J.J. Watt deserves consideration as the NFL's MVP in 2012, but where does he rank among the top five after Week 8?
In a league of superstars, it's tough to determine exactly which athletes are worthy of being called the league's most valuable player. The easiest way to look at this award is to ask the question: If this player were taken out of the lineup, how badly would it hurt his respective team?
To narrow it down for the sake of this argument, I'm only looking at the players who are on winning teams and who are the driving force behind their team's success.
For instance, I'm not including Robert Griffin III in my deliberations, because the Washington Redskins are currently 3-5. RG3 is undoubtedly the MVP of his team, but leaders of losing teams don't deserve consideration.
Here are the top-five MVP candidates through Week 8 in the NFL.
Adrian Peterson's remarkable recovery from his devastating knee injury last December makes him a favorite (along with Peyton Manning) to win the NFL's comeback player of the year award, but he is also on track to at least challenge for the league's MVP.
The Minnesota Vikings' 5-3 start to the season is almost as surprising as Peterson's thunderous return. There's no doubt this team wouldn't be in this position without its superstar running back. Percy Harvin is a crucial player, and so is Christian Ponder, but the Vikings offense would be stagnant without AP pounding the rock.
Peterson leads the NFL in rushing after Week 8 with 775 yards. He's averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and nobody in the league has more runs over 20 yards than the man they call "All Day," who has eight.
At his current pace, Peterson will finish the season with 1,550 yards and eight touchdowns—not bad for a man who couldn't even walk last Christmas.
The New York Giants are scary good this season.
The biggest reason for their 6-2 start?
You guessed it, Eli Manning.
He's a guy that stats can't quantify.
Manning's best attribute, and the one that lands him on this list, is his ability to turn on the clutch when the game is on the line. He's already put together three game-winning drives in 2012, further cementing himself as the greatest clutch quarterback of his generation.
J.J. Watt is the embodiment of a new era in the NFL.
He is redefining what scouts will be looking for in potential 3-4 defensive ends from this day forward, because he's doing things nobody ever expected possible for a man playing his position.
Through seven games, Watt has already tallied 9.5 sacks, 27 solo tackles, 10 passes defended and two fumble recoveries. According to the AP, four of his 10 defended passes have led to interceptions, and with four more, he'll break Reggie White's all-time record for linemen—13, which White set back in 1991.
If Watt continues at his current pace, he'll finish the 2012 season with 22 sacks, 62 solo tackles and 23 passes defended—a legendary season for a 3-4 defensive end, or a player at any other position.
Led by Watt, the Texans defense is the No. 3-ranked unit in the NFL, giving up just 283 yards per game.
Furthermore, the Texans have only lost one game this year. It's reasonable to believe they will come out of the AFC with the No. 1 seed thanks to Watt's dominant play on defense.
With Peyton Manning at the helm, the Denver Broncos are a real threat to the rest of the AFC teams come January.
The scary part is that he's getting better every week.
At the midseason mark, Manning leads the NFL in passer rating, is second in yards per game, has thrown 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions and has the Broncos sitting atop the AFC West with a 4-3 record.
The most impressive thing that stands out to me is that Manning has only thrown one interception since throwing three picks against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2.
Out of the nine remaining games left on the schedule for the Broncos, only the Baltimore Ravens have a winning record. Manning and the Broncos are set for a blazing-hot second half to the 2012 season, and if he continues to play the way he's been playing, he has a shot to win his fifth MVP.
The Atlanta Falcons are the only team in the NFL that hasn't lost a game this season, but if not for Matt Ryan's late-game heroics this season, things would have turned out a lot differently.
He engineered three game-winning drives this season in three-straight games—from Week 4 to Week 6.
For the season, Ryan has thrown for 2,018 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions, earning a passer rating of 103.0.
His latest masterpiece came at the expense of the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8, as he torched Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the rest of the secondary for three first-half touchdowns before halftime.
While there are other quarterbacks with better overall numbers, Ryan's undefeated record this season makes him the clear-cut MVP at the midseason mark.