Each week, the NFL's top players continue to separate themselves from the rest of the group. This is how we identify the league's MVP—recognizing the player that consistently performed throughout the season.
There were a few major changes in my rankings this week. For example, players like Philip Rivers and Drew Brees dropped out of the top 25. Others, like Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger, made big moves up the list.
Continue through the article to see who holds the No. 1 spot in this early look at the MVP race.
25. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Previous Rank: N/A
Maurice Jones-Drew appears to be in game shape and ready to dominate the NFL. His 177-yard performance against the Indianapolis Colts was very impressive. The one thing that keeps him in the MVP race is the fact he's guaranteed touches. Nobody on the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense will take the ball out of Jones-Drew's hands
24. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Previous Rank: No. 24
Tony Romo had another lackluster performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Dallas Cowboys have a ton of weapons on offense, but the unit doesn't seem to be on the same page. It's up to Romo to right the ship.
23. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Previous Rank: No. 18
The fact that the New York Giants had to play on Thursday night really hurt Hakeem Nicks. He's still dealing with some soreness in his foot, and that limited amount of rest forced him to miss the game. Lets see if he can get back on track next week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
22. Tim Jennings, Chicago Bears
Previous Rank: No. 25
Tim Jennings continues to play at a very high level. He intercepted his fourth pass of the season against the St. Louis Rams. As I mentioned last week, Jennings isn't only creating turnovers, but he's doing a great job in coverage as well. It's also important to note that Jennings is an excellent tackler and isn't afraid to come up and make a play against the run.
21. Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals
Previous Rank: No. 20
The Arizona Cardinals and Calais Campbell put a ton of hits on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Campbell failed to register a sack, but generated more than enough pressure to hurry some of Vick's throws.
20. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Previous Rank: No. 19
Matthew Stafford is putting up excellent numbers, but his team isn't winning football games. The MVP typically comes from a team playing at a very high level, or someone that is grossly outperforming the competition. It's also important to keep an eye on Stafford's injury.
19. Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
Previous Rank: No. 23
Reggie Bush's hopes to win the rushing title took a major hit when he was forced out of the game with a knee injury. The thought is the injury is nothing serious, but Bush could still miss a few games. Because of the presence of several other talented running backs, this injury really hurts Bush's MVP chances.
18. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Previous Rank: No. 5
Alex Smith makes the biggest drop in my rankings—falling from No. 5. The biggest concern with Smith is that he'll never consistently put up the numbers needed to remain in the race. This weekend against the Minnesota Vikings, he had 35 pass attempts and just barely topped the 200-yard mark.
17. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Previous Rank: N/A
Jamaal Charles may currently lead the NFL in rushing, but it takes more than one excellent game to jump into the top 10 on this list. Charles needs to show that he can continue to produce at a high level and that he's fully recovered from his injury.
16. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Previous Rank: No. 11
It's taking Peyton Manning some time to work his way back into form. This is due to missing an entire season, dealing with lingering effects from the operations and working with a completely new wide-receiver group. These issues will put Manning behind the rest of the competition. He'll still have a productive season, but just not enough to be a real contender for the MVP award.
15. Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Previous Rank: No. 16
It's tough to give the MVP award to a player on a team with several surprising stars. Eli Manning just keeps making those around him better. The fact that Ramses Barden put up such impressive numbers has to shed new light on Cruz's production. This might be more about Manning than the talent in the wide-receiver corps.
14. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
Previous Rank: No. 12
Roddy White drops a little because he was only able to register 55 receiving yards on Sunday. However, his production at the end of the year should put him in the top 10. White is a very consistent player, topping the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last five seasons.
13. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Previous Rank: No. 13
The New York Giants didn't need Eli Manning to throw for over 500 yards to defeat the Carolina Panthers. However, it was nice to see Manning take care of the football and avoid throwing more interceptions.
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Previous Rank: No. 22
Ben Roethlisberger showed this past weekend that he's capable of putting up the numbers needed to get into the MVP race. However, the issue is he put up those numbers in a loss. The Pittsburgh Steelers need to establish a rushing attack if they want to win football games. This will take opportunities away from Roethlisberger.
11. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Previous Rank: No. 14
LeSean McCoy's worst enemy is head coach Andy Reid. At times, it seems that Reid forgets that he has one of the best running backs in the league. McCoy is talented enough to win the MVP award; he just needs the touches.
Previous Rank: No. 7
Many feel that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, but that doesn't mean he's without his faults. He's just like every other quarterback in the league in that he struggles when faced with pressure. This has been evident in each of the games this season.
However, Rodgers differs from most other quarterbacks in that he's capable of staying focused and picking his spots. The best example of this is looking at how Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears reacted against the Green Bay Packers. In that game, Cutler let the pressure force him to lose his composure.
The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers need the offensive line to improve. Rodgers just won't be able to put up MVP-type numbers while facing a consistent pass rush.
Previous Rank: No. 8
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are off to a disappointing 1-2 start. Despite the poor start, Brady has actually played good football. He has topped the 300-yard mark in each of the past two games. However, the problem is that the offense is settling for too many field goals.
Although improved, the Patriots defense still has a lot of issues. This isn't a group that can keep the game close if New England is settling for field goals. In the past, Brady has been able to overcome the defensive deficiencies and help New England win football games.
An issue might be that Brady is trying to work a few new targets into the mix. New England is without Aaron Hernandez, trying to get Brandon Lloyd up to speed and feature Julian Edelman more in the offense.
Previous Rank: No. 15
After three games, Joe Flacco has shown that he's ready to be mentioned in the same breath as the NFL's other elite quarterbacks. His numbers are good, but it's his ability to perform in pressure situations that's most impressive.
This weekend's game against the New England Patriots quickly turned into a shootout. It's not often that we see Tom Brady lose these types of games. Flacco was able to go blow for blow with Brady. I loved how Flacco led the team down the field for the game-winning field goal.
The fact that Justin Tucker barely made the field goal means that every extra yard Flacco gained was important.
Previous Rank: No. 2
Obviously, the reason C.J. Spiller dropped in the rankings is because of the shoulder injury he suffered over the weekend. However, I kept him in the top 10 because the injury is only supposed to sideline him for a week or two.
Spiller is an electrifying athlete who's capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Prior to leaving the game with an injury, he showed his game-breaking ability with a 32-yard touchdown reception. The fact is defenses will have a tough time keeping Spiller in check.
Some will point to the potential return of Fred Jackson as a reason to drop Spiller on this list. However, both players are versatile enough to be on the field at the same time. I also have confidence that Chan Gailey can call some good plays.
Previous Rank: No. 3
Clay Matthews failed to record a sack against the Seattle Seahawks, but he still generated a ton of pressure. His ability to get after the quarterback forced the Seahawks to alter their offensive strategy.
If you watched the game, you would've noticed that Seattle constantly had a running back or tight end chip Matthews. This is the type of defensive player that can win the MVP award. He changes the entire flow of the opponent's offense.
The key for Matthews is not to have too many games where he fails to record a sack. Unfortunately, stats play a major role in the outcome of the MVP race.
Previous Rank: No. 10
Everybody is talking about how good Joe Flacco looks this season. However, the Baltimore Ravens turned to Ray Rice when things weren't running smoothly. Baltimore's offense struggled early in the game against the New England Patriots. So, they turned to Rice to help get them on track.
Rice is the type of player that helps the offense move the chains. On the season, he's averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 9.1 yards per reception. The main reason Flacco and the Ravens offense look so good is because they have Rice to lean on.
As it stands, he currently ranks as the No. 7 rusher among running backs. However, his consistency from week to week will help him climb that list.
Previous Rank: No. 9
Despite only being three games into his NFL career, Robert Griffin III looks like a seasoned pro. He has the Washington Redskins offense playing at a very high level. Griffin is accomplishing this despite missing some key pieces.
Washington spent a ton of money to sign Pierre Garcon to be the go-to guy for its young quarterback. However, an injury has forced him to miss a lot of time this season. Griffin has not let this setback hurt his play. He has just worked other targets like Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson into the mix.
Typically, young quarterbacks struggle to handle the loss of their top target. The fact that Griffin continues to produce shows just what type of upside he possesses.
Previous Rank: No. 6
It took almost three full games, but Calvin Johnson scored his first touchdown of the season against the Tennessee Titans. Despite not getting into the end zone, Johnson has played at a very high level. It's important to keep in mind that Johnson does his damage while facing double- and triple-teams.
Johnson's size and speed combination is what makes him such a dangerous playmaker. He's the type of receiver who attacks the football at its highest point, which is why it's so difficult to defend him.
He showed this past weekend that it doesn't matter who's playing quarterback. He tallied four catches, 71 yards and a touchdown after Shaun Hill replaced Matthew Stafford because of an injury.
Johnson will remain in the top 10 on this list throughout the season.
Previous Rank: No. 4
The Houston Texans are committed to winning football games with their running game and defense. This is the formula that helped Houston win a playoff game last season. It is able to run this type of attack because of Arian Foster.
He's a multitalented back who runs with power, has excellent quickness and can make plays in the passing game. Foster's talent isn't the only reason he'll remain in the MVP running. The fact that the Texans give him plenty of touches also plays a major role.
It's also important to note that the Texans are an excellent football team. This means Foster will have multiple opportunities to run the clock out at the end of games.
Previous Rank: No. 1
The Atlanta Falcons are arguably the hottest team in the NFL right now. A lot of that is because of Matt Ryan, who is the hottest quarterback in the league. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has opened up the passing attack and put the ball in Ryan's hands.
Ryan is absolutely benefiting from the presence of playmakers like Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. However, Ryan is making good decisions with the ball and making sure everyone remains involved in the game plan.
As long as the Falcons keep winning, Ryan will remain near the top of this list.