Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and three Pro Bowl berths in his first five season.
And it appears Newton soon will be adding another accomplishment to his bio – the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.
An Observer survey of the voters who participate in the Associated Press NFL MVP balloting found that, barring a very bad performance in Sunday’s regular-season finale against Tampa Bay, Newton will be the MVP when it’s announced Feb. 6 at the NFL Honors presentation the night before Super Bowl 50.
The Observer attempted to contact all 50 voters, half of whom responded. And the consensus was overwhelmingly in favor of Newton with one week remaining in the season.
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Nineteen of the 25 voters who responded said they either planned to vote for Newton for MVP or were leaning toward Newton
Nineteen of the 25 voters who responded said they either planned to vote for Newton for MVP or were leaning toward Newton, barring a disastrous performance in the regular-season finale against the Buccaneers.
Five respondents were undecided, and Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News is voting for Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer.
Voters said the Panthers’ 14-1 record and Newton’s success despite losing No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin make him worthy of becoming the first Panthers’ player to win MVP. No other Carolina player has ever received an MVP vote.
With one regular-season game remaining, Newton already has established career highs with 33 touchdown passes and a 97.0 quarterback rating.
“Newton has raised his level of play this season, and who knows how many touchdown passes he would throw for if he had Carson Palmer’s receiving corps,” said Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki. “I’m not convinced Carolina would even be a .500 team without him.”
Don Banks, a senior writer for SI.com, wants to crunch some more numbers before casting his final vote. But he said Newton has the look of the league’s most valuable player.
“If the season ended today, Cam Newton would get my vote for MVP,” Banks said. “And my rationale would be this: I don’t always know how to define the parameters of what an MVP is, but I know one when I see one, and Newton consistently has been the biggest difference-maker in the NFL this season.”
Newton, who signed a five-year, $103.8 million extension in June, this year became the first player in NFL history with at least 30 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns in the same season. Newton has accounted for more touchdowns (41) than any player in the league.
He’s had three games with five touchdown passes, and he has the Panthers in position for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
And while Newton is coming off his worst game of the season in a 20-13 loss at Atlanta, at least one voter said he could overlook the poor outing.
“Newton has played at a high level and one off-game doesn’t change my thinking,” said Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com. “But if Carson Palmer lights it up this week, and Cam struggles, I might change my thinking. Right now, it’s a two-man race for me.”
Palmer has passed for 4,542 yards, nearly 1,000 more than Newton (3,544). Palmer is completing 64.5 percent of his passes (compared with 58.6 percent for Newton) and has guided the Cardinals to a 13-2 record.
Arizona could take the top seed in the NFC with a win against Seattle on Sunday and a Carolina loss to Tampa Bay.
Domowitch, who covers the NFL for the Philadelphia Daily News, said Palmer’s superior passing numbers convinced him to give him the edge over Newton.
“I understand that you kind of have to look at Cam through a different lens because of the running ability and the leadership he has brought to that team,” Domowitch said. “But I just can’t get past (Newton’s) pedestrian passing numbers, particularly the completion percentage. Going with Palmer.”
MVP voters are made up of a group of 50 media members ranging from newspaper writers to online journalists, radio personalities and TV analysts. They must have their ballots in Tuesday, two days after the regular season.
New England quarterback Tom Brady, a two-time MVP winner, leads the league in passing yards (4,626) and touchdowns (36) after a controversial offseason marred by the Deflategate investigation.
None of the voters who responded to the Observer’s survey had Brady at the top of their ballots.
Several of the undecided voters want to see how Newton and Palmer fare in their Week 17 games with the top NFC seed at stake.
Newton could be without two offensive weapons against Tampa Bay after running back Jonathan Stewart and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. missed practice all week. A strong showing by Newton with a rookie running back (Cameron Artis-Payne) and a receiving corps missing Ginn could cement Newton’s case for MVP.
“It’s Cam Newton’s award to lose heading into the regular-season finale,” the Tampa Tribune’s Ira Kaufman said. “Nobody thought the Panthers would score so many points, especially with Benjamin sidelined.”
Jim Corbett, the former USA Today writer who has covered the NFL for 28 years, is keeping an open mind heading into the final weekend.
“After Sunday, will likely come down to who wins NFC 1 seed,” Corbett said. “Cam was the front-runner, but Carson could beat him out with a strong Week 17 vs. Seattle since the Cardinals now look like the team to beat in the Super Bowl 50 tournament. Makes for a great finish.”