In football, a player's value can be measured by how difficult it would be to replace him.
Two teams realized the value of one of their key players in Week 14. With both Matt Cassel and Aaron Rodgers sidelined due to injuries, the Chiefs and Packers each lost games against divisional opponents. Cassel's absence was no surprise — he underwent an appendectomy last week and was ruled out for Kansas City's game vs. the Chargers. Rodgers started for the Pack, but was knocked out of the game at Detroit in the second quarter because of a concussion and never returned. Without their leaders, the Chiefs and Packers combined to score three points on Sunday.
So how does their absence affect Cassel and Rodgers' status as MVP candidates? There's no denying their relative worth, utility or importance to their respective teams. Sunday's performances proved that better than anything, but if they miss much more time, their overall statistics will suffer and they will drop on the Meter because they aren't making a difference on the field.
Cassel and Rodgers each remain on the Meter this week, but the more time they miss, the harder it is to justify their place, even if those replacements are showing the starters' true value.
(Last week's ranking in parentheses)
1. Patriots QB Tom Brady (No. 1) — It would take a horrendous final three games by Brady for anyone else in the league to take over the top spot. He's gone eight consecutive games without an interception and just threw for a season-high 369 yards in a snowstorm against Chicago's defense, which entered the game ranked third in the laegue. With a playoff spot already clinched and the AFC East title and No. 1 seed in the conference not far behind, Brady may have the award locked up before Week 17.
2. Saints QB Drew Brees (No. 2) — If you believe in jinxes, then it is just downright shocking what the Saints' QB is doing. Brees was on the cover of the Madden video game this year, was just named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year and also has the Super Bowl hangover to deal with. Yet, he still has been able to throw for 3,885 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, helping the Saints stay right on Atlanta's heels for first place in the NFC South.
3. Eagles QB Michael Vick (No. 3) — The trio of Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson has to be keeping opposing defensive coordinators tossing and turning at night thanks to their speed and versatility. Vick is the leader of the three, and he makes the other two better because of his arm strength and quick legs. The Eagles are banged up on defense, but when their offense is going at full throttle, they are tough to beat.
4. Falcons QB Matt Ryan (No. 4) — Ryan wasn't at his best in Week 14, throwing for 227 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Thankfully for the Falcons, their opponent was the Panthers, so he didn't need to be Matty Ice down the stretch. He'll have to be a bit better this week vs. the Seahawks, but what really matters is the team's Week 16 Monday-night game vs. the Saints.
5. Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew (No. 8) — There was not a lot of pretty football played on Sunday, but one of the few entertaining games was between Jacksonville and Oakland. MJD and Darren McFadden traded big plays the entire game, but it was the Jaguars runner who came out on top, scoring on a 30-yard run with 1:34 left to give his team a 38-31 win. Now comes a big test for Jones-Drew vs. the Colts with first place in the AFC South on the line. in nine career games vs. Indy, the running back is averaging 98.1 rushing yards.
6. Chargers QB Philip Rivers (No. 6) — It didn't take much out of Rivers for the Chargers to win on Sunday vs. Kansas City, with the Chiefs only gaining five first downs the entire game. His numbers for the season are still remarkable (3,868 yards, 26 touchdowns), but the Chargers' record (7-6) could keep Rivers from climbing much higher on the Meter.
7. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (No. 5) — Concussions have been a major topic of conversation in the league this year and teams are taking extra precautions with players who sustain them. Rodgers has now had two concussions this season and he may have to miss the team's Week 15 game at New England because of it. Losing their franchise QB would be a big blow to the Packers, as they need to win to keep up with the Bears in the NFC North.
8. Steelers SS Troy Polamalu (No. 9) — Deuces were wild for Polamalu and Pittsburgh on Sunday. He had two tackles and two interceptions in the team's win over the Bengals. He also scored one of two defensive touchdowns for the Steelers in the game.
9. Falcons RB Michael Turner (NR) — Atlanta had a reputation of being a team that didn't play as well on the road, but, thanks to Turner, that label is fading fast. The last two weeks Turner has a combined 52-200-4 in back-to-back victories away from home, and he'll look to continue that as the Falcons play what may end up being their last game away from the Georgia Dome for a long while this Sunday in Seattle.
10. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel (No. 10) — Talk about a rough week. First an emergency appendectomy, then having to watch your team generate almost no offense without being able to help. Cassel is preparing to play this week vs. the Rams, which is great news for Kansas City based on how poorly it played without him.
Five on the cusp (In alphabetical order) — Rams RB Steven Jackson, Colts QB Peyton Manning, Raiders RB Darren McFadden, Bears DE Julius Peppers, Falcons WR Roddy White.