Peyton Manning is well on his way to winning the NFL's MVP award for a record fifth time after Week 11, but there's still a lot of time left for another player to rise up and claim the trophy for himself.
Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan and J.J. Watt all took steps backwards in their respective games this past week, while Tom Brady took a couple more steps forward. Adrian Peterson was idle, and since most of the legitimate contenders failed to improve their stock, he's now right in the thick of this race.
Another player has risen from the ashes to find his name counted among these superstars, but you'll just have to keep reading to find out who he is.
If the season ended today, this is how I'd rank the top five contenders for the NFL's MVP award in 2012.
Don't look now, but the New Orleans Saints are right there in the thick of the fight for the NFC's No. 6 seed in this year's playoff hunt.
Drew Brees has gotten his offense back on track of late, and his team has won five of its past six games after starting out the season 0-4.
Part of the reason for the team's success is that the team's defense has stepped up and part of it has to do with the fact that the running game has finally shown up, but don't think for a second that the Saints would be in this position without Brees.
Brees has played better than I expected without Sean Payton by his side. Through 10 games, he's passed for 3,066 yards (second in the NFL) and has thrown 28 touchdowns (first in the NFL) and just nine interceptions.
If Brees plays lights out and beats the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12, I'll move him further up this list.
Matt Ryan's MVP stock took a massive hit this past weekend, as he threw an eye-popping five interceptions and failed to throw a single touchdown pass.
The Atlanta Falcons came away with a gritty win, though, and Ryan was effective at the end of the game, putting his offense in position for the game-winning score.
Ryan leads the NFL in passing, with 3,072 yards and has thrown 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He's been without a healthy Julio Jones for much of the season, as Jones has been dealing with a sore ankle.
As long as this team is still winning, Ryan deserves consideration for the MVP award.
The Minnesota Vikings are 6-4 through 10 games and have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs in 2012, and Adrian Peterson leads the NFL in rushing.
It's a rather unbelievable turn of events, considering most experts (myself included) thought this team was a year or two away from contending—not to mention the fact that Peterson ripped his knee to shreds right before Christmas last season against the Washington Redskins.
The team's biggest surprise early in the season was the stellar play of Christian Ponder, who started out the season with four touchdowns and zero interceptions through five games.
Since then, Ponder has struggled, throwing eight touchdowns and eight interceptions the past five games.
Peterson has been the steady man behind the wheel for the Vikings, and he has ramped up his efforts to a whole other level of late, rushing for 629 yards and five touchdowns in the past four games.
If the Vikings continue winning and if Peterson keeps putting up gaudy numbers like these, he's going to be a major player for the MVP award at the end of the season.
The New England Patriots started out the season with a record of 3-3, prompting many pundits to question this team's chances at making the playoffs.
Since then, Tom Brady and the Pats have ripped off four straight wins.
After 10 games, the Patriots are all but assured a playoff spot with a 7-3 record—barring a catastrophic turn of events, of course.
One of the reasons the Patriots have been so successful of late is the emergence of a top-five rushing attack, but Brady's fingerprints are still all over this offense.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Brady's 2012 campaign is that he's thrown 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season—easily the best ratio of any starting quarterback in the NFL.
As a result of Brady's excellent decision-making abilities, the Patriots are plus-20 in the giveaway/takeaway margin—easily the top team in the NFL.
Now that Rob Gronkowski is out for the next month or so, it'll be interesting to see if Brady continues to flourish. He's adjusted to every single challenge presented to him thus far in his career, and I'll be surprised if he fails to do so now.
I expect to see Peyton Manning and Tom Brady go head to head in the AFC Championship game this season.
Like Brady, Manning isn't doing it all on his own. His defense has stepped up and played outstanding football since halftime in Week 6, making life easier on Manning.
That said, there's no way the Denver Broncos would be one of the NFL's top teams without Manning behind center.
Since throwing three interceptions in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons, Manning has gone on a tear, throwing 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
He has made Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Stokley into one of the most feared trios at the wide receiver position in the NFL, and you can never count the Broncos out of a game until the final whistle.
As long as the Broncos keep winning, and as long as Manning's throwing touchdowns to make it happen, he's my No. 1 pick for this year's MVP award.