2010 NFL MVP Watch: Power Ranking the Top 15 Candidates

Dmitriy Ioselevich@dioselevSenior Analyst IIIDecember 26, 2010

2010 NFL MVP Watch: Power Ranking the Top 15 Candidates

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    Michael Vick won a big one, while Tom Brady won a close one. Peyton Manning kept his team's playoff hopes alive, but Maurice Jones-Drew is going to need some help to keep running into the postseason. Funny how much can change in just a week of action.

    One thing that hasn't changed, however, is that we still need to select an MVP. Who it will be? Here are 15 of the leading candidates for the award heading into the second-to-last week of the regular season.

15. DeSean Jackson

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    Anybody who can do what Jackson did against the New York Giants last week deserves to be on this list. But if a game-winning punt return for a touchdown against a division rival isn't enough, check out the rest of his numbers.

    Jackson has 45 receptions for 1,024 yards (eighth in the NFL) and six touchdowns this season. His 22.8 yards oer catch is the highest in the league by 2.6 yards. He's also done some work out of the backfield and has 104 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. 

    He's still one of the best return men in the game and is a key cog in the Eagles offense. You didn't really think Mike Vick was doing it all alone, did you?

14. Clay Matthews

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    There have been several standout defensive players this season, including Miami's Cameron Wake, New York's Osi Umenyiora and Atlanta's John Abraham. But with very little separating these players, we'll give Matthews the slight edge.

    The Packers, after all, have the seventh-ranked defense and surrender only 15.7 points per game (the second-best mark in the NFL). Matthews is the face of that defense. Heck, he's the arm, legs and body too.

    He's second in the league with 12.5 sacks and also has 53 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. Green Bay needs to beat both the Giants and the Bears to make the playoffs, and that scenario will depend on Matthews playing at his best.

13. Joe Flacco

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    Flacco was his brilliant, efficient self in a 30-24 win over the New Orleans Saints last week. He threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns, not turning the ball over once. Flacco now hasn't thrown an interception in three straight weeks, as the 10-4 Ravens can almost taste the playoffs.

    Flacco is up to seventh in the NFL in QB rating (94.8), ninth in yards (3,395) and eighth in touchdowns (23). Not much more you can ask of the third-year quarterback.

12. Michael Turner

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    Turner is the leading rusher for the Falcons and their seventh-ranked rushing attack. He's fifth in the NFL with 1,256 rushing yards and third in touchdowns with 11. 

    Oh, and he hasn't fumbled the ball once in 300 rushing attempts. Not bad.

11. Arian Foster

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    Foster is the only player on this list playing for a team that has no shot at making the playoffs. That's just a testament to how good he's been for the Texans.

    He's the NFL's leading rusher with 1,345 rushing yards and he also leads all backs in touchdowns with 13. His 4.9 yards per carry is third among running backs with at least 200 rushes.

    He's even a threat as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, totaling 60 receptions for 550 yards and two receiving touchdowns on the season. Foster has done everything short of play defense for his team, though maybe the Texans would have a winning record if he did.

10. Troy Polamalu/James Harrison

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    Either one of these studs could end the season as the Defensive Player of the Year, so we'll let them share this top 10 spot in the MVP rankings.

    Polamalu has been his usual stellar self, collecting 62 tackles, six interceptions (including one for a touchdown) and a fumble recovery for the Steelers' top-ranked scoring defense. He will likely miss the the last three games of the season as he recovers from an ankle injury, but he's still one of the best defensive players in the game.

    Harrison has been just as good for the Steelers and maybe even better than his teammate Polamalu. He's third on the team in tackles with 94 and is one of the league's leading quarterback chasers with 11 sacks on the season. He's also caught two interceptions and forced a team-leading six fumbles.

9. Matt Cassel

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    The Chiefs, 9-5, still control their destiny in the AFC West, and as long as that remains true, Cassel deserves to be on here.

    Cassel's numbers aren't too bad, either. His 24 touchdowns are seventh in the NFL, and his five interceptions are less than everyone except former teammate Tom Brady. His 96.2 QB rating is also fifth in the NFL.

    It's already been the best season of Cassel's career, and with any luck he could finish the year with over 3,000 yards passing and 30 touchdowns. With games left against Tennessee and Oakland, anything is possible.

8. Aaron Rodgers

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    The Packers almost stole away victory from the hands of the New England Patriots with Matt Flynn as their quarterback. Just imagine what could have happened if Rodgers had been playing.

    Rodgers missed his first game last week since taking over for Brett Favre as a starter in Green Bay. But even a concussion isn't going to keep the quarterback out of the MVP conversation.

    He's fourth in the NFL in QB rating (98.5), eighth in touchdowns (23) and has 3,289 passing yards in only 410 attempts, good for an 8.02 average that is third in the league. Rodgers is also among the most accurate passers in the NFL, completing 65.4 percent of his passes.

    The 8-6 Packers need some help to get into the playoffs, but with Rodgers back at the helm, this team is as good as any in the NFC.

7. Matt Ryan

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    The Falcons are winners of eight straight, and Matt Ryan is still their very capable and talented quarterback. His numbers should speak for themselves.

    3,321 passing yards. Twenty-five touchdowns. A 62.7 completion percentage. A 90.5 QB rating.

    Ryan's numbers aren't eye-popping, but he's on pace to set new career highs in every major statistical category. Plus, Atlanta has never been better. 

6. Maurice Jones-Drew

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    Jones-Drew will miss his first game in five seasons in the NFL on Sunday due to a knee injury. But even sitting this one out, the Jaguars running back will remain in the MVP discussion.

    He's second in the NFL in rushing with 1,324 yards, and he's also caught 34 passes for 317 yards out of the backfield. He only has seven total touchdowns on the season, but he's a major part of a rushing attack that is third in the NFL.

    Unfortunately for Jones-Drew and his MVP aspirations, the Jaguars don't look playoff bound. They need to win their remaining two games and hope that the Colts lose at least one, which isn't likely with the way Peyton Manning is playing now.

5. Peyton Manning

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    Manning hit a serious rough patch in the middle of the season, throwing at least three interceptions in three consecutive games. But he's back to MVP form now, and the Colts appear to once again be playoff-bound.

    Ignoring those 11 interceptions in three weeks, Manning is having as good of a statistical season as any quarterback. His 66.9 completion percentage is third in the NFL, his 4,257 passing yards are first and his 28 touchdowns are fourth. The 92.1 QB rating would be Manning's lowest since 2002, but this is still Peyton Manning we're talking about. A bad year for him is an MVP season for anyone else.

    In addition, he's doing it on a team that's been decimated by injuries and hasn't had a consistent running game all season. The Colts are lucky to be 8-6, and they have Manning to thank for that.

4. Drew Brees

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    Speaking of numbers, how about this guy's numbers?

    Brees has thrown for 31 touchdowns (second in the NFL), 4,122 passing yards (third in the NFL) and owns a 68.5 completion percentage (first in the NFL). The interceptions (19) are hard to swallow, but Brees has had to improvise how he runs the New Orleans offense with injuries to key contributors.

    The 10-4 Saints are again one of the best teams in football, and Brees is again one of the game's best players.

3. Philip Rivers

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    The 8-6 Chargers may not be playoff bound (they need lots of help), but don't blame any of that on Rivers. The San Diego quarterback has been terrific and ranks near the top of every major statistical category.

    He's third in the NFL with 4,141 passing yards. He's fourth in completion percentage by completing two-thirds of his passes. His 29 touchdowns puts him third in the NFL, and his 105.7 QB rating puts him second in the league.

    He's done this with a hobbled Antonio Gates most of the season and without star wideout Vincent Jackson, who just returned to the team a couple of weeks ago. 

2. Michael Vick

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    Vick has been terrific in the games he's played in, but is he really the MVP?

    The pro-Vick argument that's being thrown around seems to center around the idea that Vick is the most exciting player in the NFL and him winning the MVP would make the best story because he's never played at this level before.

    Sorry, but when did the award become about what players had done before their MVP season? I won't argue that Vick is the most exciting player in the league or that his victory would make the best story. But that is a ridiculous voting standard to use. The MVP should go to the best player in the NFL, and this season that's not going to be Vick.

1. Tom Brady

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    The argument for Brady, on the other hand, is very simple. He is the best player in the NFL. On paper, on film, on a computer. It doesn't matter how you want to rationalize it, this is Brady's year.

    First, he's the quarterback for the best team in the NFL: the 12-2 New England Patriots. But these aren't the same Patriots of old. The running backs are different, the wide receivers are different and even the tight ends are different. The only player still around from Brady's historic 2007 season is Wes Welker, and he's missing a few parts of his knee.

    Second, he's the best quarterback in the NFL. His 109.9 QB rating is far and away the highest in the NFL and will go down as one of the highest single-season marks in history. His 31 touchdowns and four interceptions are also tops in the league. He's accomplished this despite playing one of the NFL's hardest schedules and being the primary target of opposing defenses.

    What more does he have to do to convince voters?