What does the NFL Most Valuable Player truly mean?
Is it all statistics and astronomical numbers put on the board, like playing a game of Madden NFL 12?
Or, is it the individual's overall contribution to the team's success?
It's probably both, but it's always fun to decide who will receive the league hardware. It's never too early to start looking at the possibilities of who might win—so this is, in my opinion, the top five candidates for the NFL's highest individual honor.
Admittedly, the last defensive player to win the NFL MVP was Lawrence Taylor in 1984 and the only defensive lineman to ever win the award was Alan Page in 1971. If there's one thing that Jared Allen has going for himself, it's that Alan Page was a disruptive force on the Minnesota Vikings' "Purple People Eaters" defensive front of the 1970's.
Allen has a long way to go to achieve much of what Page did in his career but if there's one defensive player who has the best chance to win the MVP this season, it's Jared Allen.
The Vikings are probably all but out of contention for the playoffs at this point in the season but through eight weeks, Allen is simply on fire. With 12.5 sacks already, Allen is on pace to break Michael Strahan's single season record of 22.5.
Allen has three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries plus one interception as well. He may be a long shot, especially if the Vikings miss the playoffs, but if he stays on the pace he's on, he may have a better chance than we think.
This was a back and forth pick between Megatron and his quarterback, Matthew Stafford. It was a "What comes first, the chicken or the egg?" argument and in the end, Calvin Johnson clearly comes out on top between the two.
As good as Stafford has been playing this season (much due to the fact he's been able to stay healthy), nobody can doubt what Johnson brings to the table. The ability to consistently beat double coverage gives Stafford a weapon unlike anything we've seen possibly since Jerry Rice played for San Francisco.
Of course, Stafford has been able to lead the Detroit Lions to their best start in a long time, but nobody can doubt Johnson's ability to go up and get the ball whenever it's thrown his way.
The one thing going against him is that there's never been a wide receiver to win the NFL MVP and only Jerry Rice has been awarded any type of MVP award when he won the Pro Football Writers Association MVP Award in 1987.
However, with the rate that Calvin Johnson is performing—3rd in receiving yardage (804) and 1st in TDs (11)—if he finds himself threatening for any of the single season receiving records, he might find himself as the first MVP at his position.
If the season had started differently, there probably would have been another Manning on this list, but unfortunately, injuries happen. Regardless, Eli Manning has come into the 2011 NFL season playing on a totally new level.
With a rating of 102.1 and throwing 13 TDs to five INTs, he's a far cry from last season after throwing 25 picks and finishing with a sub-80 rating. The emergence of WR Victor Cruz and TE Jake Ballard has given Manning even more weapons to work with behind Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.
Much of his MVP hopes will hinge on how far the New York Giants push into the playoffs but as of right now, they sit at 5-2 and on top of the NFC East. Much can change in the remaining eight weeks but if New York can find their 2007 magic, Eli could be the next Manning with an MVP trophy.
Never mind how poorly the New England defense has played. Tom Brady should still be considered one of the best quarterbacks of all time. He's 2nd this year in passer rating with 104.4, and even though he's thrown four more picks already this year than he had all last season, Brady can never be underestimated no matter who the Patriots are playing.
As one of four or five quarterbacks on pace to break Dan Marino's single season passing yardage record, Brady has continually put his team in position to win the game even if their patchwork defense continues to struggle heavily against opposing passers.
It seems week-in and week-out, Brady is always a danger to opposing defenses and even when playing from behind, has the ability to put up points quickly. He's superb enough to put the ball exactly where it needs to be which makes all of New England's receiving options dangerous (well, save for Chad Johnson).
He isn't going to repeat his superb regular season from last year but if Brady somehow leads this team into the playoffs and they play deep, he could be in line for his 3rd NFL MVP.
No matter how much this list changes from Week 9 to 17, one thing should remain the same. Aaron Rodgers is probably having the best year of his career thus far. That also means he could very well run away with the MVP—even this early into the season.
Rodgers has posted an astronomical 125.7 passer rating and has led the Packers to the only remaining unbeaten team through seven games. He leads the league in completion percentage (71.5), passing touchdowns (20), and yards per attempt (9.9). Unless something catastrophic happens, Rodgers should have the Packers vying for another Super Bowl.
There's only a few teams in the NFC right now that could threaten the Packers and that includes division rival Detroit, whom they face for the first time this season on Thanksgiving Day.
Don't expect Rodgers to give up the top spot in the MVP race anytime soon. The question is going to heat up if he keeps performing as well and as close to perfection as he has. Can they do what the 2007 New England Patriots couldn't? Could they finish the season 19-0 as the first undefeated Super Bowl Champions since the 1972 Dolphins?
Rodgers could be shining up that belt sooner than he thinks.