NFL MVP Race, Week 13: Lamar Jackson begins to pull away from Russell Wilson, Stephon Gilmore makes his debut

This year's MVP race is beginning to feel similar to last year's. Once again, a young quarterback in his first full season as a starter is beginning to pull away from the long-established star quarterback who is somehow still searching for his first MVP award despite almost always playing at a Hall of Fame level. Last year, it was Patrick Mahomes who sped away from Drew Brees down the stretch by completing the second 50-touchdown, 5,000-yard season in NFL history, turning what was once a tight race into a runaway blowout. This year, Lamar Jackson might be doing the same thing to Russell Wilson.

It was only last week that the Ravens quarterback finally overtook Wilson on our MVP leaderboard, even though he beat Wilson and the Seahawks in Seattle by double-digits back in Week 7. It might've taken him 11 weeks to grab the lead, but it didn't take him long to expand it. Last week, when we checked in with our five NFL writers and unofficial MVP voters, three of us put Jackson atop our ballots and the other two had Wilson in first. One week later, after Wilson struggled by his standards in a win over the Eagles and Jackson led the Ravens to touchdowns on all six of his possessions against the Rams before getting yanked for RG3 early in the fourth quarter, it's unanimous. Jackson is our MVP after 12 weeks.

Welcome to our Week 13 MVP race check-in, where five NFL writers here at CBS Sports -- Will Brinson, Jared Dubin, John Breech, Ryan Wilson, and Sean Wagner-McGough (hi, that's me) -- submitted their individual MVP ballots, which were then used to form one collective ballot. All five voters put Jackson in first place and Wilson in second place. If you listen to the Pick Six NFL Podcast, you know how rare it is for all of us to agree on something. Yet we all agree on this. Jackson is the MVP.

It's not difficult to understand why. For one, Jackson has been on a torrid stretch for a team that has emerged as the new favorite to win the Super Bowl. In his past four games, Jackson is completing 76.2 percent of his passes, averaging 9.3 yards per pass attempt, and has thrown 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's also rushed for 300 yards and three touchdowns. In the span, the Ravens are averaging 43 points per game. Two, Jackson has actually caught up to Wilson in most statistical categories after trailing him for much of the season.

Total Yards

Total TDs

INTs + Fumbles

QBR

Record

Wilson

3,208

27

9

74.1 (4th)

9-2

Jackson

3,303

30

10

81.9 (1st)

9-2

As the statistics indicate, even though Jackson gained some separation this past week, the race isn't over entirely yet. It might just take one bad performance from Jackson and one great performance from Wilson for the order to flip. A year ago, Mahomes never let up, which made for an uninteresting race in the final month of the season. It's difficult to imagine Jackson slowing down in the month of December, but it is worth noting that he faces the 49ers' vaunted defense this week while Wilson gets the Vikings in prime time. Given how well Jackson has played this season, even against defenses like the Patriots, nobody should expect Jackson to struggle on Sunday. But if he does struggle, Wilson will get the chance to regain his lead on Monday night -- an opportunity Mahomes never afforded Brees a season ago. 

But as of now, it's Jackson's race to lose. That much is clear.

Below, you'll find our collective MVP ballot that was pieced together by adding up all five of our individual ballots. A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote was worth four points, and so on. Breech decided to go rogue by giving his fourth-place vote to two players, so in that case, each player received one point instead of the full two points. Further down below, you'll find all five of our individual ballots, including brief explainers so you know why we voted the way we did -- and also so you know who to yell at.

MVP leaderboard after Week 12

1. Lamar Jackson -- 25 points
2. Russell Wilson -- 20 points
3. Dak Prescott -- 10 points
4. Deshaun Watson -- 8 points
5. Patrick Mahomes -- 5 points
6. Stephon Gilmore -- 3 points
7. Kirk Cousins -- 2 points
T-8. Michael Thomas -- 1 point
T-8. Christian McCaffrey -- 1 point

Of note: This is Gilmore's debut. This is also the first time a defensive player has appeared on our ballot. 

Also of note: Aaron Rodgers is nowhere to be found after he racked up five MVP points last week. 

Will Brinson's ballot

  1. Lamar Jackson
  2. Russell Wilson
  3. Dak Prescott
  4. Kirk Cousins
  5. Patrick Mahomes

Not a whole lot has changed this week, except for the fact that Lamar is a runaway MVP winner if he stays healthy/plays 16 games and the Ravens don't collapse down the stretch. A matchup against the 49ers this week coupled with the Seahawks playing in prime time against the Vikings could certainly sway some of the momentum -- and I wouldn't put it past Russ to win the award if he ends up stealing the NFC West and the Ravens miss getting a bye or some such. But it's hard to imagine a scenario where Lamar isn't the winner. Dak lost his window in the rain thanks to his coach, Mahomes has missed too much time/won last year, and no one wants to vote for Cousins.

Jared Dubin's ballot

1. Lamar Jackson
2. Russell Wilson
ENORMOUS GAP
3. Stephon Gilmore
4. Deshaun Watson
5. Patrick Mahomes

Lamar is doing things that are completely unheard of. He is a Mike Vick-level rushing threat and one of the best passers in the league. He might be unstoppable. Wilson is a superstar playing at the highest level of his career and only an all-time season from an all-time talent might keep him from nabbing this award. It could still go either way. I'm shuffling up the rest of my rankings, moving the guy who has been the best defensive player in football into the mix. He is the best player on the team with the NFL's best record, and he is completely erasing star wide receivers basically every week. Watson and Mahomes move slightly ahead of Dak Prescott, who couldn't find a way to overcome conservative coaching and sloppy conditions in the biggest game of his team's season.

John Breech's ballot 

  1. Lamar Jackson
  2. Russell Wilson
  3. Deshaun Watson
  4. Michael Thomas/Christian McCaffrey
  5. Dak Prescott

After Lamar Jackson's five touchdown masterpiece against the Rams, I have no choice but to put him at the top of my ballot. Not only is Jackson now tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes, but he's also the league's ninth-leading rusher with 876 yards. That's more rushing yards than players like Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, and Le'Veon Bell. Jackson is also on pace to smash the single-season record for most rushing yards by a quarterback, which is currently held by Michael Vick. Although Jackson has been phenomenal this season, Wilson is still absolutely in this race. Jackson will be facing two tough defenses over the next two weeks -- 49ers and Bills -- and if he struggles in those games, that could open the door for Wilson to move back to the top of my ballot.

As for the other three spots, those are for show only, because none of them have a chance to win MVP. On McCaffrey's end, he's on pace for 2,485 yards from scrimmage, which puts him within striking distance of breaking Chris Johnson's all-time single-season record (2,509). On Thomas' end, he needs to average just eight receptions per game over the final five weeks of the season to break Marvin Harrison's record for most catches in a season. Both those records have stood for at least a decade, and both players deserve MVP consideration if they break them, even if they're not actually going to win the award. 

Ryan Wilson's ballot

  1. Lamar Jackson
  2. Russell Wilson
  3. Dak Prescott
  4. Deshaun Watson
  5. Patrick Mahomes

We've been saying for a while now that in 2-3 years, Jackson will be the best player in the NFL. We were very, very wrong. Jackson needed just 2-3 weeks. He's been otherworldly this season and shows no signs of letting up. Wilson is coming off his worst effort of the year but the Seahawks found a way to win in Philly, and he remains the engine of that offense. Prescott deserved better in New England -- neither the refs nor his head coach did him any favors. Watson's ever-so-slim MVP chances are still alive after he threw two touchdowns in Houston's win over Indianapolis on Thursday, and Mahomes is just as productive as he was last season, he's missed two games with a knee injury; however, a strong finish to 2019 could see him move up in the rankings.

Sean Wagner-McGough's ballot

  1. Lamar Jackson
  2. Russell Wilson
  3. Dak Prescott
  4. Patrick Mahomes
  5. Deshaun Watson

The exact same order as last week. Like Dubin, I think there's a substantial gap after Wilson. Prescott had his chance to secure his MVP moment by leading a game-winning drive against the Patriots, but a horrible tripping penalty and a dropped pass (it would've been a tough catch) put an end to that chance. It really does feel like this is Jackson's race to lose. Then again, it also felt like it was Wilson's race to lose just a month ago and then Jackson went out and obliterated the Patriots, Bengals, Texans, and Rams to erase the deficit. The point I'm trying to make is, this isn't over. All it'll take is one bad game from Jackson for Wilson to make up lost ground. I don't really think anybody else can win barring some uncharacteristically poor play down the stretch from Jackson and Wilson.

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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