ESPN's NFL MVP Poll: Carr still at the top

Stafford's confidence is growing, praises Boldin (1:18)

Matthew Stafford tells Mike & Mike about his mounting confidence in his QB skills this season and praises Anquan Boldin's admirable work ethic. (1:18)

This is the time of year when MVP candidates are made. The V stands for "valuable," and there's nothing more valuable than stepping your game up a notch to lead your team to wins in December. (Except, of course, doing the same thing in January, but MVP is a regular-season award.)

As our panel of 12 experts reassessed the top candidates after Week 13's action, how did things change? Who helped himself? Who moved up? Who dropped out?

With four weeks to go, this is the way we see the NFL's MVP race.

Methodology: Each of our 12 panelists nominated their top five candidates. First-place votes were worth five points, second-place votes worth four, third-place votes worth three, fourth-place votes worth two and fifth-place worth one.

1. Derek Carr, QB | Oakland Raiders

Regular-season passing: 300-for-458 (65.5 percent); 3,375 yards; 24 TDs; 5 INTs; 65.8 Total QBR

Case for Carr: He is Mr. Fourth Quarter. A tough-as-nails team leader who gets better as the game goes along. Down 24-9 to the Bills with a little more than 20 minutes left in the game, Carr led the Raiders to 29 unanswered points and a sixth straight victory. He's at his best in the biggest moments, which is MVP stuff.

Case against Carr: As was the case last week, Carr's numbers overall don't stack up brilliantly with other MVP-candidate quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan or even Kirk Cousins. There's also a growing case to be made that Carr is the second-most valuable player on his own team, behind star pass-rusher Khalil Mack.

2. Tom Brady, QB | New England Patriots

Regular-season passing: 208-for-302 (68.9 percent); 2,470 yards; 19 TDs; 1 INT; 82.1 Total QBR

Case for Brady: The touchdown-to-interception ratio is flat-out inconceivable. He has to play without his top offensive weapon now, and if the numbers and wins keep piling up post-Rob Gronkowski, that'll only make Brady look more valuable by season's end.

Case against Brady: It's all about games played. We went over it last week. For a candidate to win this award in spite of playing only two-thirds as many games as his competitors, his performance has to be considerably and unassailably better than theirs. And there are just too many strong candidates who've played every game.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB | Dallas Cowboys

Regular-season rushing: 263 carries; 1,285 yards; 12 TDs
Regular-season receiving: 28 receptions; 322 yards; 1 TD

Case for Elliott: No team runs the ball on a higher percentage of its plays than the Cowboys do, which means the run game is more important for Dallas than it is for any other team in the league. Elliott leads the league in rushing yards by 242 and in runs of 20 or more yards. He stays on the field on third downs and blocks or catches the ball if need be. He is the Dallas offense.

Case against Elliott: As with Carr, there are some who wonder as to whether Elliott is even the most valuable player on his own team, or if that award should go to fellow rookie Dak Prescott. Couple that with the tendency of this award to go to quarterbacks (eight of the past nine years), and you wonder whether Elliott's year can be clearly good enough to convince voters.

4. Matthew Stafford, QB | Detroit Lions

Regular-season passing: 291-for-433 (67.2 percent); 3,224 yards; 21 TDs; 5 INTs; 72.5 Total QBR

Case for Stafford: He has a case kind of like Carr's, given that his team has had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in seven of its eight victories. Stafford's performance has been steady in Jim Bob Cooter's offense, and the comebacks are the kinds of heroics that help a guy's MVP case.

Case against Stafford: The numbers really aren't that good. Even in the fourth quarter, he has just five touchdowns and two interceptions. Overall, he's eighth in Total QBR, eighth in completion percentage, 12th in yards per attempt, 10th in yards and eighth in completion percentage. The numbers look all right next to Carr's, but they're not among the top in the league. Ephemerally, Stafford feels like an MVP candidate because he passes the eye test and his team is 8-4, but he doesn't have MVP stats.

5. Dak Prescott, QB | Dallas Cowboys

Regular-season passing: 243-for-358 (67.9 percent); 2,974 yards; 19 TDs; 2 INTs; 85.2 Total QBR
Regular-season rushing: 217 yards; 5 TDs

Case for Prescott: The Cowboys went 1-11 without Tony Romo last season. This season, with Prescott, they're 11-1. He diagnoses defenses pre-snap like a veteran, he makes smart decisions during the course of the play and the team clearly believes in him. There's nothing not to like about him.

Case against Prescott: It may or may not be fair to downgrade him for this, but Prescott is operating in maybe the most favorable of circumstances for a quarterback in the entire league. He has the league's best offensive line in front of him, the league's best running back and an elite receiver in Dez Bryant, who catches the ball when Prescott chucks it downfield. That doesn't mean he's not most valuable, just that there might be other players carrying a higher share of the responsibility for their teams' success.