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The First Read: Case for/against top 10 NFL MVP candidates; biggest risers and sliders from Week 13

In The First Read, Jeffri Chadiha provides a snapshot of the hottest stories and trends heading into Week 14 of the 2023 NFL season, including:

But first, breaking down the MVP race with just five weeks to go ...

The most important takeaway in Week 13 of the 2023 NFL season involved the race for league MVP. It's been a wide-open competition all year, and now it's become even more hard to call. Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts had been making a great case for his cause over the past month, thanks in large part to close wins over Dallas, Kansas City and Buffalo. Then he ran into San Francisco on Sunday, and all hell broke loose.

The 49ers' 42-19 win opened up all sorts of intriguing scenarios regarding this award. Hurts now faces Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott this coming Sunday night in a huge NFC East matchup. Niners quarterback Brock Purdy receives a boost with a signature win over the team with the league's best record. There also are a handful of other big-name quarterbacks who are facing plenty of marquee games down the stretch. If you're Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson or Tua Tagovailoa, you can leave a lasting impression on voters based on how you operate down the stretch.

What makes this year's MVP race so compelling is the lack of a dominant player. In recent years, we've watched stars like Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers earn the award with statistical brilliance. This season will be more about moments and momentum. Here's who you should be thinking about as we move toward the final weeks of the regular season ...

NOTE: The odds provided by Caesars Sportsbook are current as of 9 a.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 4).

The Leaders

(Players with the right mix of statistics and success.)

Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · QB · +350

Why he could win: There isn’t a quarterback in the league playing better than Prescott right now. He’s thrown 21 touchdown passes and just two interceptions over his last seven games, and the Cowboys have lost just once in that span (a 28-23 defeat in Philadelphia). The most impressive aspect of Prescott’s success is that he’s completing a high percentage of passes and driving the football down the field for big plays. He’s also showcasing the mobility that made him such a dangerous player earlier in his career. (Prescott is on pace for his most rushing yards in a season since sustaining that compound fracture and ankle dislocation in his right leg in 2020.) This season started with a lot of questions about whether Prescott could avoid the critical turnovers that plagued him in the past. It likely will end with him enjoying the best year of his career.

Why he couldn’t: There isn’t a quarterback in the league who’s a bigger lightning rod than Prescott. Part of the issue is the job; you’re going to be scrutinized constantly as the quarterback for the Cowboys. But Prescott has a history of wilting in huge moments, and he’s already failed to lead Dallas to wins over San Francisco and Philadelphia this season. If his play falls off in the next four weeks -- when he’ll see a gauntlet that includes the Eagles, Bills, Dolphins and Lions -- it could capsize his chances of winning.

Final verdict: Prescott probably needs to win the NFC East and keep rolling statistically to take the MVP. The former is a huge challenge, but a victory over the Eagles this coming Sunday night would boost his chances immensely, as would another couple wins in that daunting stretch. Philadelphia’s loss to San Francisco helped his cause quite a bit.

Brock Purdy
San Francisco 49ers · QB · +325

Why he could win: Purdy’s numbers are impressive. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,185 yards with 23 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Big names like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen don’t have stats like that. Purdy’s performances against top-tier competition are eye-opening as well. He’s produced a total of 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in wins over Dallas, Jacksonville and Philadelphia. Yes, Purdy has a phenomenal supporting cast. He’s been holding up his end of the bargain, too.

Why he couldn’t: Purdy is going to fight a negative perception until he’s logged more time in this league. The former Mr. Irrelevant landed in a great situation with the 49ers, and that has too many people thinking he’s just along for the ride. That idea gained even more steam when San Francisco struggled through a three-game losing streak earlier this year. Since Purdy couldn’t overcome some setbacks during that time -- including key injuries on offense and defensive breakdowns -- it gave his critics even more ammunition.

Final verdict: Purdy could receive more love now that the 49ers are thriving again and have that win over Philadelphia. It’s just hard to see people giving him more credit for his success right now, even though he deserves it.

Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · QB · +375

Why he could win: Hurts had been rolling until that loss to the 49ers on Sunday. He engineered comeback wins against both the Chiefs and Bills, and it’s apparent that the knee injury that plagued him earlier this season is behind him. Hurts has hurt opponents with his arm and his legs, but most importantly, he’s generally been indomitable when his team needs him the most. Last year, he was the runner-up to Patrick Mahomes for MVP. This season, he’s been the most clutch quarterback in football.

Why he couldn’t: Hurts would’ve pulled into a strong lead if the Eagles had won that game against San Francisco. Since it ended in surprising fashion -- with Hurts leaving briefly for a concussion evaluation and the 49ers winning in a rout -- every other serious candidate in this conversation received a boost. It shouldn’t be lost on anybody that Hurts lost his shot at last year’s MVP when he sustained a shoulder injury late in the season. If he gets banged up again at this time of year, that certainly won't help his cause.

Final verdict: Hurts still has a great shot at winning this award despite the loss to San Francisco. This next game against Dallas looms extremely large.

The Wild Cards

(Players who could win the award if they heat up down the stretch.)

C.J. Stroud
Houston Texans · QB · +2500

Why he could win: Stroud hasn’t just been the league’s top rookie in 2023 -- he’s also producing one of the best debut seasons for any quarterback in NFL history. If you want to talk value, he’s helped the Texans stay in playoff contention without a reliable running attack and with receivers that are largely unknown. Stroud’s passing numbers (3,540 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions) only tell part of the story. Like Hurts, he’s delivered when his team has needed him most. 

Why he couldn’t: It’s always hard to be taken seriously for this award when you’re a rookie. Stroud also had a three-interception day in a win over Arizona and a loss to Jacksonville that sapped some of his shine. He’s still having a hell of a year. It’s just that Houston would need to win the division for him to receive serious consideration. That’s not happening at the moment.

Final verdict: Stroud’s rapid growth has been one of the best stories of this season. But ultimately, I think he'll have to be happy with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · QB · +650

Why he could win: He’s Patrick Mahomes. He’s going to be in the MVP conversation as long as he plays because he’s just that good. He’s already won the award twice in his first five years as a starter, and he’s always two or three jaw-dropping plays away from jumping into the lead. Maybe the best argument Mahomes has this season is that he’s playing with a lesser supporting cast. He’s dealing with young receivers who have dropped a slew of passes and made their fair share of mental mistakes. If he can guide this bunch to the AFC’s top seed, then he’ll be in the conversation again.

Why he couldn’t: Mahomes is having a good season, not a great one. He’s trending toward career lows in passing yards and touchdowns, and those magical highlights have been hard to come by. He’s already had three games this season where he wasn’t able to deliver a game-winning drive when given the opportunity. A lot of that comes back to the inconsistency of his receivers, but he’s still the one who suffers because of it.

Final verdict: People expect Mahomes to perform magic every time he takes the field, which results in an impossible bar for him to clear for an award like this. He’s in this discussion because of his name. His numbers at this stage aren’t going to help him. 

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB · +525

Why he could win: The Ravens have been the most complete team in the AFC all season, with Jackson proving he can be more of a playmaker from the pocket. He’s already on pace for career highs in passing yards and completion percentage. He also remains dangerous as a runner, and it’s not hard to see him throwing for almost 4,000 yards and running for about 800 yards. That’s some serious production for a team that could end up with the top seed in the AFC. Jackson would look even more impressive, but star tight end Mark Andrews, who is Lamar's longtime security blanket, is on injured reserve.

Why he couldn’t: Jackson has a lot of yardage, but not many points. He’s been responsible for just 18 touchdowns this season (13 on passes and five on the ground). That’s not going to excite voters in the final analysis. Jackson’s own high bar of success works against him as well. He won the MVP in 2019 after passing for 3,127 yards, rushing for 1,205 and amassing 43 total touchdowns. Simply put, he needs more highlight-reel plays. 

Final verdict: Jackson will be a strong candidate if Baltimore nabs the No. 1 seed. The Ravens will have to beat some serious competition to get there -- they’ll see Jacksonville, San Francisco and Miami in three straight games to close out this month -- but it’s doable. If signature moments are what he’ll need, that is where he’ll find them.

Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB · +5000

Why he could win: The Bills have asked a lot of Allen every season, and they’re asking for even more from the star quarterback this year. Buffalo’s defense has been plagued by injuries to key starters, leaving its offense to carry the team every week. Allen has done his part by producing 33 total touchdowns for a unit that ranked fifth in the league in scoring and fourth in total yards entering Week 13. His presence is even more critical to a Buffalo team that is fighting to stay in playoff contention. The Bills likely need to win at least four of their final five games to have a shot at the postseason. That means Allen consistently has to play at a high level against serious competition (Buffalo will face Kansas City, Dallas and Miami in the coming weeks).

Why he couldn’t: Allen has been a turnover machine. He’s always been cavalier with the football, but he’s been even more reckless this season. Allen entered Week 13 as the NFL leader in interceptions (he has 13, two off his career-worst total) and he’s lost three fumbles as well. It’s just been too common this season to see him make a mind-numbing mistake in a critical moment that costs his team dearly. 

Final verdict: Allen’s hopes rest on the Bills making the playoffs because of a strong five-game stretch by him. He basically needs to play the way he did in a Week 12 loss to the Eagles -- when he threw for 339 yards, ran for 81 and accounted for four touchdowns -- from here on out. He can do it, but the odds aren’t in his favor.

Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · QB · +1200

Why he could win: Tagovailoa looked like he would run away with this award when the season started. He averaged 341 passing yards through Miami’s first three wins, and he engineered a 70-20 humiliation of Denver in Week 3. That stuff raises a player’s profile real quick. So does the fact that Tagovailoa operates the NFL’s most explosive offense, a unit that routinely generates big plays in a league where quarterback play has suffered immensely this year. If you want highlight moments, Tua has been the king of them.

Why he couldn’t: Highlights are one thing. Wins mean a whole lot more when it comes to this award. Tagovailoa has led the Dolphins to a 9-3 record, but not one of those victories has come against a team with a winning record. That works against Tagovailoa in two ways. His stats feel like empty calories, and his success against lesser teams -- such as Miami’s 45-15 win over Washington -- doesn’t net him any style points. Tagovailoa has some huge games to close out the regular season, going against Dallas, Baltimore and Buffalo in Weeks 16 through 18. The only way he gets back into this conversation is by winning at least two of those, along with the AFC East.

Final verdict: Tagovailoa is a long shot at this stage. He’s going to generate numbers and likely end up with a division crown. But those early losses to Buffalo, Philadelphia and Kansas City kind of buried him.

The Outliers

(Players who have to beat some serious odds to win.)

Tyreek Hill
Miami Dolphins · WR · +1300

Why he could win: Hill has been the league’s most electric player. He wanted to become the first player in history to surpass 2,000 receiving yards, and he remains well on pace to achieve that goal. Hill already has 93 receptions, 1,481 yards and 12 touchdowns through 12 games. He also has gone over 100 yards in six of his last eight games (including a 157-yard effort in Sunday’s win over Washington). You can’t deny his cumulative impact, either. Hill changed the Dolphins from the moment he arrived in a trade last year, and he hasn’t slowed down one bit. There isn’t a non-quarterback in the league who’s meant as much to his team’s fortunes.

Why he couldn’t: This is still a quarterback award, even though we sometimes pretend that it’s not. If Hill makes history, it’s going to bring a lot more attention to his quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. A 2,000-yard season also might not be enough to impress voters. He likely needs 20 touchdowns to go with that number just to be in the conversation.

Final verdict: Hill already is a lock for Offensive Player of the Year. There’s nobody else even in the same universe for that award. Unfortunately for him, that’s the biggest award he’ll receive this season unless every other quarterback on this list implodes.

Myles Garrett
Cleveland Browns · DE · +20000

Why he could win: Garrett has produced moments this year that felt like he was manufactured in another solar system. He’s the face of one of the league’s top defenses. Garrett has individual numbers (13 sacks), but there’s something to be said for how he’s shown up when the Browns have battled numerous injury problems. This is a team that has started a backup quarterback in six games this season. Cleveland has remained in contention because of the defense and the star power Garrett has brought to it.

Why he couldn’t: Garrett was a trendy pick a few weeks back, primarily because so many star quarterbacks weren’t standing out. Plenty has changed since then, including the shine on the Browns. Garrett was a non-factor in Sunday’s 36-19 loss to the Rams, for one. The Browns also have an easier schedule than most down the stretch -- including games against the Bears, Jets and Joe Burrow-less Bengals -- which means Garrett isn’t going to have any huge platforms to thrive on. Nobody is giving him style points for beating up on Justin Fields or Jake Browning

Final verdict: Garrett has even less of an argument for this award than Hill does at this stage. He’s a favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year, but the MVP talk is over.


Mike Evans
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · WR

The Tampa Bay wide receiver just produced his 10th straight 1,000-yard season after gaining 162 yards on seven receptions in a win over Carolina. He also has 10 touchdowns in a season where the Buccaneers have battled plenty of frustration. Evans made it clear at the start of the season that he wasn’t going to be distracted by the team’s refusal to give him a new contract. He’ll now head into free agency next year with plenty to offer potential suitors.

Derek Stingley Jr.
Houston Texans · CB

Stingley suddenly looks every bit like the difference-maker the Texans were hoping to acquire when he became the third overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He had two interceptions in Sunday’s win over Denver. He also had a pick a week earlier against Jacksonville and another a week before that against Arizona. A hamstring injury cost Stingley six games this season, but he’s coming on at an ideal time for a team with serious playoff ambitions.

Jonathan Gannon
Arizona Cardinals · HC

It’s been a long season in Arizona, but Gannon has had his moments. The first came in a Week 3 win over Dallas. The second came on Sunday, when the Cardinals walked out of Pittsburgh with a 24-10 win. That was only the third win for Arizona, but it tells you the Cardinals haven’t packed it in just yet. Most young teams with a first-year coach would’ve been on the wrong end of a game like that. Instead, Gannon proved this group is still buying what he’s selling in Year 1.


Ron Rivera
Ron Rivera
Washington Commanders · HC

It feels like it’s just a matter of time before Rivera’s tenure in Washington comes to an end. His defense has been so awful that he fired his coordinator, Jack Del Rio, a couple of weeks ago. The Commanders have been blown out of their last two games -- including Sunday’s 45-15 loss to Miami -- and they even dropped a game to the hapless Giants when they were starting a third-string quarterback. There’s also only one favorable matchup left on the schedule (a Christmas Eve trip to the Jets ). It’s going to be a long month in Washington.

Tennessee Titans

It’s an understatement to say the Tennessee kicking game was a disaster in Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to Indianapolis. The Colts blocked two punts and returned one for a touchdown. They also benefitted from a missed extra point late in the fourth quarter, possibly because Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse couldn’t hold for the kick after being injured on a block. The Colts needed a lot of things to go right to win that game. The Titans did their part in helping them out.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Titans head coach Mike Vrabel announced on Monday that special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman has been fired.

Philadelphia Eagles

It’s been a tough couple weeks for the Philly defense. The Eagles managed to get a win two Sundays ago despite Buffalo’s Josh Allen generating 430 total yards and four touchdowns against them. They weren’t so fortunate against the 49ers. San Francisco gained 456 yards, converted eight of 11 third-down opportunities and didn’t turn the ball over once. Those aren’t the numbers the Eagles want to see as they prepare to face a Dallas offense that has been torching teams lately.


San Francisco blows out Philadelphia. This was supposed to be a clash of the titans. It ultimately turned into one of the most disappointing matchups of the season. The 49ers gained momentum in the second quarter and never looked back in the 42-19 win. We get it -- it's only one game. But beating up on the Eagles in their own stadium said plenty about how good the 49ers are right now.


  1. Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: Gardner Minshew rallies Indianapolis for a huge overtime win to keep the Colts' playoff hopes alive.
  2. Denver Broncos at Houston Texans: The Houston defense steps up in a critical matchup for two teams pursuing postseason bids.
  3. Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys: A shootout breaks out on Thursday Night Football, with Dak Prescott and Geno Smith going back and forth.


This game has been integral to the AFC postseason conversation for the past three years, and it will be that way again. The difference is that only one team is in a position to chase the coveted first-round bye: Kansas City. The Bills, on the other hand, are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. It’s always great theater when Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen square off. This one shouldn’t disappoint, given what’s at stake for both teams. 


My slowly evolving Super Bowl LVIII pick, which also will be updated each week, depending on performances: 49ers over Ravens.

Previous picks ...

  • Week 12: 49ers over Ravens
  • Week 11: Eagles over Ravens
  • Week 10: Eagles over Bengals
  • Week 9: Ravens over Eagles
  • Week 8: Eagles over Bengals
  • Week 7: 49ers over Dolphins
  • Week 6: 49ers over Dolphins
  • Week 5: 49ers over Dolphins
  • Week 4: 49ers over Bills
  • Week 3: 49ers over Dolphins
  • Week 2: 49ers over Bills
  • Week 1: 49ers over Dolphins

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