While the NFL MVP race might be over -- it's going to be won by Carolina's Cam Newton -- the passing yardage champion appears to be a four-man race in the season's final two weeks. Here are the candidates' odds from Ladbrokes.
Brady Goes For Third Title
It's looking likely that for the second straight season, no quarterback will reach the 5,000-yard plateau. For a while there, New England's Tom Brady and San Diego's Philip Rivers were both on pace to break Peyton Manning's league record of 5,477 in his last MVP season of 2013. Might we see another tie? That happened last year for the first time, with New Orleans' Drew Brees and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger finishing at 4,952 yards. Just think, a receiver stretching for one more or less yard for either guy just once in 16 games and it alters history.
The problem with determining who might win the passing title this year is that three of the four top candidates might not play both games left. Brady leads the league with 4,405 yards and is the -120 betting favorite at Ladbrokes. He is a two-time passing champion, throwing for 4,806 in 2007 and 4,110 in 2005. Brady isn't going to catch his career high of 5,235 yards set in 2011.
The Patriots are at the Jets this Sunday. That game still matters for the Patriots (12-2). They have the AFC East wrapped up again and at worst the No. 2 seed in the conference. They clinch the top seed with a victory. The key for New England is to not lose twice and fall into a tiebreaker with Denver (10-4) as it beat the Patriots head-to-head. The Bengals (11-3) are in the mix as well.
So if New England wins at the Jets, which is no sure thing with New York in the playoff hunt, what does Bill Belichick do Week 17 in Miami? He said that there needs to be a balance with trying to win, but that resting guys is something he must consider to be as close to full strength as possible for the postseason. Last year, the Pats had nothing to play for in Week 17 at home vs. Buffalo and did rest a bunch of guys. Brady played only the first half. I promise you that Brady, with his four Super Bowl rings and two MVPs, cares less about the passing title.
Rest of The Field
San Diego's Philip Rivers is second with 4,287 yards and is +400 on NFL odds. Rivers' Chargers are eliminated from the playoffs but it's likely that Rivers will play the final two games, which are Thursday night at Oakland and Week 17 at Denver (which would be a winter wonderland). Rivers has one passing title in his career, throwing for 4,710 yards in 2010. His offensive line is so battered at this point, I'd be surprised if Rivers makes it through both games healthy. The Chargers aren't likely to sit him Week 17 if that game affects the Broncos' playoff seeding and it very well might.
Arizona's Carson Palmer is third with 4,277 yards and +225 to win his first passing title. Palmer has three terrific receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown and he's the best deep passer in the league right now as evidenced by his NFL-high 8.82 yards per attempt. The Cardinals still have something to play for this week against Green Bay: a win gets the Cards a first-round bye. There's an outside chance Arizona could be playing for the top seed in Week 17, but the Carolina Panthers would have to be upset this Sunday in Atlanta. I know that Coach Bruce Arians would love to sit Palmer in Week 17 because of Palmer's history of knee injuries.
Finally, New Orleans' Brees has 4,135 yards and is +1400. Brees reached the 60,000-yard career mark in Monday night's loss to Detroit. He also hurt his foot and was to undergo an MRI on Tuesday. The Saints are eliminated from the playoffs and have no reason to play him the rest of the way. He's also pretty far behind Brady as it is.
NFL Pick: I'm taking Rivers with my NFL picks as he's the only guy I'm confident who will play the final two games. The passing title would be a nice consolation prize for an otherwise lousy season for his team.