At the start of the season, if someone had said that Maurice Jones-Drew, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson would all be among the league's 10 leading rushers through 13 weeks, nobody would have been shocked.
But the fact that only one of them is among our top 10 MVP candidates through 13 weeks is a bit of a surprise. The running-back crop has been especially weak this season when it comes to potential award winners. Many of the top runners, such as Peterson, Johnson, Jackson and Foster, are on teams with records that aren't good enough to warrant serious consideration, while Charles and Turner have both been overshadowed by their quarterbacks.
Only Jones-Drew, who is making his debut on the Meter this week, warrants legitimate MVP discussion. He is clearly the best player on a first-place team and has been on a major roll lately, rushing for 186 yards in the Jaguars' win over Tennessee on Sunday.
(Last week's ranking in parentheses)
1. Patriots QB Tom Brady (No. 1) — Nobody plays better in big games than Brady, and he showed that again on Monday night vs. the Jets. Brady carved up what was supposed to be a good Jets defense, tossing four TDs to help the Patriots move into first place in the AFC East. With another win this Sunday in Chicago, New England will lock up a playoff spot.
2. Saints QB Drew Brees (No. 3) — On Sunday vs. the Bengals, Brees threw a three-yard TD to Marques Colston with 31 seconds remaining to give the Saints the lead, but his performance on the previous play was also crucial. Facing a 4th-and-two, Brees used a hard count and wound up drawing Bengals DT Pat Sims across the line, moving the chains and putting New Orleans in position to win their ninth game of the season.
3. Eagles QB Michael Vick (No. 4) — The Eagles and Giants are tied for the NFC East lead at 8-4, with Philly currently holding the tiebreaker because of a Week 11 win over the Giants. If Vick is going to continue his MVP push and lead the Eagles to the playoffs, he'll have to earn it against tough competition. The team's final four games feature two matchups vs. the rejuvenated Cowboys — a team that embarrassed the Eagles in Week 17 last season — a talented Vikings squad and a Week 15 battle in New Meadowlands Stadium vs. the Giants.
4. Falcons QB Matt Ryan (No. 5) — Despite some struggles from Ryan, Atlanta started off their rare three-game road trip with a comeback win over the Buccaneers. Ryan threw two interceptions (his first turnovers since Week Seven) and averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt, which tied his season low. Ryan was able to come through when his team needed him most, though, finding Michael Jenkins for a nine-yard TD with 4:31 left in the game.
5. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (No. 8) — It's no shock that Rodgers is putting up big numbers through the air for the Pack; he's fifth in the NFL with 3,243 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. But he's also getting it done with his legs, as Rodgers is second on the team with 284 rushing yards and leads Green Bay with four rushing TDs.
6. Chargers QB Philip Rivers (No. 2) — No team was liked more by the Las Vegas oddsmakers last week than the Chargers, who were 13-point favorites to top the Raiders. The team must not have received the memo that they were supposed to be better than Oakland, however, as they fell to the Silver and Black for the second time this season. Rivers threw for 280 yards in the game, but he'll need to go on a huge run (and San Diego will need to revert to its winning ways) if he wants to continue to be considered as a top MVP candidate.
7. Falcons WR Roddy White (No. 6) — Perusing the stats from the Falcons' win over the Buccaneers in Week 13, the eye-popping stat for White wasn't his seven receptions or 74 yards. It was the fact that Matt Ryan targeted him 16 times, which was the same numbers of passes the team's second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-most targeted receivers saw combined. Obviously, those two have a good rapport, and it helps explains why the Falcons lead the NFC with a 10-2 record.
8. Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew (NR) — Following an embarrassing 42-20 loss to the Chiefs in Week Seven, MJD and the Jags have won four of five games, and Jones-Drew has gained 100 or more yards in each game. Jacksonville controls its own destiny in the AFC South, but it has tough road trips to Indianapolis and Houston still to come.
9. Steelers SS Troy Polamalu (NR) — Polamalu pulled off maybe the most important play of the weekend in the team's comeback win over the Ravens. Down 10-6 with 3:22 left, the safety blitzed from QB Joe Flacco's blind side, knocking the ball loose before teammate LaMarr Woodley recovered it and brought it down to the Ravens' 9-yard line. Isaac Redman found the endzone three plays later, helping Pittsburgh grab the lead in the AFC North.
10. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel (NR) — Cassel's role in the Kansas City offense is fairly simple — hand the ball off to the team's top running backs, find WR Dwayne Bowe downfield and don't throw interceptions. He's been great at all three, tossing 23 TDs to only four picks for the first-place Chiefs.
Five on the cusp (In alphabetical order) — Ravens WR Anquan Boldin, Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, Packers OLB Clay Matthews, Bears DE Julius Peppers, Falcons RB Michael Turner.