NFL MVP Watch: Brady on top after ugly week, Antonio Brown could make history

With just three weeks to go in the regular season, we're heading into the stretch run of what's starting to look like the craziest MVP race the NFL has seen in more than 10 years. 

Through 14 weeks, the race for the NFL's most prestigious individual award is wide open, and it takes only one look at CBSSports.com's weekly MVP vote to see that. Our five writers were asked to turn in a ballot that listed a top five, and on those ballots, there were a total of seven names. 

Although Tom Brady was a near unanimous choice at the top of the MVP watch this week with four first-place votes, everyone pretty much made it clear that his spot at the top was tenuous at best after Monday's rough outing against the Dolphins

The one thing that's wild about this year's ballot is that it's not a list full of quarterbacks who are all gunning to win the award. Of the seven players who received a vote this week, three of them play a position other than quarterback. 

The most notable player on the list this week is probably Antonio Brown and that's mainly because a wide receiver has never won the NFL MVP. Since the Associated Press started handing out the MVP award in 1957, we've seen several running backs, a linebacker, a defensive tackle and EVEN A KICKER win the award, but a receiver has never taken home the hardware. 

To give you an idea of how tough things have been for receivers, a player at that position hasn't even received a single MVP vote since 1998, when Randy Moss got four (Terrell Davis won the award that year with 25 votes). 

If a receiver is ever going to win the award, this seems like the perfect year for it to happen. With no clear-cut favorite, this is the most wide-open MVP race since 2005, when Shaun Alexander won the award with just 19 votes, the only time in the past 12 years when a player won with fewer than 20 votes.  

If Brown is going to win, he's going to have to pass Brady, which is almost fitting since the two will be playing each other this week. Brady is the leader on this week's ballot and has now been on top of the ballot for two straight weeks.

2017 MVP vote heading into Week 15

1. Tom Brady, Patriots -- 24
T-2. Russell Wilson, Seahawks -- 13
T-2. Carson Wentz, Eagles -- 13
T-2. Antonio Brown, Steelers --13
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers -- 6
T-6. Todd Gurley, Rams -- 1
T-6. Calais Campbell, Jaguars-- 1

Todd Gurley is the only newcomer to the list this week. The biggest mover heading into Week 15 is Brown, who shot up from a tie for fifth place last week to a tie for second place. Brown tallied 13 points after receiving just three last week. The Steelers receiver is coming off a 213-yard performance and leads the NFL in receiving yards.

Brown is on pace for 1,857 yards this year, which would be the third-best season by a wide receiver in NFL history. If Brown can average 163.7 yards per game over the final three weeks, he could do something that no receiver has ever done: Hit the 2,000 yard mark. If Brown does that, he'd be almost a lock to win the MVP. 

This week's ballot included a total of seven names, which is down from the nine names that were included last week.

You can see the individual breakdown of each writer's ballot below.

John Breech's top 5

1. Tom Brady
2. Russell Wilson
3. Carson Wentz
4. Antonio Brown
5. Philip Rivers

After watching the top two guys on my ballot from last week -- Brady and Wilson -- go down in flames over the weekend, I thought for sure I'd do a major reshuffle this week, but that's not what happened. First, I'm keeping Brady at the top because he's almost always bad in Miami (7-9 career record) and despite his ugly game, he still leads the NFL in passing yards (3,865) and QB rating (105.2) while being third in touchdown passes. I'm not going to punish Brady yet, but I will if his 40-year-old body continues to look 40 years old (before, he had been playing like he was about 26). As for Wilson, even though he played his worst game of the season in Jacksonville, he still threw three touchdown passes and almost single-handedly led the Seahawks to a win over the NFL's best defense. If the Seahawks win the NFC West and make the playoffs, it'll be hard not to give this award to Wilson. 

Although I thought about taking Wentz off my list, I decided I'm going to leave him there and that's mainly because if the Eagles lose their final three games of the season, Wentz is getting my MVP vote, even if Will Brinson thinks it's a horrible idea. 

My list ends with Brown and Rivers, who could both shoot up my ballot next week if they have big games in Week 15. 

Will Brinson's top 5

1. Tom Brady
2. Philip Rivers
3. Antonio Brown
4. Russell Wilson
5. Carson Wentz

These are not so much a projection as a snapshot, per se, but it would be ludicrous to pretend like Wilson and Wentz are not dropping in these rankings. Wentz is probably out of the running now thanks to a torn ACL that ended his season, and this is just as much an homage as I can possibly pay him in such a spot. (Although there is an interesting scenario where the Eagles lose out with Nick Foles looking terrible, finish 11-5, don't get a bye and people try to justify Wentz as MVP. Someone will write a think-piece in that vein, watch.) 

Rivers is not getting enough credit here: he was perfectly fine in the first half of the year, but the Chargers started 0-4, so no one bothered to keep an eye on him. He's playing lights out right now and deserves to be in the discussion. Brown has a very outside shot at 2,000 yards and has elevated Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to a division title. Brady is still the leader in the clubhouse because of how well he played during the first part of the season, but Week 15's performance against the Dolphins did not do him any favors. If the Pats somehow fail to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC, it would be easy to see this going to someone else.

Ryan Wilson's top 5

1. Tom Brady
2. Philip Rivers
3. Antonio Brown
4. Russell Wilson
5. Calais Campbell

Tom Brady may have had a setback against the Dolphins but he seems to always struggle in Miami. It remains one of life's great mysteries. But he's still our favorite for MVP because at 40 years old he is the NFL's best player. Think about that. In a game where the average career is less than four years and rosters are populated by players in their mid-20s, Brady dominates (exception: In Miami).

A month ago, the Chargers were 3-6 and were best known for playing in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium. Now they've won four straight and are poised to overtake the Chiefs for the division lead any week now. A big reason for that: Rivers, who has quietly had one of the best seasons in a distinguished 14-year career. He has 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, and he ranks fourth in value per play among all quarterbacks, behind only Brady, Drew Brees and Case Keenum.

Brown is coming off another jaw-dropping effort, hauling in 11 passes for 213 yards as the Steelers outlasted the Ravens to win the division. He's the only receiver on this list because he's the most important player on a Steelers' offense loaded with playmakers. 

The Seahawks took a step back against Jacksonville, where Russell Wilson had three interceptions. It's why he's fallen from No. 1 to No. 4 on our list. Still, Wilson is a legit MVP candidate because without him, the Seahawks would be a four-win team. There are injuries up and down the roster and the offense basically comes down to this: Wilson scrambles in the pocket, buys time -- either with his arm or his feet -- and makes a big play nobody saw coming. He does that 30 times a game.

Calais Campbell makes his debut on the list. And while there's no chance a defensive player will win the award he deserves praise for what he's accomplished.  He has 12.5 sacks (which ranks fourth) and three forced fumbles (which ranks tied for sixth) and is the leader on the NFL's most dominating defense. Without him anchoring the defensive line, the Jaguars are a completely different unit..

Sean Wagner-McGough's top 5

1. Carson Wentz
2. Tom Brady
3. Antonio Brown
4. Russell Wilson
5. Philip Rivers

Last week, I placed Wilson above Brady, but I'm dropping Wilson all the way down to fourth after he experienced an absolute dud against the Jaguars. Wilson completed 54.8 percent of his passes, threw three touchdowns and three picks, and posted a 76.9 passer rating in an ugly loss to the Jaguars. There's no shame in getting beat by a great Jaguars defense, but his MVP case took a serious hit. 

I was ready to move up Brady to the top spot, but then he went and stunk it up against the Dolphins. He'll remain at No. 2. It's only one bad game. But I can't reward him for a pitiful performance. 

That means Wentz is now my MVP through the first 15 weeks. However, this will be the final week Wentz will be on my ballot. Wentz played brilliantly in a win over the Rams, but he also lost his season to a torn ACL. Entering Week 15, he's my MVP. But after Week 15, he won't be any longer. And that means Brady is the favorite to top my ballot by the end of the year, assuming Monday night was an aberration and not the start of his decline.

Brown moves up after racking up 213 yards in a win over the Ravens. He now has 1,509 receiving yards on the season. The record in a single season is 1,964 (Calvin Johnson in 2012). For Brown to hit 2,000 yards, he needs to average 163.7 yards per game in the final three weeks of the year. If that happens, could he unseat Brady? I think he'd deserve serious consideration. Finally, I'd explain why I put Rivers on my list, but I'm guessing Brinson's explanation will be far superior to whatever I write. So, I'll let Brinson take it away. Just know that I believe the Chargers have the best chance to beat the Patriots in the AFC and that obviously reflects well on Rivers.

Jared Dubin's top 5

1. Tom Brady
2. Carson Wentz
3. Russell Wilson
4. Antonio Brown 
5. Todd Gurley

Wentz isn't going to win this award because he won't play in any of the final three games, but he's every bit as deserving as anybody else based on the body of work he put forth over the first 13. The Eagles are awesome defensively but the leap their offense took this season, based largely on his incredible progress, is the reason they leveled-up to the No. 1 seed. Incredible work.

Due to Wentz's injury and Wilson's poor showing against the Jaguars, it seems like an almost foregone conclusion that Brady is going to win at this point, which is just amazing when you consider that he's 40 damn years old. He's somehow still arguably the single best player in the NFL. He leads the league in interception rate, yards per attempt, and passer rating, and he ranks fourth in QBR, second in DVOA, and first in DYAR. I'm not sure he could possibly be playing better. .

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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