ESPN's NFL MVP Poll: Brady unseats Carr as No. 1

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If you arrived on Earth in a spaceship in Week 14 and knew nothing about what happened in the first 13 weeks of the NFL season, you'd think the MVP race was a no-brainer.

The future Hall of Famer who took apart the league's No. 1 defense on Monday night looked like the clear choice, whereas the guy who led our poll each of the past two weeks played his worst game of the year at the worst possible time while the rookies who have been driving the league's hottest team looked mortal.

So there's a change atop our weekly MVP poll with three weeks to go, with a familiar name taking over the lead.

Methodology: Each of our 13 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 votes worth one.

Previous polls: Week 14 | Week 13

1. Tom Brady, QB | New England Patriots

Regular-season passing: 233-for-340 (68.5 percent); 2,876 yards; 22 TDs; 2 INTs; 82.4 Total QBR

Case for Brady: He's 8-1 since returning from suspension. He's playing without Rob Gronkowski. He's the best player at the most important position on the best team. And if you doubted that, he threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against the Ravens on Monday night and rescued a game New England's special teams almost gave away.

Case against Brady: Same as it ever was. If you've played only 69 percent as many games as the other candidates for the same award, your case has to be better than theirs by leaps and bounds. Brady was of no value whatsoever to the Patriots in their first four games, and there are too many other good candidates this season to give it to someone who missed so much time.

2. Derek Carr, QB | Oakland Raiders

Regular-season passing: 317-for-499 (63.5 percent); 3,492 yards; 24 TDs; 5 INTs; 60.7 Total QBR

Case for Carr: He is the quarterback on a 10-3 team and has delivered that team to most of those wins with a fourth-quarter stat line that's as strong as any other quarterback's in the league. Carr has been at his best in the biggest moments for one of the league's best teams.

Case against Carr: His miserable performance in Thursday's loss to the Chiefs could be disqualifying. If you end up losing the division to another team, and you went 0-2 against them while going 17-of-41 passing for 117 yards in the second one, it's tough to claim this award. Carr's case is based on the ephemeral concept of "clutch," and that was damaged in his most recent game.

3. Matthew Stafford, QB | Detroit Lions

Regular-season passing: 312-for-468 (66.7 percent); 3,447 yards; 22 TDs; 7 INTs; 71.2 Total QBR

Case for Stafford: Why is this year's Lions roster better than last year's? Stafford is operating in a post-Calvin Johnson universe with no running game and basically the same defense he had last year to pair with a young offensive line. The Lions come back to win every week because of how well Stafford is executing the offense, especially in the most important moments.

Case against Stafford: The Lions sometimes find themselves needing to come back in the fourth quarter because of a Stafford mistake. Sure, he was great on the game-winning touchdown drive Sunday, but they needed one only because he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown to end the previous drive.

4. Ezekiel Elliott, RB | Dallas Cowboys

Regular-season rushing: 287 carries; 1,392 rush yards; 12 TDs
Regular-season receiving: 28 receptions; 322 receiving yards; 1 TD

Case for Elliott: There's no one on this list whose individual success is so completely intertwined with his team's success. The Cowboys have to run the ball to win, and Elliott leads the league in rushing by more than 250 yards.

Case against Elliott: He's averaging "only" 4.4 yards per carry (a half-yard under his season average) in his past two games against the tough run defenses of the Vikings and the Giants. Elliott's case could use a strong finish that reminds everyone of what he looked like in Weeks 3 through 6.

5. Matt Ryan, QB | Atlanta Falcons

Regular-season passing: 302-for-442 (68.3 percent); 4,050 yards; 30 TDs; 7 INTs; 81.1 Total QBR

Case for Ryan: Of the quarterbacks on the league's top teams, no one's numbers sparkle quite like Ryan's, and he leads the league with 9.16 yards per pass attempt. He managed three touchdown passes Sunday without Julio Jones on the field.

Case against Ryan: The only real case against Ryan at this point is that his record isn't as good as those of the other candidates. Brady has won as many games and missed the first four. MVPs tend to come from the very best teams, and at this point, we still don't know whether Atlanta will be able to claim to be one of those.