The hay is in the barn.
There is nothing more any of the three primary MVP candidates -- Carolina's Cam Newton, Arizona's Carson Palmer and New England's Tom Brady -- can do to entice or impress voters. From here on out, it's all about the playoffs.
All three have first-round byes and will begin their quest for a Super Bowl the weekend of Jan. 16-17.
So which of the three MVP candidates --Newton, Palmer or Brady -- would you rather have in the playoffs?
NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots), David Newton (Panthers) and Josh Weinfuss (Cardinals) debate:
Reiss: Brady is my choice, sprained right ankle and all. Start with the fact he has started 29 playoff games during his career. That's an extra season and a half of football right there -- six of those games were Super Bowls and nine of them were AFC Championship Games. Ridiculous. When it's a big game, and the stakes can't get much higher, having a player who has not only been in those situations but who has thrived in them, is ideal. That's why Brady's the obvious choice here. Take nothing away from Newton and Palmer, who are both excellent, but until they accrue more than three (Newton) and two (Palmer) playoff games, it's going to be hard for them to come out on top on this one. Winning a few games this season would be a start for them, and they're in position to do so. Maybe the gap closes a bit after this season.
Newton: When this question was first mentioned, I figured any of us that picked somebody other than Brady had a loose marble -- or two. Maybe I have three, but the more I thought about it the more I leaned toward Newton. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Brady has the playoff experience and the Super Bowl rings. Newton has won one of three playoff games. That is why I initially figured this was a no-brainer. But I'm not picking the Brady that was the MVP of last season's Super Bowl. I'm picking against the Brady that lost his past two regular-season games against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins with a combined 30 points. Newton has led the Panthers to 33 or more points in six of the past seven games. He had two rushing touchdowns and two passing in Sunday's 38-10 victory against Tampa Bay. He did it without leading rusher Jonathan Stewart and top wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (By the way, Newton made Ginn look like a Pro Bowler with 10 touchdowns this season. Ginn had only 14 catches and no touchdowns for Carson Palmer last season). Newton's ability to keep plays alive with his legs and arm, in my opinion, is why the Panthers have the best record in the NFL. Seven times this season Newton has had at least one rushing and one passing touchdown in a game. He is looking like a bigger version of a young Steve Young. When we started this MVP discussion with six weeks left in the regular season, I said Newton was the obvious MVP because he's been Brady-like in the sense he's playing smart and making others around him better. That hasn't changed. I'm going with the hot hand. I'm going with the player who just named his new baby Chosen.
Weinfuss: Here's the thing: How can I not go with Brady? He has six Super Bowl appearances -- and four wins. That should be the end of the argument, right? Well, wrong. There is no debating Brady's excellence in the playoffs and he will likely end up in the AFC Championship Game again this season. And Newton has had one heck of a season, and will likely carry the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game, where they will meet the Arizona Cardinals and Carson Palmer. There are a few reasons why I would take Palmer for a playoff run despite him playing in just two playoff games (yes, I know how crazy I sound, but hear me out). He's playing on the most balanced team in the NFL, and that means he doesn't have the pressure of single-handedly having to carry the team. He can play his game -- which means a lot of down-field passing -- without worrying about the defense. And Palmer is playing his best football, having thrown for the most yards and touchdowns of his career. He looks like the quarterback everyone expected as the No. 1 pick. It's just happening at age 36. One thing that can't be quantified is the chip on Palmer's shoulder. He hasn't won a playoff game. He missed out on last season's run to the postseason with Arizona. And he's ready to finally show what he's capable of. That motivation can make up for almost anything.