Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys’ MVP debatable, which is why league MVP could go elsewhere

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott share the same backfield, the same draft class and a love for candy, steak and cars.

But they won’t share rookie of the year honors.

“One of them is going to get it, and they both deserve it,” Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant said.

Which rookie has proved more valuable to the Cowboys? Even the Cowboys can’t decide, with one team employee saying, “Flip a coin.”

“That’s really hard,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I certainly haven’t been a part of two guys who have impacted games with equal success with the way those two have. I think equally in a lot of ways. At different times, they’ve both kind of put our offense on their shoulders.

 … It’s hard to pick. I don’t know how you [decide], because both of them have been equal in my mind with how successful they’ve been, and both of them are worthy.”

Voters for the league’s postseason awards can’t separate the rookies either, which is why Elliott and Prescott likely knock each other out of the MVP race.

“The fact that they are both in the conversation may dilute the case for either one of them,” one voter said.

In a poll of 16 of the 50 voters for the league’s official top postseason honor — which came before any Week 16 games — Patriots quarterback Tom Brady earned the most support for MVP despite his four-game suspension for Deflategate.

Brady has won the award in 2007 and 2010.

“Brady is dominating people without [Rob] Gronkowski, and even though he’s missed four games, his stats are nearly as good as the rest of the top quarterbacks,” one voter said. “He’s doing it as a pocket passer with no mobility, which you almost have to have nowadays. Elliott and Prescott have been a nice tandem, but I don’t think either one could carry his team alone the way Brady is carrying his.”

As several voters noted, though, it appears the most wide-open MVP race in years. Besides Brady, Elliott and Prescott, voters mentioned Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on their list of candidates.

Carr appeared to be running second to Brady among voters, but sustained a broken fibula in his right leg Saturday and is out indefinitely.

After Week 15, Bovada listed Elliott as the favorite in the MVP race with 2-1 odds. Brady (5-2), Ryan (9-2), Carr (7-1) and Rodgers (10-1) followed, with Prescott off the board.

Only one running back has won MVP the past nine years. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is the last non-quarterback to win it, taking home the hardware in 2012.

Both Elliott and Prescott have played well enough to earn consideration for the award, and seven voters mentioned Elliott with five citing Prescott.

Elliott leads the league in rushing with 1,551 yards. He needs 258 yards in the final two games to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record set in 1983 for the Rams.

Prescott ranks third in the league in passer rating with a 103.2 and stands within one win of tying Ben Roethlisberger for the most victories in league history by a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Prescott has 20 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“Elliott isn’t the first great rookie running back,” said voter John McClain, who covers the Texans for the Houston Chronicle. “Prescott is doing something no quarterback taken in the fourth round or lower has ever done as a rookie.”

Another voter, though, favored Elliott, saying, “Let’s face it, Zeke is the engine that drives the Cowboys offense.”

It’s the great debate: Zeke or Dak? Dak or Zeke?

Elliott would vote for Prescott; Prescott would vote for Elliott.

“If anybody on this team is MVP, I think it’s the running back,” Prescott said. “He definitely opens up my game, opens up the passing game. Defenses have to key in on him and give us some one on ones outside. That’s when the guys like Dez and Cole [Beasley] and those guys go and make plays.”

Despite the team’s lengthy list of Hall of Famers, the Cowboys have only one league MVP. Emmitt Smith won the award in 1993.

In 2014, the Cowboys had a similar season to this one with their offensive stars producing similar stats. DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards, and Tony Romo passed for 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Cowboys went 12-4.

Romo and Murray received two votes apiece for MVP, which was won by Rodgers, though Murray did win offensive player of the year.

“I think it’s more of a tribute to the guys we have around us,” Elliott said of being in the conversation. “ … It kind of celebrates just how good our team is and how well we’re doing.”

Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean

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