Most of the media voters will sift through dozens, if not hundreds, of statistics and other variables in considering the case for NFL most valuable player.
But as the old accountant’s joke goes, if you torture the numbers long enough they’ll confess to anything.
So, ultimately, most will see what they want to see in a race that apparently will sizzle down to the quarterbacks of the top-seeded playoff teams in the NFC and AFC: Drew Brees of the Saints and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs.
Fixate on some analytics, and Mahomes is absolutely your guy: With his 281 yards and two touchdown passes in a 35-3 win over Oakland on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, Mahomes finished the regular-season with a staggering 5,097 yards and 50 TD passes — 20 more than the Chiefs’ previous record and second in NFL history only to the 55 Peyton Manning hurled in 2013.
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Fixate on others’ gauges, and Brees is the obvious choice: Like the fact he leads the league in passer rating, has a 32-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio (Mahomes’ is 50-12), has completed 74.4 percent of his passes and is 6-1 against teams with winning records to Mahomes’ 3-4 record against the same caliber.
The truth, though, defies mere numbers.
The truth is that Brees is splendid but Mahomes is somewhere between revolutionary and a revelation. He should be the MVP because he can do things Brees just can’t.
The eye test tells all, and there are dozens of examples to back it up. That includes another couple Sunday on Mahomes’ 67-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill (who set the Chiefs’ single-season receiving yardage record) and his 89-yarder to Demarcus Robinson.
“Patrick Mahomes has my vote for whatever I am voting for,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said, later adding, “He is a trick-show artist. This guy here is an amazing quarterback.”
But the truth also is that if want to counter the case by contouring it in some other way to Brees, that’s fine.
Because this stuff has nothing to with what matters most.
Sure, it would be great for Mahomes to become the first MVP in franchise history. That cosmetic point, though, is trivial compared to Mahomes’ cosmic impact on a team animated by his arrival and a community fevered by his presence.
Those multiple “M-V-P” chants on Sunday may not bear out in the voting, but they speak to a faith and conviction about him in the locker room, on the field and across the region that says all you need to know about what he means.
Linebacker Justin Houston, in his eighth NFL season, never had heard that sort of chanting for a teammate before and quickly added, “Pretty sure it won’t be the last” time.
“Glad he’s on my team,” Houston said.
Who isn’t? He’s transformed the Chiefs from a contender to a favorite, the demons of recent playoffs notwithstanding, by altering the very dimensions of the possible.
His nuclear arm, fascinating escape artistry, arsenal of release angles and astounding poise mean the Chiefs simply never can be counted out with him playing.
That stands to reason for years to come but most significantly right here, right now — and it’s the reason the complexion of this impending postseason just feels different than the nightmares of the recent past.
“One-five is a different guy; he’s a special individual,” said tight end Travis Kelce, who finished the regular-season with 1,336 yards — which would be the most in NFL history at his position but for San Francisco’s George Kittle eclipsing it Sunday. “What he does for this team, this community, it’s unbelievable. It sure has been a pleasure to play with him and witness the greatness he’s been able to put out there on the field.”
Which takes us to another crucial point about Mahomes that surely can be said for Brees but matters only here: His capabilities energize everyone around him and arguably make them better. Or create “juice,” as right tackle Mitchell Schwartz put it, part of a confidence that “good things are going to happen.”
“It’s a different feeling,” said Schwartz, meaning Mahomes makes the Chiefs “incredibly dangerous … The ability to really do anything at any time.”
Something else about the 23-year-old Mahomes has been fundamental in all this: A distinct instinct for leadership, a style in which he seems both able to stand out and be part of the group. Some of that comes from his obvious unselfishness, some from a subtle “swagger” and “moxie” that center Mitch Morse says makes his attitude as infectious as his uncanny play.
When Mahomes walks into the huddle, Morse said the feeling is almost intoxicating. With a laugh, he quickly added, “Can I take back ‘intoxicating?’ I’m not intoxicated when Pat walks into the huddle.”
Then again, intoxicating also means exhilarating, and Mahomes is nothing if not that. All the more so when you consider that he never appears to think he’s any more important than anyone else.
When asked about Schwartz hugging him after the 50th touchdown pass, Mahomes with utter sincerity said, “This team, we love each other, we root for each other. And that’s why we’ve had such success so far.”
Asked if he could lend perspective to what it meant to throw for 50 touchdown passes in his first season as a starter, Mahomes smiled and said “not really” before diverting credit to his linemen, playmakers and coaches.
As for whether he’s worthy of the MVP, Mahomes called it a “hard question.” He figured there were many deserving candidates and that he just aims to keep playing his best.
And he’s right. Yes, it would be a fine accolade, but it’s also secondary to what counts most in the weeks to come.
“We’re sure happy to have our guy,” Morse said. “We wouldn’t trade him for anyone.”