It might be a bit early to single out the leading MVP candidates in the 2016 NFL season, but if Tom Brady slows down at some point, it looks like the Atlanta Falcons & Oakland Raiders quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Derek Carr, are right behind him in the running.

It shouldn’t be that surprising to see Ryan in this position. With the talent surrounding him and the offensive line finally assembled for him, he’s in a position to carry on showing his passing ability, which helped the Falcons make the playoffs quite regularly for the first half of his career. Carr is something of an outsider, but the Raiders are finally legitimate, and Carr is the main reason. That alone is enough to put him in the discussion.

Derek Carr

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Just for making the Raiders great again, Carr deserves the nod. But it’s not just being on a winning team (Raiders lead the AFC West at 7-2). Into his third NFL season, the second round pick out of Fresno State is really coming into his own, while enjoying a very strong supporting cast on offense, headlines by Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray. Cooper and Carr have the potential of becoming one of those memorable QB-WR duos that everyone loves to rank in historical “best ever” discussions, but maybe we’re jumping the gun on this one.

Carr is completing 66.1% of his throws. That’s 12th in the NFL, but it’s the second consecutive season of massive progress for him, up five percentage points from last season. The most impressive thing is his ability to avoid interceptions: Only 3 so far, 0.8% of his throws. He had a 2% interception ratio or higher in the two previous seasons. He’s not getting sacked like before, only 3% of his dropbacks, which says a lot about him and his offensive line. And the bottom line: The ratings. He has a 99.1 passer rating, which isn’t out of this world but his personal best so far, and a QBR of 66.3 according to ESPN. Combine everything, and you get a surprising, legitimate MVP candidate.

Matt Ryan

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For those who love numbers, fivethrityeight have chosen Ryan as their midseason MVP. And Ryan is posting incredible numbers. The nine-year veteran out of Boston College is leading the Falcons to a 6-3 start, which could all fall apart considering their history. But their offensive line is a lot better than before, and with the offensive weapons Ryan has, it seems like they’re too good this season to fall apart, especially with the Panthers having a rough start.

Ryan leads the NFL with 23 touchdown passes while completing 69.6% of his throws, a career high for him so far. He’s also leading the NFL in passing yards at 2980. Despite the Falcons strong running game, they prefer going to both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman quite a lot through the air, giving Ryan plenty of options to spread the wealth. Tom Brady has the highest passer rating in the NFL, but among players without a four-game suspension thwarting their season, Ryan is in the lead. His total QBR is the third highest behind Brady and Dak Prescott.

In the end:

Brady will win it if he keeps playing like this. Being on the field 12 times and not 16 times won’t’ stop him from winning it for a third time in his career. But if it doesn’t happen for some weird reason (the Patriots have defensive problems), it’s going to be Ryan and Carr right behind him. I don’t see the voters giving it to Prescott, for the dumb reason of being a rookie, but also because he doesn’t post the metrics people love to see from quarterbacks, at least not yet.

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