NFL 2010 Season Preview: MVP Candidates for All 16 AFC Teams

John Doublin@CoachJayDeeSenior Writer IAugust 25, 2010

NFL 2010 Season Preview: MVP Candidates for All 16 AFC Teams

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    Big Ben makes presnap reads and calls.
    Big Ben makes presnap reads and calls.Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Johnson will almost certainly be the front-runners to win the 2010 NFL Most Valuable Player award. However, there must be at least one player on every team that can compete for that honor.

    Okay, maybe not every team has the ability to carry a player to the MVP award, but I'm sure they all feel like there's at least one guy that has a shot—even if it's completely unrealistic.

    Who are those players? Again, we all know who the obvious choices are, but who are the "Dark Horses" that could pop up and surprise us all?

    Let's take a look at which players from every AFC team have the best chance to win an MVP award.

    Let's go by division, starting with the AFC South...

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Manning takes a breather between plays.
    Manning takes a breather between plays.Brad White/Getty Images

    As I said, some of these players are no-brainers. Manning is the reigning MVP and is on one of the best teams in football.

    All that needs to happen for Manning to be in the MVP running is for him to remain healthy and continue to do what he's done throughout his entire career.

    The Colts appear to have a better running game than in the recent past. If this continues to be true, Manning is likely to have yet another record setting season.

    Look for Manning to be among the top-three vote-getters for MVP in 2010—again.

Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans

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    Schaub looks to the sideline for direction.
    Schaub looks to the sideline for direction.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The Texans are a team teetering on the edge between greatness and mediocrity. They show moments of being world beaters, and moments of complete ineptitude.

    This inconsistency comes from just about every position—except wide receiver and quarterback. Schaub and Andre Johnson are a beastly combination that can take over a game at the drop of a hat.

    As long as the coaching staff can stabilize the running back position, and the defense can play up to their competition more regularly, the Texans can not only make the playoffs, but do some damage once they're in.

    It's a long shot, but Matt Schaub could very well ride Andre Johnson to an MVP award.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jones-Drew breaks into the open field.
    Jones-Drew breaks into the open field.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    "Pocket Hercules" is the first running back on this list. He has been, and will continue to be, the heart of the Jaguars offense.

    Overlooked for his size, Jones-Drew has more than proven that he belongs in the NFL. If there is any doubt left, just ask the men that have tried to tackle him.

    The Jaguars have their issues, but never seem to struggle running the ball. Jones-Drew is the primary reason for this—he always gets his yards.

    Skill, determination, power, and great vision are the traits that could find Jones-Drew in the midst of the MVP debate.

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    Johnson finds room to run.
    Johnson finds room to run.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The contract negotiations and hold out of "CJ2K" are well documented. But now, Johnson and the Titans have agreed to terms and the speedy running back is in camp and ready to make another run at 2,000 yards.

    The Titans played extremely well in the last 10 games last season, going 8-2. A lot of that can attributed to Vince Young replacing Kerry Collins, but most of their great play was due to Johnson's superior running ability, great vision, and ridiculous speed.

    Johnson was a legitimate MVP candidate last season, and has a strong case for having been overlooked based on his team not making the playoffs.

    We shouldn't expect Johnson to have another 2,000 yard season, but we can expect him to get some votes for MVP in 2010.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Roethilsberger sets to throw.
    Roethilsberger sets to throw.Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Even with his suspension looming, Roethlisberger is still capable of leading his team to the promised land—assuming Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon can get the team through his suspension at .500 or better.

    Roethlisberger seems to be taking his discipline very seriously and has gone above and beyond commissioner Roger Goodell's requests. That must be great news for Steelers fans.

    The front office has taken steps to remedy the team's offensive line woes. This will help Big Ben immeasurably. He'll actually have a running game, more than one second to get rid of the ball, and won't be constantly running for his life.

    An improved offensive line, a stout defense, and a great coaching staff could help get Roethlisberger into the MVP conversation.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Rice sheds the tackle of Colt defender Melvin Bullitt
    Rice sheds the tackle of Colt defender Melvin BullittJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Ray Rice proved that he was for real last season. He was the Ravens' leading rusher, had the most receptions for the team, and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

    The Ravens have upgraded the weakest position on the team, wide receiver. Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth will provide much needed relief for Rice as teams will now have to contend with more than just Rice and Derrick Mason.

    Rice is sure to see many more six and seven-man fronts and fewer eight- and nine-man fronts to contend with. This should open up even more running lanes than he had last year.

    A more balanced offense, a solid offensive line, and the maturation of Joe Flacco may be enough for Rice to earn some MVP votes.

Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinatti Bengals

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    Benson finds a running lane against the Jets.
    Benson finds a running lane against the Jets.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Until he missed three games due to injury, Cedric Benson was well on his way to a Pro Bowl. He still managed to get 1,251 yards and six rushing touchdowns in just 13 games.

    With the Bengals able to run Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, and highly-touted rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham out on the field at the same time, the running lanes should get bigger and more abundant.

    The success of the Bengals ground attack will rest squarely on the shoulders of Benson.

    If he can stay healthy, Benson could find himself an MVP nominee.

Josh Cribbs, WR/KR, Cleveland Browns

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    Cribbs celebrates a touchdown against the Jaguars.
    Cribbs celebrates a touchdown against the Jaguars.Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Josh Cribbs is far and away the best player on the Browns roster. He amassed 2,528 total yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in the 2009 season.

    Wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner, running back, and Wildcat quarterback could all be put on his business card.

    It's more than a long shot for Cribbs to get nominated for MVP. He plays on a team that is under new management, and has only just started its reclamation project. Add the quarterback situation, and a very tough division, and Cribbs and the Browns have a tough row to hoe in 2010.

    If the Browns somehow manage to break through all the things standing in their way, and the fact that Cribbs is a returner/wide receiver, he could be on the short list for MVP.

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

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    Brady ready to deliver the ball.
    Brady ready to deliver the ball.Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Another "no-brainer." Brady continues to be productive and maintain his stellar winning percentage.

    Last season marked the only time Brady was forced to come back from injury. And, while he wasn't his normal, spectacular self, he continues to be the engine that drives one of the most consistent offenses in the NFL.

    Assuming he can remain healthy, Brady should once again find himself in the running to win another MVP trophy.

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets

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    Greene poses for the camera during an endzone celebration.
    Greene poses for the camera during an endzone celebration.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The philosophy of the Rex Ryan-led Jets plays right into Shonn Greene's hands. Power running game, attacking defense, and clock control offense is the perfect storm for a running back to take control.

    Greene showed flashes of greatness in his 2009 rookie campaign. Breaking tackles, carrying defenders, and delivering punishment are all in Greene's arsenal.

    The continued development of Mark Sanchez will be critical to Greene's continued success. If the Jets' opponents don't respect the pass, Greene will suffer the same fate that Michael Bush and Seven Jackson did in Oakland and St. Louis—eight- and nine-man fronts and run blitzes on every down.

    As long as Sanchez can be productive, the Jets' great offensive line will create plenty of lanes for Greene to exploit.

    Should the Jets find themselves going deep into playoffs again, there might be talk of Greene making the short list for MVP in 2010.

Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills

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    Byrd fights Jets' receiver Braylon Edwards for one of his nine interceptions.
    Byrd fights Jets' receiver Braylon Edwards for one of his nine interceptions.

    As I approached the end of this list, I realized that there were no defensive players on it. Not anymore.

    With the problems on the Bills' offense, they're only chance at producing an MVP had to be on defense.

    Coming from the University of Oregon, Jairus Byrd stormed onto the NFL scene by snagging nine picks. Not a bad rookie debut.

    There was talk of Defensive Rookie of the year, and even AFC Defensive player of the year swirling around with Byrd firmly in the conversation.

    Will it happen again? Maybe.

    The Bills have a lot of problems on offense. This team will be relying on the defense to keep the score down so they can eek out wins in 2010.

    It may take an act of Congress for the Bills to have a winning record, but if they do, it will be led by the defense.

    If that miraculously happens, Byrd may be the guy the MVP voters single out.

Ronnie Brown, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Brown powers through a Ronde Barber tackle in muddy Miami.
    Brown powers through a Ronde Barber tackle in muddy Miami.Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Ronnie Brown is the heart and soul of the Dolphins offense. Without him, the team would be much less effective.

    Power running, great hands, and the original Wildcat QB—Brown is the guy the Dolphins' offense revolves around. Everything head coach Tony Sparano tries to do to score points goes through Brown.

    The addition of super-star receiver Brandon Marshall will take the safeties out of the box and open up running lanes for Brown to haul the mail.

    The Dolphins have also added some nice players to the defense like Karlos Dansby. This should help them get more three-and-outs and give the ball back to Brown and Marshall.

    If Brown can avoid getting injured, and the Dolphins can live up to the expectations placed upon them, Ronnie Brown is the their most likely choice for an MVP bid.

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

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    Rivers prepares to heave one downfield
    Rivers prepares to heave one downfieldStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Chargers are an enigma in many ways. Are they the team that started the 2008 campaign 2-4, or the one that finished the 2010 season with 11 straight wins?

    No one really knows from one day to the next.

    The one constant is Philip Rivers. Rivers is an elite quarterback that has shown excellent play, grit, and the ability to just get it done every year.

    As long as the team finds a solution to the left tackle issue, Rivers should be able to continually put up stellar numbers—with or without wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

    Barring injury or team meltdown, Rivers will be in the hunt for MVP honors.

Kyle Orton, QB, Denver Broncos

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    Orton slinging it.
    Orton slinging it.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    If the Denver Broncos have an MVP candidate, it has to be Kyle Orton. Though much maligned, Orton has managed to earn a professional record of 29-19 as a starter.

    Orton is more known for being a "game-manager" than a "gun-slinger." He's not going to throw for 4,500 yards and 45 touchdowns, but he is going to limit his mistakes and keep his team in the game.

    As the Broncos' personnel department continues to boggle the mind with their head-scratching decisions, Orton just shows up, does his job, and continues to be steady.

    It will take a lot of things to go right—perfectly right, but Orton is the Broncos' best hope for MVP.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charles looks for his next cut back lane.
    Charles looks for his next cut back lane.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    It's not at all likely that the Chiefs will have a player in the running for the MVP, but Jamal Charles is their best shot at it.

    Charles made some noise in his 10 starts last year, totaling 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 total games. He showed speed, vision, and unreal change of direction ability as he tore through most of the defenses he faced.

    The Chiefs are a team in the rebuilding process and they still have some serious holes on the offensive line, defensive line, and have only one real receiving threat.

    They must rely on the running of Charles to grind out the clock and keep the games close.

    The Chiefs will be better, but it would almost take divine intervention for Charles to rise to the level of MVP candidate.

Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders

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    Miller gets verticle to make the grab.
    Miller gets verticle to make the grab.Harry How/Getty Images

    Yes, I know that a tight end has never won the MVP award. I also know that the Raiders have a new quarterback that will need time to learn the offense and adjust to new targets. But, as a Raider fan and a former tight end, I just couldn't help myself.

    Miller is without question the most reliable offensive weapon the Raiders have. He has led the team in receptions for three years straight, and in yards the last two seasons.

    In three years as a pro, Miller has averaged 12.2 yards per catch. That's pretty darn good for a tight end.

    Just as he did in Washington, new Raider Jason Campbell will find his proverbial security blanket in the tight end. Chris Cooley was almost unheard of until Campbell took over the Redskins offense in 2006.

    Since then, Cooley has made two Pro Bowls and is a household name.

    The question marks and injuries at the wide receiver position in Oakland are bound to play a role in Miller getting a lot of receptions.

    If Miller can get 805 yards with "that other guy" throwing the ball, Campbell is likely to turn Miller into a legend.

    If all the planets and stars align to give the Raiders the improvement a lot of people are predicting, Zach Miller could be the "Dark-Horse" candidate for MVP.

Final Thoughts...

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    The late Steve McNair kissing his MVP trophy.
    The late Steve McNair kissing his MVP trophy.

    Ultimately, I'd be willing to bet that most of these men would gladly give up an MVP trophy for a Lombardi trophy.

    I know that some of my picks are safe, but what was I going to do? Try to sell on Joseph Addai over Peyton Manning? Fred Taylor over Tom Brady?

    I don't think so.

    That said, I do realize that there are some picks on this list that simply can't happen. The Most Valuable Player award has never been handed to a kick returner, a tight end, or a safety.

    However, the teams they play on, and the situations on that team, led me to my choices. It's hard to pick out a legitimate candidate on a bad team.

    I'm wondering what everyone else thinks. Who is the real longshot that could surprise everyone? Who is the perennial favorite that doesn't have any real chance? Which of these picks do you especially like? Which of the dark horses has the best chance?

    Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.

    Look for the follow up to this article that discusses the NFC candidates next week.

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