ESPN's NFL MVP poll: Ryan unseats Brady for No. 1 spot

Matt Ryan is Golic's NFL MVP (1:59)

ESPN's Mike Golic explains why Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan deserves to be the NFL MVP this season. (1:59)

With the books closed on the regular season, we took one more run at this MVP thing, and what seems clear is that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan made a convincing case to close it out.

Whether it took our panel longer than it should have taken to buy into Ryan's candidacy or whether his sustained brilliance over a full 16 weeks finally pushed him over the top, he finishes the season as our winner -- surging ahead of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Here's a look at the way our panel saw the race at the finish line.

Methodology: Each of our 13 panelists nominated their top five candidates. First-place votes are 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 17 | Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13

1. Matt Ryan, QB | Atlanta Falcons

Regular-season passing: 373-for-534 (69.9 percent); 4,944 yards; 38 TDs; 7 INTs; 83.4 Total QBR

Case for Ryan: That sustained, full-season excellence thing I mentioned above. Ryan led the league in yards per attempt, passer rating and Total QBR. He was third in completion percentage and second in touchdown passes. The Falcons went 11-5 and finished as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff field. Ryan had six games with a QBR over 90 and only three under 60. The Falcons finished 25th in total defense, which makes the case that they couldn't have done it without him.

Case against Ryan: Tom Brady's team and Ezekiel Elliott's team had better records, I guess. Can't see much else working against him. Had a bad game in Week 10, but that seems to be a nonfactor.

2. Tom Brady, QB | New England Patriots

Regular-season passing: 291-for-432 (67.4 percent); 3,554 yards; 28 TDs; 2 INTs; 83.1 Total QBR

Case for Brady: Since his four-game suspension ended, he has played as well as anyone, and that 28-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is a record for a single season. The Patriots finished with the best record in the league, and Brady had to keep the offense going without Rob Gronkowski for a good chunk of the season.

Case against Brady: He missed four games. The other candidates played full seasons, and their cases aren't appreciably weaker than his. This case is detailed in greater length here.

3. Aaron Rodgers, QB | Green Bay Packers

Regular-season passing: 401-for-610 (65.7 percent); 4,428 yards; 40 TDs; 7 INTs; 77.0 Total QBR

Case for Rodgers: He basically put the Packers on his back and carried them to a season-ending six-game win streak and a division title after a 4-6 start. Rodgers has 18 touchdown passes without an interception over Green Bay's last seven games. He was at his brilliant best at the most important time of the year. And oh, by the way, he led the league in touchdown passes.

Case against Rodgers: Well, he had something to do with the rough start. Sure, there were issues with the run game and the defense, but Rodgers was a bit off with his throws early on, and he struggled to get going in a way that Ryan, for example, didn't. Also, the other guys on this list all played on teams that won more games, which absolutely factors into MVP voting.

4. Ezekiel Elliott, RB | Dallas Cowboys

Regular-season rushing: 322 carries; 1,631 yards; 5.1 yards per carry average; 15 TDs
Regular-season receiving: 32 catches; 363 yards; 1 TD

Case for Elliott: Dallas' identity is its run game, and Elliott led the league in rushing by more than 300 yards, even though he didn't play in the finale because the Cowboys wanted to give him some well-deserved rest for the playoffs. If an MVP candidate is supposed to represent his team's identity, Elliott as the engine of the Cowboys' top-notch offense looks the part.

Case against Elliott: He's not a quarterback, and quarterbacks have dominated this award in recent years. And his fellow rookie, quarterback Dak Prescott, has his own strong case for the award, which might mean they cancel each other out a bit.

5. Derek Carr, QB | Oakland Raiders

Regular-season passing: 357-for-560 (63.8 percent); 3,937 yards; 28 TDs; 6 INTs; 61.8 Total QBR

Case for Carr: This case might be made in the playoffs if the Raiders struggle without Carr, who broke his right fibula in Week 16 and will miss the postseason. There's a lot to like about the Raiders, obviously, or else they wouldn't have gone 12-4. But it seemed all season as if Carr's leadership and fourth-quarter magic acts were a huge part of what they did. Without him, they don't seem the same.

Case against Carr: His numbers don't match up with those of the other guys on this list, especially that 16th-ranked Total QBR. Carr's case is more ephemeral than empirical -- a know-it-when-you-see-it type of MVP candidacy that probably got derailed when the leg broke, as unfair as that may be.