Analysis

Don’t Become Desensitized to Patrick Mahomes’ MVP-Caliber Excellence

Predictions for Chiefs vs. Texans / Patrick Mahomes Chiefs vs. Rams

The MVP race is heating up and, with just six weeks to go in the season, it’s pretty clear that Aaron Rodgers won’t be three-peating. Voter fatigue obviously hasn’t been an issue the past two seasons, but we have become a bit desensitized to the talents of the odds-on favorite, Patrick Mahomes (-140).

The Kansas City quarterback has made the spectacular look routine, and a new guard of quarterbacks has stepped up while older stars like Rodgers and Tom Brady have declined. Jalen Hurts (+400) and Tua Tagovailoa (+500) have enjoyed breakout seasons on Super Bowl contenders, and I’m sure if the season were to end today, they’d both have MVP voters in their respective corners. But Mahomes is still flat-out the best quarterback in the NFL, and if that weren’t enough, he’s having arguably his best season yet.

In his 2018 MVP campaign, Mahomes averaged 0.27 Total Points/Play; this year, he’s averaging 0.29 Total Points/Play, a career best. He’s thrown a catchable ball on 86% of his passes — three percentage points better than his 2018 mark. His turnover-worthy throw rate is also down from 3.7% in 2018 to 2.5% this year. He’s also getting the ball out in a timely manner, as he ranks first in the league in sack rate (3.4%). And he’s doing all this as Kansas City has been as pass-heavy as it’s ever been. Its neutral script passing rate is 73%, the highest it’s been in the Mahomes era and three percentage points higher than it was in 2018.

Season 2018 2022
Total Points/Play 0.27 0.29
Catchable rate 83% 86%
Turnover-worthy throws 3.7% 2.5%
Sack Rate 4.1% 3.4%

 

Perhaps just as importantly – since narratives are as much a driving force in MVP discussions as statistics are — Mahomes is doing this all after having lost arguably the best receiver in football, Tyreek Hill. Not only has there not been a dropoff following Hill’s departure, Kansas City is actually performing better than it was in 2021. It ranks first in offensive EPA/play (0.14), which is up +0.05 EPA/play from last year, when it also ranked first, and it’s more than twice as efficient as the next-best teams, the Eagles and Bills.

These are important distinctions because they give Mahomes a trump card to the other MVP candidates that were previously mentioned — Hurts and Tua. That is: Mahomes’ offense is twice as good as Hurts’, and he’s thrived in the absence of Hill whereas Hill has had a lot to do with Tua’s breakout. As an added bonus, Mahomes has the worst defense of the three; Philly, Miami, and Kansas City rank 6th, 17th, and 19th in EPA/play, respectively.

The flip side to this is that he isn’t generating as many big plays as he did in 2018. His boom rate (plays that generate 1+ EPA for the offense) is 26.1% this year, down from 28.4% in 2018, which is partially attributable to the rate at which he’s gone big play hunting. His average depth of target (ADOT) of 7.3 is the second-lowest of his career, and ranks 26 out of 38 quarterbacks with 100+ attempts in 2022. One might think that this could also be a function of the Hill trade, but his ADOT is nearly identical to what it was in 2021 (7.2).

Playing Captain Obvious and pointing out that Mahomes is otherworldly is, of course, mundane. But for him to be outperforming even his own standard of play, especially within the context of Hill leaving, makes his MVP case more compelling than it might be otherwise. As conditioned as we have become to expect miracles from Mahomes, he’s playing better than he ever has, and that makes a special season all the more special. He faces some tough defenses the rest of the way — the Chiefs have yet to play the Broncos this season — but he is on track to have his best season yet. He should win his second MVP award, and if this isn’t even his final form, I’m sure it won’t be his last.

Bryce Rossler contributed to this report

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