A year ago in this space, we predicted that Tom Brady would shake off the rust of a major knee injury and return to his MVP level of 2007. In the same column, it was written that Peyton Manning's numbers would suffer, with a coaching change in Indianapolis and retired WR Marvin Harrison being replaced by unproven commodities Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.
We're not making that mistake again.
Manning is the league's Most Valuable Player until someone notifies us otherwise and therefore, at the top of the preseason MVP Meter. He won his second consecutive and fourth overall trophy in ’09 and is the favorite to take home the hardware again. Now that the label for Indianapolis' receivers has shifted from "unproven" to "deep," the Colts' QB can utilize all the dangerous weapons at his disposal. That includes a trio of wide receivers with 600-plus yards last season, a Pro Bowl tight end who caught 100 balls and added 1,100 receiving yards of his own and the return of WR Anthony Gonzalez, who missed all of last season but was a first-round pick in 2007. Matching or eclipsing the 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns he posted in '09 is not out of the question for No. 18.
Right on his tail though is a strong crop of signalcallers. Drew Brees bested Manning in Super Bowl XLIV, Aaron Rodgers was PFW's preseason pick for Offensive Player of the Year and Tom Brady is still, well, Tom Brady. Three other QBs appear in our initial list as well, along with three ultra-talented running backs. Manning may be the clear favorite, but it surely isn't because of a lack of competition.
Of course, things will change once the season gets under way. This list is our projection of who will take home the MVP award at the end of the season; not where the players rank right now. And new this season, we are asking for your input. Become a follower of Pro Football Weekly on Facebook and click on the 'MVP Meter' discussion. Suggest a player who you think should be considered and tell us why, and you may find yourself mentioned in our weekly feature.
1. Colts QB Peyton Manning — The man who has started every game of his career seems to be improving with age. In '09, Manning took the fewest sacks of his career while completing the highest percentage of his passes, leading the Colts to an NFL-best 14 regular-season wins. Chalk up Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark for another 1,100-plus yards and 100 catches each.
2. Saints QB Drew Brees — It is hard to deny that Brees has put together one of the greatest four-year stretches in league history. If he can duplicate his Saints average of 4,575 passing yards and 30 touchdowns in 2010, and lead New Orleans back to the playoffs, Brees finally might break the Madden cover curse and take home some hardware.
3. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers — In his second season as a starting QB last year, Rodgers threw for more yards and more touchdowns than he did in '08, while lowering his interceptions. He also led Green Bay to the playoffs. Do all of that again, and the award could be heading up to Cheese Land.
4. Patriots QB Tom Brady — The absence of holdout OLG Logan Mankins is a cause for concern, as is a below-average run game. But if anybody can overcome that, it's Brady, who will enjoy throwing to Randy Moss and Wes Welker, along with a trio of new tight ends who should make life even easier in the red zone.
5. Cowboys QB Tony Romo — Being the most important player in an absolutely loaded offense on America's Team is a great way to be noticed; now Romo has to put up the stats to match the hype. If his numbers are even close to the top QBs on this list, he may end up getting the nod.
6. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson — Nobody doubts Peterson's skills or status as an elite runner. But if he can improve his consistency — no 100-plus-yard rushing games after Week 10 last season — and cut down on his fumbles, A.D. has the best chance of any non-QB to take home the award.
7. Chargers QB Philip Rivers — His top receiver and starting left tackle may be MIA because of contract disputes, and his longtime backfield mate may have moved on to New York, but Rivers won't miss a beat. The biggest cause for concern regarding his MVP candidacy is the weak division he plays in; voters may ignore his big stats because of the mediocre competition.
8. Ravens RB Ray Rice — Baltimore is a very popular Super Bowl pick coming out of the AFC, and if they reach that game, it likely will be because third-year players Rice and/or QB Joe Flacco played an even higher level than in their breakout 2009 season. Rice earns the early nod on the MVP Meter, because he contributes heavily both in the running and passing games.
9. Titans RB Chris Johnson — Johnson says that his goal is to run for 2,500 yards, shattering Eric Dickerson's single-season record. If he accomplishes that, and Tennessee makes a run at the playoffs, giving someone else the trophy may be more difficult then catching CJ2K in the open field.
10. Vikings QB Brett Favre — Sportswriters love Favre, and if this is really his last NFL season, there will be some voters who'll want to honor him by giving him the trophy. If he somehow matches his 4,200 yards, 33-7 touchdown-interception ratio and 12 regular-season wins from 2009, it will be a worthy send-off.
Five on the Cusp (in alphabetical order) — Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall, Texans QB Matt Schaub, Falcons RB Michael Turner, Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware, 49ers ILB Patrick Willis.
For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.