While Falcons QB Matt Ryan has held the top spot on the Meter for almost the entire season, it looks like four players have a legitimate shot at finishing the season in the top spot as we move into the second half of the 2012 campaign.
Ryan, J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning have positioned themselves as the top four candidates, in our opinion. Those are the league’s three highest-rated passers and one of the most dominant defensive linemen in recent memory.
That’s not to say Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady cannot elevate themselves into the top tier — they are right on the cusp of joining it — but someone else has to move down for one of them to move up. They also are going to need a little help from the four players mentioned before them to make it happen, and those four are showing no signs of slowing down.
(Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Falcons QB Matt Ryan (No. 1) — The Cowboys became the first team this season to keep Ryan from throwing a TD pass, but they did not stop the Falcons from remaining undefeated, and Ryan recorded a passer rating of 100 or better for the sixth time in eight tries.
2. Texans DE J.J. Watt (No. 3) — Watt wreaked havoc yet again on Sunday vs. the Bills. The consistently dominant five-technique has yet to go consecutive games this season without recording at least one sack. He leads the league with 10½ sacks after making one — and five total QB hits — against Buffalo.
3. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (No. 4) — He completed a season-low 46.7 of his passes in Green Bay’s win over the Cardinals, but four of Rodgers’ 14 completions were TD passes. How’s this for a tear — Rodgers has a TD-INT ratio of 22-3 in the past six games.
4. Broncos QB Peyton Manning (No. 5) — Manning had a passer rating of 105.8 in the Broncos’ win over the Bengals on Sunday, and it was his lowest rating since Week Three (83.0). That is how hot the league’s highest-rated passer (108.6) has been of late.
5. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (No. 7) — Pittsburgh was trailing 20-10 in the fourth quarter before Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace for a 51-yard TD pass to start the team’s comeback road win over the Giants. His steady hand has put the Steelers in position to become the team to beat in the AFC.
6. Patriots QB Tom Brady (No. 6) — Coming off a bye week, Brady will get another crack at the Bills’ 31st-ranked defense, which he carved up for 340 yards and three TDs at Buffalo in Week Four.
7. Giants QB Eli Manning (No. 2) — The Steelers’ defense was able to get the best of Manning in Week Nine. His 125 yards passing were his fewest in almost four years, and he has a TD-INT ratio of just 2-4 in his last four games. The Giants still have a comfortable lead in the NFC East standings and Manning is certainly capable of breaking back into the top five on the Meter before the season is over, but a big drop for him this week was in order.
8. Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman (No. 9) — Bucs RB Doug Martin stole the show in the second half Sunday on his way to 272 yards from scrimmage, and four TDs at Oakland, but Freeman set the table by throwing a couple TD passes in the first 2½ quarters. He produced a passer rating of 100 or better for the fourth straight game and has a TD-INT ratio of 11-1 over that span
9. Texans RB Arian Foster (No. 10) — The league leader in rushing attempts (192) and rushing TDs (10), Foster is on pace for a 20-TD season. He had another 100-yard rushing day vs. the Bills in Week Nine even though he reportedly had the flu. Another tough set of circumstances await him in Week 10, when he will line up across from the Bears’ sixth-ranked run defense, which has allowed only two rushing TDs this season.
10. Bears CB Charles Tillman (Cusp) — After punching out four more balls Sunday vs. the Titans, Tillman leads the league with seven forced fumbles (no one else has more than four), and he’s even getting Defensive Player of the Year shout-outs from the president on national television.
On the cusp (in alphabetical order): Saints QB Drew Brees, Bengals WR A.J. Green, Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, Vikings WR Percy Harvin, Colts QB Andrew Luck, Bears WR Brandon Marshall, Bucs RB Doug Martin, Broncos LB Von Miller, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, 49ers QB Alex Smith, Colts WR Reggie Wayne.