'd take away their Super Bowl contender status. As for Carr, he'll move up my ballot big time if the Raiders win two of their last three division games, which are all on the road. Finally, I wanted to put Justin Tucker on my ballot, but I didn't want to get ridiculed. He's in my imaginary sixth spot.

Jared Dubin's top 5

  1. Elliott
  2. Ryan
  3. Prescott
  4. Carr
  5. Brady

In the absence of a truly dominant player, I'm just going with the guy who has been the best player on the best team. Yes, Elliott benefits from that incredible offensive line, but if you think that's all he is, you're not watching this kid play. The four quarterbacks, you could place them in pretty much any order and I'd be fine with it. They all deserve serious consideration, though, and have a chance to push for the award down the stretch.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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