2018 NFL MVP Watch: Brees maintains lead over Mahomes, Rivers surges up the leaderboard

As the Saints continue to establish themselves as the NFL's best team, Drew Brees has cemented his status as the frontrunner for league MVP.

For a second-straight week, Brees placed ahead of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in CBS Sports' MVP ballot, once again finishing in first place on all five individual ballots. With only five games remaining in the season, this is Brees' award to lose. Mahomes is a worthy challenger, but he's got some ground to make up in a very limited timeframe. 

In the third edition of CBS Sports' MVP ballot, the top two spots remained completely unchanged from last week. Brees is our unanimous MVP while Mahomes secured all five second-place votes. This shouldn't come as a surprise given Mahomes enjoyed his bye this past weekend while Brees threw for 171 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception in one of his worst games of the season. What Brees is doing right now -- 76.4 completion percentage, 3,135 yards, 29 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 127.3 passer rating -- is historically impressive especially after factoring in his age (39). Unless he struggles and Mahomes goes on a tear down the stretch, Brees should walk away with his first MVP award.

Just because the top two spots were unanimous doesn't mean the rest of the ballot isn't noteworthy. What's worthy of mentioning is that Philip Rivers was the biggest mover from last week to this week, jumping from sixth-place with four points to third place with 10 points (stream Chargers-Steelers and all the games Sunday on fuboTV, try it for free, and stream the CBS games on CBS All Access). For that, he can thank his nearly perfect outing against the Cardinals, when he went 28 of 29 for 259 yards, three touchdowns, and a 138.4 passer rating.

Khalil Mack, meanwhile, remains the highest-ranked defender. He appeared on three of five ballots, which is especially impressive considering we're in an era of historically good quarterback play. Lastly, we should note that while the Rams don't have any MVP frontrunners, they're the only team with multiple MVP candidates in Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald. Unfortunately for those three players, the presence of other MVP-caliber players on their own team appears to have hurt their individual cases as they continue to pluck votes from each other.

The field is also shrinking. Two weeks ago, 10 players received at least one vote. Last week, nine players appeared on our collective ballot. This week, the field has been narrowed to eight players. The two players who have fallen off our board entirely? Two Steelers in Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner.

Below, you'll find the standings heading into Week 13. Farther below, you'll find all five individual ballots along with each writer's explanation. 

2018 MVP vote heading into Week 13

1. Drew Brees -- 25 points
2. Patrick Mahomes -- 20 points
3. Philip Rivers -- 10 points
T-4. Khalil Mack -- 6 points
T-4. Jared Goff -- 6 points
T-6. Todd Gurley -- 3 points
T-6. Aaron Donald -- 3 points
8. Andrew Luck -- 2 points

John Breech's ballot

  1. Drew Brees
  2. Patrick Mahomes
  3. Todd Gurley
  4. Khalil Mack
  5. Philip Rivers

Drew Brees had a completely average game in Week 12 and he STILL threw four touchdown passes. When your average performance involves throwing four touchdowns, that means the MVP is yours to lose. As for the next two spots on my ballot, I had Mahomes and Gurley ranked two and three last week and what kind of horrible person would I be if I dropped them down after a week where they didn't even play due to a bye. I don't want to be that person, so they're staying put. 

As for Khalil Mack, I wanted to have at least one defensive player on my ballot and he gets the nod. I also thought about putting Aaron Donald or J.J. Watt here, but Mack is hands down the best player on a Bears defense that might very well carry that team deep into the playoffs. Finally, I'm sad to report that my preseason MVP choice, Ben Roethlisberger, has finally been taken off my ballot. I just couldn't justify keeping Big Ben on my list after he threw away the game for the Steelers in their loss to the Broncos. In his place, I have Rivers, and that's mainly because I've decided that anyone who completes 25 passes in a row should automatically be getting a spot on my ballot for at least a week. 

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Will Brinson's ballot

  1. Drew Brees
  2. Patrick Mahomes
  3. Philip Rivers
  4. Jared Goff
  5. Andrew Luck

The drama here isn't in figuring out who to put on the list but how to slot these guys. Luck is a new entrant but definitely deserving, and he's going to get some serious heat if the Colts make a run to 8/9/10 wins. Same for Rivers if the Chargers overcome the Chiefs. Goff will have a tough time winning with Todd Gurley on the roster, but he's definitely deserving. The reality is, barring a serious change in things over the next five weeks, this is going to be Drew Brees' award to win unless Patrick Mahomes just explodes for like 15 more touchdowns in the final five weeks. I think Brees is worthy, he's got the lifetime achievement tiebreaker and the Saints are destroying everyone in their path right now.

Jared Dubin's ballot

  1. Drew Brees
  2. Patrick Mahomes
  3. Jared Goff
  4. Khalil Mack
  5. Philip Rivers

Same as last week, with Brees again looking awesome, Mack making a difference on Thanksgiving, and Rivers tearing up the Cardinals, while the Chiefs and Rams were on their bye. Right now this seems like Brees' award to lose, but I could pretty easily see Mahomes or Goff going on a run down the stretch to steal it away.

Sean Wagner-McGough's ballot

  1. Drew Brees
  2. Patrick Mahomes
  3. Philip Rivers
  4. Khalil Mack
  5. Jared Goff

No movement at the top of my ballot with Mahomes on a bye and Brees throwing four touchdowns. The race isn't over for me if Mahomes goes on a dazzling run to close the season, which he's more than capable of. But at this point, Mahomes is clearly chasing Brees. 

Rivers dropped out of my top five last week after his turnovers doomed the Chargers against the Broncos, but he's back up to three in the aftermath of his near perfect display against the Cardinals. There's a substantial gap, however, between Mahomes and Rivers. Only Mahomes has a chance to catch Brees. 

For a second-straight week, I've got Mack at the fourth position. He continues to lead the upstart Bears, who have emerged as the clearcut best team in the NFC North. Mack might be slightly behind Aaron Donald in the best defensive player conversation, but Mack is way more valuable to the Bears than Donald is to the Rams, who are absolutely loaded with MVP-caliber players like Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. Speaking of Goff, I have him slightly ahead of Andrew Luck for fifth place, but Luck has a chance to surpass him if he continues playing this well down the stretch and the Colts make the playoffs. At this point, Luck's slow start to the season (which matters) has him outside my top five, but only just barely.

Ryan Wilson's ballot

  1. Drew Brees
  2. Patrick Mahomes
  3. Aaron Donald
  4. Philip Rivers
  5. Andrew Luck

We can't envision the situation in which we're prompted to move Drew Brees out of the top spot. He's in his 18th season and is setting career marks for completion percentage (76.4) and passer rating (127.3). And advanced stats agree with the conventional one; Brees is first among all passers in value per play, according to Football Outsiders. Perhaps the most amazing part of all this isn't Brees' sustained success -- he's been very good for a long time -- it's that he's never won an MVP award. That changes this season. 

Patrick Mahomes is only in his second season but he's already one of the NFL's best players. The 37 touchdowns and 117.9 passer rating attest to as much. And if you need further evidence, Mahomes is second behind Brees in value per play. 

Aaron Donald might be the best player in football -- in any league, at any level -- and his ability to take over games has as much to do with the Rams' success as Sean McVay's offensive genius. Donald has 14.5 sacks, including two strip-sacks against Mahomes in Week 11 that led to 14 points in the Rams' 54-51 win. 

We were ready to put Philip Rivers on this list last week but then he went out and threw two terrible interceptions in the loss to the Broncos. He more than made up for that against the Cardinals, completing his first 25 passes, an NFL record. For the season, Rivers has 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and is completing 69.5 percent of his throws for the 8-3 Chargers. 

Andrew Luck continues to play like his old self. He completed 81 percent of his passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Dolphins; it was Indy's fifth-straight win and Luck has been sacked once in the last six games. Perhaps the biggest obstacle between Luck and the MVP Award is coach Frank Reich continuing to line him up at receiver. Luck took a huge hit against Miami, which seems like a terrible idea for a franchise quarterback coming off serious shoulder surgery. His 68.4 completion percentage and 102.7 passer rating are career bests. And with Indy's remaining regular-season schedule, Luck is primed to lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time since that '14 campaign.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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