As can be said for most NFL seasons, 2017 will be a season to remember; but will it? This has fast become a season like no other. Once the final snap has been played and the last of the stats tallied, the 2017 season may go down as one of the more forgettable in recent years and ultimately share similar reminiscent qualities of the 1987 holdout, when replacement players dared to cross the picket lines in an effort to keep the season alive.The 1987 season is one that has largely been glossed over in the history annals of the NFL and has become little more than a distant memory, casually swept under the rug and buried beneath the more celebrated seasons that came before and after.

Now, 30-years-later and the NFL finds itself in a similar predicament — in the midst of a season they’d rather soon forget then celebrate — for many different reasons. Unlike 1987, the rosters are not filled with replacement players (warehouse workers, used car salesman, architects, convicts on work release, etc.) but instead are without many of the league’s biggest names and brightest stars who have been lost to devastating injuries and unreasonable disciplines. Much like 1987 though, the NFL finds itself with a watered-down version of the blue-chip product it has built its reputation on. Without its biggest draws, fans have begun to lose interest as the competitive nature of the game is in decline.

When a season is in decline it raises a number of questions as to how it should be considered, compared and looked at. How does a down year change and affect the value and meaning of the awards and records earned by players? Who is most deserving of receiving them? Should accomplishments be seen in the same light and given the same weight as year’s previous? Do they deserve the same level of respect? Should their achievements be considered any less of an accomplishment? How does this season’s class stack up with those that have come before and will come after? Should the level of competition be taken into account when considering the achievements and accomplishments earned in a down year?

With the regular season winding down, it is time to start taking an honest look at which players are most likely to walk away with this year’s Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards, along with which teams are beginning to look like serious Super Bowl contenders; though the accolades may not carry the same weight as previous years.

MVP

If the season were to end today, no player is more deserving of the MVP award than Minnesota Vikings’ backup quarterback extraordinaire, Case Keenum. Minnesota currently holds a 9-2 record, but without Keenum’s guidance and leadership under center, this team could very well be out of the playoff picture instead of owning one of the best records in the NFL. With both the Vikings’ starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, and starting rookie running back, Dalvin Cook, Keenum has stepped-up and taken control of the offense. He is not only posting career numbers but is one of the top signal callers in the league.

As long as Keenum does not falter down the stretch, the journeyman quarterback could be looking for room on the mantle of his fireplace for his first NFL MVP award. Becoming the biggest Cinderella at quarterback story since Kurt Warner. Keenum is not a name that should be overlooked as he is well deserving of the accolades and was just named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month,

Beyond Keenum, a slew of shining sophomores and Pro Bowl veterans could also be in contention for this year’s most coveted prize, apart from the Lombardi Trophy.

It could be justified that Dallas Cowboys’ star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, is the most valuable player to his team. With 783 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, Elliott was putting together an MVP resume, before his six-game suspension was finally enforced. Not having Elliott in the backfield has become a disaster for the Cowboys. Quarterback, Dak Prescott looks like a shell of his former self and the offense has had difficulty staying on the field long enough for the defense to take their helmets off. It is painfully obvious just how much of the offense was being run through Elliott and how much pressure that took off of the defense. No player in the NFL may be more valuable to his team than Elliott.

Both Jared Goff and Carson Wentz have shown tremendous growth this season. The 2016 first-round picks were drafted to be the arms of the future for their respective franchises, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Philadelphia Eagles, and it has already become evident what they mean to their teams. In just year-two, both Goff and Wentz have been the catalyst that has propelled their teams from the dumps to the top of their divisions, while leading and guiding two the NFL’s most explosive offenses. Goff and Wentz have become to the Rams and Eagles what Kris Bryant was to the Chicago Cubs when he was named the MLB NL MVP, in just his second-year as a pro. Goff’s and Wentz’s contributions cannot be overlooked as they have their teams among the best in the NFL while ranking among the league’s top passers.

Aside from the impressive contributions of the NFL’s superstar sophomores, many of the usual veteran suspects have been at it again. Russell Wilson has quietly been putting together an MVP season, in what has become a difficult year for the Seattle Seahawks. Injuries have burdened this team week after week, however, the numbers speak for themselves as Wilson ranks in the top three among all quarterbacks in passing yards, touchdowns thrown and yards rushing. He has the Seahawks just a game behind the Rams in the NFC West, with Seattle firmly entrenched in the playoff conversation. What Wilson does for his team on the field cannot be duplicated by anyone else.

Coming out of college, many had high expectations for New Orleans Saints’ running back, Mark Ingram, but after a slow start to his career, speculation began to culminate around whether he had what it takes to excel in the NFL. Over the past couple of seasons, Ingram has broken out and become a fixture in the Saints’ backfield as well as one of the league’s most consistent rushers. He has helped transform the identity of the Saints’ offense from one that leaned on the passing game to establish the run, to an offense that depends on the run to open up the passing game for Drew Brees. Ingram has matured in the Saints’ offense.

With the addition of Alvin Kamara, Ingram has really begun to emerge as one of the NFL’s premier running backs. Through 12 weeks this season, he ranks fifth among running backs in rushing yards and is tied for first in rushing touchdowns.

What would an MVP discussion be without perennial favorite Tom Brady? Making the case for Brady is rarely difficult, as year-in-and-year-out, he ranks among the league’s most prolific. His value to the Patriots has been well documented as he has been the face of the franchise for more than a decade. The 2017 season has been no different and is a continuation of his hall of fame career. It should come as no surprise that he leads the league in passing yards and is second in touchdowns thrown. It is very possible that last year’s Super Bowl MVP comes away with his third NFL MVP award this year.

Not to be outshined, Cam Newton looks to have returned to his 2015 NFL MVP form and could find himself in the mix in 2017, as well as could Philip Rivers, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell. It has been 30 years since a wide receiver has won the award (Jerry Rice, 1987) and Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Adam Thielen, all make for legitimate longshot candidates. The award has never been given out to a whole unit before, but the defense of the Vikings and the Jaguars are more than deserving this year.

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