Before the MVP award is officially doled out, think about some of the things that Patriots QB Tom Brady dealt with this season:
Brady managed to overcome all of that, leading an offense that was tops in the league in points per game (32.4).
The maestro of the Patriots' offense threw for 3,900 yards and 36 TDs while only being picked off four times, setting an NFL record in the process for most consecutive passes without a pick. And as it turned out, everything worked out well: Welker came back healthy, Green-Ellis and Woodhead picked up the offense perfectly, Mankins returned to keep Brady upright, the tight ends proved to be dynamic redzone threats and the defense improved as the season progressed.
New England is the favorite to win the Super Bowl next month. Add that to the MVP honor that he should receive soon, and it will be quite the year for Brady.
(Preseason ranking in parentheses)
1. Patriots QB Tom Brady (No. 4) — As remarkable as Brady's 2010 season was, does it top his ’07 campaign? The question has been asked a lot and it's an intriguing argument. Three years ago he threw for 906 more yards and 14 more TDs for a team that went 16-0 in the regular season. He also had a much more experienced offense and threw twice as many interceptions. No matter your opinion, it's hard to deny that Brady has produced a couple of the greatest seasons by a quarterback the league has ever seen.
2. Eagles QB Michael Vick (NR) — The knock on Vick is that he missed a quarter of the Eagles' games this season. In the 12 games where he was on the field, however, Vick was the most dynamic player in the league. Vick accounted for 3,694 yards rushing and throwing, as well as 30 touchdowns, leading the Eagles to an NFC East title.
3. Falcons QB Matt Ryan (NR) — The NFC playoffs go through Atlanta, thanks in large part to Ryan. The third-year QB had his best season as a pro, throwing for 3,705 yards and 28 touchdowns for the 13-3 Falcons. He also cut down on his mistakes, throwing five fewer interceptions this season than he did in 2009, despite having 120 more passing attempts.
4. Colts QB Peyton Manning (No. 1) — Manning finished with career highs in passing attempts, completions and yards. More importantly, he led the Colts to their ninth-consecutive playoff appearance, throwing nine TDs and only two picks during Indianapolis' four-game winning streak to close out the season.
5. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (No. 3) — Playing in a win-and-your-in game in Week 17, Rodgers and the Packers did what they needed to do, topping the Bears and clinching the NFC's final wild card berth. It was an up-and-down season for Rodgers, who dealt with multiple concussions during the year, but he could end in on a high note with a long playoff run.
6. Saints QB Drew Brees (No. 2) — Interceptions were a problem for Brees in 2010, as he set a new career high in the category (22). When his passes did find his fellow Saints, though, the results were usually good, as Brees finished third in the league in passing yards (4,620).
7. Steelers OLB James Harrison (NR) — Harrison and fellow-Steeler Troy Polamalu battled for the top defensive player honor, but in the end, the outside linebacker's numbers were too good. Harrison is no one-trick pony. He's a complete player, as he finished with 100 tackles, 10½ sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions.
8. Chargers QB Philip Rivers (No. 7) — Leading the league's top-ranked offense, Rivers tossed 30 touchdowns and threw for 4,710 yards, most in the NFL. Just imagine what he could have done if Vincent Jackson hadn't missed 11 games or if Antonio Gates was healthy all season long.
9. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel (NR) — In 2009, Cassel threw 16 touchdowns and as many interceptions, and Kansas City finished in the basement of their division with a 4-12 K.C. record. The Chiefs' fortunes changed this year, and Cassel's improvement was a big reason for that. He finished with 27 TDs, just seven picks and the Chiefs won the AFC West with a 10-6 record.
10. Falcons RB Michael Turner (NR) — Turner rebounded from an injury-plagued 2009 season with a 1,371-yard, 12-touchdown campaign. His consistent production wore down defenses and helped put Ryan in position to succeed.
Five on the cusp (in alphabetical order) — Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman, Texans RB Arian Foster, Bears DE Julius Peppers, Steelers SS Troy Polamalu, Falcons WR Roddy White.