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Who deserves to win NFL MVP -- Cam Newton or Carson Palmer?

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Who's the MVP: Brady, Newton, or Palmer? (1:33)

Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless debate who the league MVP is 16 weeks through the regular season. (1:33)

It's been a given for weeks that a quarterback will win MVP honors in the NFL this season. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were favorites early. Cam Newton supplanted them late, with Russell Wilson giving chase down the stretch. All belong in the conversation, but Carson Palmer has been the best quarterback in the league from Week 1 through Week 16 -- by a decent margin, too. He tops my MVP rankings heading into the 2015 season's final week.

This was going to be a tougher case to argue persuasively over beers at the bar if the Panthers had not suffered their first defeat of the season Sunday. I had one of those conversations Sunday morning (minus the beers and bar) with a football fan who defaulted to Carolina's then-unblemished record every time my case for Palmer seemed to be scoring points. This column was in the works before Atlanta handed Carolina its first defeat. It was on my mind before Palmer's Cardinals embarrassed Green Bay, putting the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff race on the line in Week 17.

The case for Palmer is not a complicated one to make. Simply put, Palmer has played a leading role in his team's success more frequently than any other quarterback in the league this season. He's not the only worthy candidate, but he's the best one going.

I'll begin with a quick run through my MVP ballot before focusing in on the case for Palmer.

1. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals: Palmer hasn't had a bad game all season while leading a dynamic passing offense. Individual and team performance line up perfectly here.

2. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Newton's defense has bailed him out several times, but the reverse is also true. That complicates Newton's candidacy.