There are nine weeks down and nine weeks to go in the NFL’s first 17-game season, and we’re officially at the halfway mark. While there’s plenty of football left to be played and drama yet to unfold on the field, midseason is the perfect time to see how the league’s best players stack up in the 2021-22 NFL MVP race.

When I say best players, I almost literally mean best quarterbacks, as the award seldom goes to a non-quarterback, especially in this passing era. More often than not, MVP voters will look to the highest-producing quarterbacks on the teams with the best records in the league when preparing their short list for NFL MVP.

With that in mind, who are this year’s top contenders? Well if you’re looking for efficient passers on teams with strong records, there’s plenty to go around. Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals are a league-best 8-1, but Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson, Matthew Stafford, and Ryan Tannehill are all on at least six-win teams. But what will voters value more: the league’s best record, or the league’s best passing numbers?

Here are seven realistic candidates for 2021-22 NFL MVP, plus one honorary mention that unfortunately won’t be able to continue their campaign. Read on for my full midseason MVP rankings, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any rankings, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.

Honorable Mention: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

Touchdown Wire/USA Today

The only reason Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry isn’t properly listed is that after suffering a foot injury, his season is likely over. If the voting were to take place right now though, Henry would have as strong a case as anyone, even as a running back for an award almost always given to a quarterback.

Henry is still the league’s leading rusher, despite not even finishing his eighth game, with 937 yards on the ground. Henry’s 10 rushing scores led the league when Henry was sidelined, and is still tied for the league-high with Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner.

The Titans may have been able to beat the Los Angeles Rams without their star running back, but Henry was still instrumental to Tennessee’s 6-2 start this season. Henry is the definition of a valuable player: a clear-cut leader at his position, giving his team a unique advantage.

7. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills

Buffalowdown/Fansided

As of last week, Josh Allen topped sportsbooks as the most likely player to win the 2021-22 NFL MVP Award. But after losing an ugly 9-6 game to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen doesn’t currently have the strongest case to be the MVP front-runner.

Allen currently has the Bills sitting atop the AFC East at 5-3, but without the best record in the AFC or being a league leader in passing, Allen just isn’t up there with the rest of the quarterbacks on this list.

Allen does, however, still deserve a spot on this list for his play in 2021. His 2,236 passing yards are 8th in the NFL, with 17 touchdown passes (7th in the NFL) and a manageable five interceptions so far, with two of them coming in last week’s loss. Allen adds value as a runner, on pace for a career-high 638 rushing yards. Allen has found the endzone on the ground three times this season as the key orchestrator of Buffalo’s fourth-ranked offense (29.4 PPG.)

6. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Like Josh Allen, Dallas Cowboys quarterback is coming off a disappointing loss that blemishes an otherwise impressive first half of the season. Dallas is 6-2, with a considerable lead in the race for the NFC East. Prescott personally holds a 5-2 record this season, missing last week’s win over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Cowboys have top-tier offensive weapons, but Prescott is the key ingredient that keeps Dallas’ offense churning. The Cowboys offense has averaged 30.1 points per game this season, third in the NFL, and leads the league with 434.3 yards per game. Prescott passes for 292.1 yard per game, with 18 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. Prescott’s 108.7 passer rating is currently the fourth-best in the NFL, and his 69.4% completion rate is fifth in the league.

Prescott is certainly a contender in the 2021-22 NFL MVP race, he just has to find a way to do even better in the season’s second half. A better record and better touchdown-to-interception ratio would help, but it’s hard to ask for anything more in terms of yards and scores from one of the NFL’s best offenses.

5. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Ravens Wire/USA Today

Lamar Jackson may not be playing at his 2019 MVP-level, but the dual-threat quarterback remains easily one of the most valuable assets in the league. The Baltimore Ravens are 6-2, in the thick of the race for the best record in the AFC, and it wouldn’t be possible with anyone besides Jackson at quarteback.

Jackson doesn’t have the flashiest passing numbers in the league, but still ranks ninth in the league in passing with 2,209 yards, even with some quarterbacks playing one more game than him so far. Jackson has tossed 13 touchdown passes with seven interceptions for the worst touchdown-to-interception ratio among these seven MVP candidates.

But Jackson’s rushing ability adds a dynamic wrinkle to Baltimore’s offense, making Jackson one of the most valuable players in the league. His 600 rushing yards through eight games a re the sixth-most among any player in the league, which includes running backs who have played in eight or nine games. Jackson has just two scores on the ground, but has set up Latavius Murray for four touchdowns and Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman for two scores apiece in a balanced rushing attack.

With Top 10 passing numbers and elite rushing ability for a quarterback, Jackson has a case for at least some MVP consideration. Higher yardage and touchdown totals, be they rushing, passing, or a mix of both, would strengthen Jackson’s casein the second half of the season.

4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Chris Keane/Associated Press

Jordan Love and the Green Bay Packers struggled mightily in a 13-7 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs, who posses a historically bad defense. But hey, that’s a testament to just how valuable Aaron Rodgers is as the Packers quarterback. Prior to missing last week’s matchup with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Rodgers had led Green Bay to an NFC-best 7-1 record after upsetting the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football.

Even in his 17th year in the NFL, Rodgers is still one of the game’s most lethal passers. While his 1,894 passing yards don’t jump off the page, his 17 touchdowns through the air with just three interceptions speaks volumes to the impact Rodgers has on the outcome of games. Rodgers 105.7 passer rating is sixth among qualified quarterbacks.

Rodgers has also found the endzone twice on the ground this season and has yet to put a fumble on the ground, bringing his total touchdown-to-turnover ratio to 19:3.

If Rodgers and the Packers keep winning, the Green Bay quarterback will remain an MVP candidate due to his combination of personal and team success. Like the quarterbacks before him, upping his totals would be key to moving up this list, specifically in the passing yards category where Rodgers lags at 23rd in the league.

3. Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Matthew Stafford was a hot pick to win 2021-22 NFL MVP coming into the season after being acquired by the Los Angeles Rams from the Detroit Lions, but I didn’t necessarily buy the hype at the time. But nine weeks into the season, Stafford has put up electric numbers, led the Rams to an elite record, and deserves to be at or near the type of the conversation for league MVP.

When Stafford was shipped from Detroit to Los Angeles in exchange for Jared Goff, the former Lions quarterback got a huge upgrade in the talent around him. But he’s been able to elevate the Rams already talented offense to new heights this season. The Rams have the fifth-highest scoring offense in the league with 29.0 points per game, and that’s with a dud 16-point performance in last week’s loss to the Titans factored in.

Stafford himself leads the league in passing yards with 2,771 yards, though he has a one-game advantage on some of his competition as the Rams haven’t had their bye week yet. Stafford’s 23 passing scores are the second-most in the NFL, and he’s thrown just six interceptions so far, including two last week. Stafford’s 111.0 passer rating is second in the league among qualified passers.

Stafford and the next two candidates are all having true MVP-caliber seasons. For Stafford to bring the award home, leapfrogging the Cardinals in the NFC West standings would certainly help his case. Additionally, while Stafford led the Rams to a big win over Brady and the Buccaneers earlier this season, the Rams offense was stifled in losses to the Cardinals and Titans. A few more signature wins over quality opponents would improve Stafford’s odds drastically.

2. Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Harry How/Getty Images

What Tom Brady is able to do in the NFL at the tender age of 44 is simply uncanny. In his 22nd NFL season, Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and is a serious contender for NFL MVP.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not have the best record in the NFC, but at 6-2, they’ll have a shot to earn the conference’s top seed if they can keep up their usually stellar play. The Buccaneers average 32.5 points per game, the most in the NFL, and Brady is the centerpiece of the league’s bet offense. Brady is second in the league so far with 2,650 passing yards, but passing yards leader Matthew Stafford has a one-game advantage. In terms of passing yards per game, no one tops Brady’s 331.3 average.

Brady has thrown a league-high 25 passing touchdowns against five interceptions, and holds a 108.6 passer rating, the fifth-best in the league.

With incredible passing numbers and an elite record, Brady is a serious contender to take home his sixth NFL MVP award. If Brady can keep up the pace he’s set for himself in the first half of the season, the only thing between Brady and the MVP award is whether or not the one player ahead of him also maintains their incredible pace.

1. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Card Wire/USA Today

While Brady and Stafford have put up league-leading passing yards this season, the current front-runner for 2021-22 NFL MVP in my eyes is Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray’s top tier passing abilities coupled with elusive abilities in the pocket and carrying the football make him one of the league’s most irreplaceable players.

For better or worse, MVP voters will likely look to key contributors on the league’s best teams. As the heart and soul of the team that currently holds the best record in the NFL, Murray fits the description to a tee. Arizona is 8-1, starting 7-0 before losing a tight game to the Packers that easily could have had the opposite outcome. Murray is personally 7-1 as a starter, missing last week’s win over the 49ers.

Murray has elevated the Cardinals to become the best team in the NFL with his leap in passing success in 2021. Murray has accumulated 2,276 passing yards, the 7th-most in the NFL, 17 passing touchdowns, also seventh, and holds the third best passer rating (110.4) in the league. This high rating is aided by Murray’s laser accuracy, completing an NFL-high 72.7% of his passes.

While Murray doesn’t pull the ball down as often as, say, Lamar Jackson, his rushing abilities still contribute to the profile of the Cardinals second-ranked scoring offense (30.8 PPG.) Murray has carried the ball 49 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns. Murray is fortunate not to have lost any fumbles this season, even though he’s put the ball on the ground seven times so far.

As long as Murray comes back and continues to win with the Cardinals, he’ll likely remain the front-runner for NFL MVP. Brady and Stafford are right behind him though, and the second the Cardinals slip up and lose another game or two, the new “quarterback on the best team in the league” will be ready to take his place.

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