With the end of the 2013 NFL season quickly approaching, it is time to examine those special few individuals worthy of claiming the title of "Most Valuable Player."
The title of NFL MVP is a coveted one, dating back to 1961 (it was previously known as the Most Outstanding Player Award). Earning it is a goal shared by virtually every NFL player.
However, there are only a handful of candidates with a realistic chance of being named league MVP in any given season.
For this list of MVP candidates, we are approaching the award in a literal sense. While the players on this list may not be the absolute best the league has to offer (there are, after all, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards), they are certainly among the most valuable individuals on any NFL roster.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning already holds an NFL record for MVP awards with four, but he may well be on his way to upping that total with his performance in 2013.
Manning has played some of the best football of his, or anyone's, career this season.
He has set one record already by throwing four or more touchdowns in seven different games. He is on the verge of tying or breaking several more by season's end.
In total, Manning has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for an impressive 4,811 yards with 47 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
This puts him on pace to reach 5,498 yards and 54 touchdowns, both of which would be new league records.
More importantly, he has his team out to an 11-3 record and looking like the team to beat in the AFC.
Throughout the 2013 season, the Seattle Seahawks have appeared to be one of the top teams in the NFL, if not the very best.
The Seahawks have gained a lot of attention for their smothering defense (ranked first, allowing 14.6 points per game).
However, second-year quarterback Russell Wilson has been equally important during Seattle's 12-2 march.
Wilson has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for a solid 3,077 yards and 24 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. His passer rating of 105.0 is fifth-best in the league among quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts.
He has also rushed for 508 yards on the season, second only to Terrelle Pryor among quarterbacks.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has gained a lot of attention with his impressive play as of late.
However, not even he has played as big a role in the Eagles' surprising 8-6 season as has running back LeSean McCoy.
McCoy has produced an NFL-leading 1,343 yards rushing with seven touchdowns and an outstanding average of 5.0 yards per carry.
He has also added 507 yards on 45 receptions with an additional score.
If this wasn't impressive enough, McCoy also set a new franchise record for yards rushing in a game with 217 in Philadelphia's Week 14 win over the Detroit Lions.
In today's pass-oriented NFL, a running back is rarely considered the most important player on his team's roster.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is one of the few exceptions.
Though Charles leapt directly into the MVP conversation with his record-setting performance against the Oakland Raiders in Week 15, he has been showcasing his immense talent all season.
He has already run for 1,181 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and has hauled in 65 receptions for 655 yards with two games remaining on the schedule. He also has 18 total touchdowns on the season.
To understand just how important Charles is to the Chiefs, consider that he is responsible for nearly 50 percent (18 of 37) of his team's offensive touchdowns.
He has more receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns than any receiver or tight end on the roster. His rushing total is 797 more yards than the next player on the team, quarterback Alex Smith.
His 108 points scored are also the most of any non-kicker in the NFL this season.
Just as running backs have become devalued in the NFL over the past few seasons, so too have defensive players.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, however, the value of linebacker Vontaze Burfict cannot be understated.
Originally an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State, Burfict has played a massive role in Cincinnati's run to the playoff brink in 2013.
The 6'1", 255-pound defender currently leads the NFL with an astounding 151 tackles. That total is more than double the number produced by the second-leading tackler on the Bengals roster (Rey Maualuga, 69 tackles).
In fact, Burfict's 151 combined tackles are 30 more than the next two leading tacklers (Maualuga and Terence Newman) on the roster combined.
In addition to an impressive tackle total, Burfict has also added a sack, eight pass deflections, an interception, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown.
Since we're on the topic of unconventional MVP candidates, it would be unfair to leave Minnesota Vikings utility man Cordarrelle Patterson out of the conversation.
Yes, the Vikings have running back Adrian Peterson, who was named league MVP last season. However, Patterson has done a little bit of everything for Minnesota as it has battled through a disheartening season in 2013.
The former first-round pick out of Tennessee currently ranks third on the team in both receptions (40) and receiving yards (430). He has also produced 50 yards rushing on seven carries and 1,199 kick return yards with six total touchdowns.
In fact, Patterson's 1,199 kick return yards and two kick return scores both lead the NFL.
Patterson also set an NFL all-time record with a 109-yard kickoff return earlier this season. It is tied for the longest play in league history.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has quickly become a household name and a fantasy superstar.
Amazingly, the Browns receiver has done things that have never before been seen.
He has twice broken a franchise record for receiving yards in a game and continues to build upon his franchise-record season yardage total.
Gordon currently leads the entire NFL in yards receiving (1,467), yards per game (122.2) and receptions of 20 or more yards (25).
All of this has come despite missing two games via suspension and while playing with an underwhelming stable of quarterbacks.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has not produced numbers (4,049 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and a passer rating of 88.1) that are near the best of his career.
However, his performance this season has been nonetheless impressive because of the situation into which he has been forced.
His top two receivers this season are a former collegiate quarterback (Julian Edelman) and an oft-injured former St. Louis Rams standout (Danny Amendola). Brady's two biggest deep threats, aside from Gronkowski, are both rookies (Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson).
Yet, Brady still has the New England offense playing at a high level, ranked sixth at 26.4 points per game. His team is currently 10-4 and potentially headed for yet another division title.