All are rightfully deserving of the game’s top award, but there are also players who won’t get any credit but have been extremely valuable for their respective teams. Marshawn Lynch has all but propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the NFC playoff race with a strong stretch of games; while he won’t receive any national MVP discussion, he gets the nod for his team on this list.
The list begins with the NFL’s worst team and goes in draft order, from the 1-13 Indianapolis Colts to the 13-1 Green Bay Packers.
Picking the most valuable player of a 1-13 team is no simple task. You could easily say Peyton Manning; I chose to go with guys who have actually played. If I went with Manning for the Indianapolis Colts, Kurt Warner is still the MVP of the Arizona Cardinals.
Jeff Saturday has been a rock at center since being signed 13 years ago. He at least gives Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky a strong blocker and dependable snapper, even if it hasn’t translated into much success for the Colts.
The St. Louis Rams are on pace to put up one of the worst offensive seasons in the history of the league, so you have to know the MVP is going to come on the defensive side of the ball.
Chris Long is a stud at defensive end, and he’s finally living up to the second overall pick the Rams used on him back in the 2008 NFL draft. Long has 13 sacks and he leads the league with an incredible 51 quarterback pressures, seven more than any other player.
Giving this award to Adrian Peterson certainly wouldn’t be a bad move, but I’ll go with Jared Allen. Allen is quietly making a run at Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record; he has 17.5 with two games to go.
Allen would have to average two per game to break the mark, which is no easy feat. Regardless of whether he etches his name into the record book, Allen deserves serious consideration for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
If Maurice Jones-Drew wasn’t on the Jacksonville Jaguars, I don’t think they would have scored all season. Jones-Drew is quietly on pace for the best year of his career.
His 1,334 rushing yards and 1,683 scrimmage yards lead the NFL, and he is averaging 4.5 yards per carry with 10 total touchdowns. And he's done all this with a passing offense that ranks dead last in the league.
The Madden Curse hit Peyton Hillis, but Joe Thomas has been just spectacular since joining the league in 2007. He has four Pro Bowl selections in four years, and will almost assuredly have his fifth this coming January.
According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas rates as the best pass blocking tackle in the league. Whether the Cleveland Browns go with Colt McCoy or another quarterback in the 2012 season, he can take comfort in knowing Thomas has his back… literally.
Josh Freeman is having a sub-par year (13 TD, 18 INT, 73.5 rating), and he is a major reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost seven games in a row.
Donald Penn wins this award almost by default. As the blindside protector for Freeman, Penn enjoyed a remarkable 2010 season, earning a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl squad. He has followed it up with an equally impressive 2011 campaign.
Fred Jackson went on IR after breaking a bone in his right leg in a Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, and the Buffalo Bills are 0-4 since, having completely fallen out of the playoff race.
Jackson was a playmaker for the first half of the season, putting himself in the MVP race. He rushed for 100 yards six times in his first nine games and helped the Bills to a 5-2 start that kept the team neck and neck with the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
No one on the offensive side of the football has really stood out for the Washington Redskins, so this honor goes to Brian Orakpo, the team’s best player in 2011.
Orakpo is a strong pass rusher who has been to two Pro Bowls in two seasons in the National Football League, and is well on his way to a third. His sack total of 7.5 won’t get him there, but he is a force at getting to the quarterback with 39 pressures.
Few rookie quarterbacks in the history of the league have meant as much to their team as Cam Newton. I would only rank a handful of players in the entire NFL ahead of Newton in terms of value to their team.
Newton has 28 total touchdowns (15 passing, 13 rushing), which is an all-time rookie record. He’s thrown for 3,740 yards at an impressive 7.91 yards per attempt. He’s rejuvenated Steve Smith’s career, and has done his work for a team with the 29th ranked scoring defense, meaning it is all the more important that Newton has a good day on offense.
You could legitimately make a case for backup quarterback Matt Moore, who stepped in for Chad Henne at the start of Week 4. I’ll go with Cameron Wake though, although it’s close.
The former Canadian Football League sack champion has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Miami Dolphins. He has 7.5 sacks, leads all linebackers with an incredible 45 quarterback pressures and has played terrific against the run.
The Kansas City Chiefs hung in the AFC West race for most of the season despite losing Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry in the first two weeks.
Tamba Hali has been one of the most disruptive linebackers in the game with 12 sacks and 33 stops. He and teammates Jovan Belcher and Derrick Johnson give the Chiefs one of the better linebacking corps in the NFL.
I almost gave this award to Jason Peters, as he has been by far the best offensive tackle in the NFL in 2011. LeSean McCoy wins this though, because he’s emerged as a playmaker for a team that has dealt with injuries and inconsistencies to Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
McCoy is at 1,274 rushing yards with an NFL-best 17 rushing and 20 total touchdowns this year. The Philadelphia Eagles are 5-1 this season when he rushes for 100 yards and 1-7 when he doesn’t. That’s true value.
The Tennessee Titans are probably the only team still alive for the playoffs without an MVP. Chris Johnson has been awful. Kenny Britt is hurt. Matt Hasselbeck started off hot but has cooled down. There are no strong pass rushers.
The award goes to Cortland Finnegan almost by default. Finnegan has been playing outstanding football. He is a former All-Pro and rates as the third best cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Finnegan has played equally adept against both the run and the pass.
There are a few defensive players on the team that could win this award—Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell or Adrian Wilson—and you could also make a strong case for rookie punt-returning sensation Patrick Peterson (although his poor play at defense doesn’t help).
The real MVP has been Larry Fitzgerald though. He’s the best player on the Arizona Cardinals, and without him lining up at wide receiver, the season would be even worse for Kevin Kolb or John Skelton.
Fitzgerald has 65 catches for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns, and he’s helped the Cardinals win four straight and work their way back into the NFC wild-card hunt, much like the Seattle Seahawks.
It’s no coincidence that as Philip Rivers has hit a hot streak, the San Diego Chargers are parlaying themselves back into the AFC West race.
Rivers threw 17 picks in his first 10 games, but he hasn’t thrown any in each of his last four games. He has already surpassed 4,000 yards with 23 touchdowns, and he’s now posted a passer rating of 120 or better in three straight games.
With the way Caleb Hanie is playing at quarterback right now, I think Chicago Bears fans are finally starting to respect Jay Cutler.
Cutler led the Bears to a 7-3 record, right in the heat of the playoff discussion, before suffering a broken thumb that has sidelined him for the last four games. Cutler was in a close battle with Matt Forte for team MVP, but given the inept play of Hanie, Cutler gets the vote here.
This is finally the year Eli Manning is being considered elite. He has taken every snap for the New York Giants, and his numbers are outstanding: 61.6 completion percentage, 4,362 yards, 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. His 91.7 passer rating is the second-best total of his career and his 8.2 yards per attempt is a new high.
Manning has the Giants just a game back of the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East despite a defense that ranks 28th in the NFL in total defense and scoring defense. Remember the late drive Eli led to beat the New England Patriots and the huge comeback against the Cowboys? That was vintage Eli Manning.
He was a disappointment as the 13th overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2006 NFL draft, but has been a force since he joined the Oakland Raiders for 2010.
Wimbley rates as the second-best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL, behind only the game’s best defensive player, Von Miller. Much of Wimbley’s success is because of a four-sack game against the backup tackle for the San Diego Chargers, but he is still a premier pass rusher and a stout defender against the run.
He’s been extremely valuable to a team that has had to rely on two starting quarterbacks and two starting running backs in 2011.
Marshawn Lynch is making a strong case for a new contract every day. He has now scored a touchdown in 10 straight games, and he is keeping the Seattle Seahawks alive in the NFC wild-card hunt.
Lynch—nicknamed Beast Mode—plays like the way Seattle wins: unconventional, scrappy and refusing to give up. Lynch has topped 100 yards on the ground in five of the last seven games, and he saved his best performance for a huge Thursday Night win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13.
Revis Island hasn’t gotten the national attention this year, but he’s been the best cornerback in the league again. Quarterbacks have just a 45.4 passer rating throwing in his direction, and he has four interceptions among the 72 times he’s been targeted.
Revis has the second best completion percentage against (43.1) of any corner, and he’s been very effective against the run as well.
The Cincinnati Bengals weren’t supposed to be a good team in 2011. They lost Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco in the offseason, and were essentially throwing rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to the wolves.
Dalton has responded like a veteran; he has the Bengals at 8-6 and right in the thick of the playoff picture. Dalton has passed for close to 3,000 yards, 18 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions, and he’s done so with a rushing offense that ranks just 29th in the NFL in yards per attempt.
Hear me out on this one. DeMarcus Ware has been a beast, and both Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray have been phenomenal as rookies. But Tony Romo is the most valuable player of this team.
His flaws are greatly magnified, and rightfully so. He is the quarterback of arguably the most popular franchise in sports. Romo had a key turnover in the opening week loss to the New York Jets and threw two awful pick-sixes against the Detroit Lions.
In 14 games though, Romo has posted a passer rating of over 100 eight times. He was the first quarterback this year to beat the San Francisco 49ers. He played a near flawless game against the Buffalo Bills. He’s been interception-free in six of his last seven games and he’s put up a passer rating of at least 130 in each of his past two games. It will be vital for him to continue his fine play for Dallas to make the playoffs.
Many will advocate to give this to Tim Tebow, but it’s an absolute shame the football world doesn’t realize just what kind of a season Von Miller is having.
According to Pro Football Focus, he’s been the best player in football, with a rating of 55.0. He is equally tremendous against the run and the pass (12 sacks). In a four-game span from Week 9 through Week 12, Miller posted a rating of 30.4. That would make him the eighth best defensive player in all of football—for the whole season.
Not only should he win Defensive Rookie of the Year, but he should win Defensive Player of the Year.
Matthew Stafford is having a terrific season, but he wouldn’t be putting up the numbers he is without Calvin Johnson at wide receiver.
Megatron caught two touchdowns in each of his first four games, and leads all NFL receivers with 14. His 1,339 yards ranks second only to Wes Welker. As the Detroit Lions are in prime position for the playoffs, I can't wait to see how Johnson does in the playoffs.
Matt Ryan has quietly turned up his play in recent weeks for the Atlanta Falcons. He has thrown 26 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions for the season, and 12 touchdowns to two picks in the past five weeks.
Ryan has posted a passer rating over 100 in six of his last nine games, and his Falcons are leading the NFC wild-card race. Winning a few playoff games would really help Ryan's case to finally be included in the discussion of elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
I don’t like the man, but I respect him like no one else. Ben Roethlisberger is a natural-born quarterback. He’s an extremely efficient passer, a tremendous decision maker and he’s about as tough of a human being as there ever was.
With Rashard Mendenhall having a poor year, Roethlisberger has stepped up his game. He is on pace for a career-high in passing yards and has thrown 21 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He's still as clutch as anyone in the business.
It’s tough to pick the MVP of the Houston Texans. It really should be Wade Phillips because of what he’s done with this defense.
Matt Schaub is now hurt, and I don’t want to give it to a guy who has played just 10 games, especially with how well T.J. Yates has played. Andre Johnson hasn’t been able to stay off the injury list. Arian Foster missed some time too, and Mario Williams is on IR.
The best player on this team has been Chris Myers, the center who may have passed Nick Mangold as the top dog in the NFL. Myers has provided stability for all three quarterbacks, as well as Foster. He rates as the best lineman in the league, almost entirely because of his run-blocking ability, and yet he has allowed just one sack in 14 games.
I think it’s safe to say Terrell Suggs has passed Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as the best player on the Baltimore Ravens. Suggs is a one-man wrecking crew.
He made the switch to defensive end in 2011, and has responded with 13 sacks and 32 quarterback pressures for a Ravens team that ranks third in total defense.
Suggs has been especially vital in the two games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, registering three sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the clear-cut top three MVPs of the league. Brees is etching his name into the record books—he is a virtual lock to break Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season, he’s on pace to break his own record for completion percentage and he's already surpassed Rich Gannon for most 300-yard passing games in a year.
Brees has done this with a defense that ranks 24th in the NFL in yardage allowed, 28th in passing yards allowed and 30th in rushing yards allowed per attempt.
Pick your defensive player on San Francisco—Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald, Carlos Rogers or Justin Smith. All have played an instrumental role in the San Francisco 49ers' division title out of nowhere.
I’ll go with Smith for several reasons. He has been the best of the bunch, and he’s as talented against the run as he is at rushing the passer. Smith plays end in a 3-4, so he doesn’t get the sacks or the glory, but he’s a worthy Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Who else would you possibly take here? Tom Brady is continuing his case to go down as arguably the best quarterback who ever lived.
He has been a gigantic band-aid for a historically awful pass defense that is on pace to go down as the worst in the game’s history. Brady has 35 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and is a candidate to break Dan Marino’s single-season record for passing yards. Brady has posted a passer rating of at least 100 in 11 of his 14 games.
He’s the best player on the best team in the league, and that should make him the easy MVP favorite in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers, quite simply, is having a season for the ages: 68.1 completion percentage, 4,360 passing yards, 9.2 yards per attempt and an absolutely unbelievable 40 touchdowns to just six interceptions.
Perhaps the best stat is the passer rating. At 120.1, Rodgers is just a single point behind Peyton Manning’s record for a single season (121.1 in 2004). Rodgers posted a passer rating over 100 in his first 12 games, and he tossed multiple touchdowns in his first 13 games. He’s been just a model of consistency for a team with a 31st ranked defense.