While the MVP race appears to be signed, sealed and delivered to Tom Brady, the battle for our choice is well up for grabs with three weeks to play.
Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers all got first-place votes among our 10 ballot-boxers, and the difference between first place and third place is just two votes. (10 points for a first-place vote, nine for second, etc.)
And the leader is …
1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta (72 points, 4 first-place votes)
Our analysts continue to see something in Ryan that the NFL’s passer rating system doesn’t. Ryan is 12th in passer rating at 90.7, but is still likely to be atop our QB grades at the end of the week pending further review. It’s unlikely Ryan will get more than a vote or two among the 50 Associated Press writers who cast official ballots, but the Falcons’ QB deserves a lot of credit.
2. Tom Brady, New England (71 points, 2 first-place votes)
A fifth straight MVP-type game has landed Brady where most think he should have been all along. But four of his first eight games were stinkers, and it wasn’t until Randy Moss’ exit and the adjustments that followed that he started playing like an MVP. He faces two of our top 10-graded pass coverage units in his last three (Miami, Green Bay), so we’ll see if he winds up at No. 1 by season’s end.
3. Philip Rivers, San Diego (70 points, 1 first-place vote)
Clearly, the Chargers are a better team for not needing to throw the ball 50 times a game, but it sure was fun to watch Rivers single-handedly try to win games for them earlier in the season. The man simply hasn’t turned in a truly bad game since we’ve been grading (start of 2008).
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (64 points, 1 first-place vote)
It’s easy to say that the Packers fell apart without him in the lineup versus Detroit, but they were already in the process of doing so with him. He was 0 for 5 on third-down conversions with an interception and zero points when he was knocked out of the game in the first half (although, as it’s been pointed out, the INT was hardly his fault).
5. Michael Vick, Philadelphia (45 points, 1 first-place vote)
In the eight games he’s gone start to finish, the Eagles have scored 35, 28, 26, 59, 27, 26, 34 and 30 points. That’s some impressive consistency (and 33.1 PPG), and while he’s not doing it alone, it’s worth noting that they scored 20, 12, 27, 31 and 19 in the other five games (21.4 PPG).
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans (38 points, 1 first-place vote)
The Saints have strung together five straight games of 30+ points, and Brees’ PFF grades have been off the charts over the past six weeks. Like Brady, he’s getting better as the season progresses — not good news for the rest of the league.
7. Trent Cole, Philadelphia (33 points)
Cole didn’t show up on the stat sheet against Dallas, and we haven’t graded his performance yet, but the fact that Dallas’ RB duo of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice finished with 67 yards on 20 carries will likely have a lot to do with Cole’s efforts versus the run.
8. Kyle Williams, Buffalo (32 points)
Williams finally got some SportsCenter time, rumbling 11 yards on a fumble recovery against Cleveland in the first quarter. Like Cole, he also failed to really show up on the stat sheet, but for one of the few times all year he got help from the rest of his defensive teammates and celebrated a win. You go, Kyle.
9. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (21 points)
Manning didn’t grade nearly as poorly as his interception totals would have suggested during his cold streak, and he had a nice bounce-back game versus Houston. His body of work is still impressive, and the Colts would probably be fighting for the No. 1 pick in the draft instead of the playoffs without him.
10. Julius Peppers, Chicago (19 points)
Peppers certainly showed up on the stat sheet, with a sack, two passes defensed, eight tackles and an additional tackle for loss. He’s worth every penny the Bears are paying him.
Others receiving votes: Peyton Hills (17 points), Cameron Wake (15), James Harrison (12), Jamaal Charles (9), Terrell Suggs (9), Maurice Jones-Drew (7), Tamba Hali (4), Adrian Peterson (3), Darren McFadden (3), Andre Johnson (2), Patrick Willis (2), Clay Matthews (2), Brandon Flowers (1), Troy Polamalu (1).