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Week 7 awards watch: Big Ben moving into MVP conversation

It appears Ben Roethlisberger has quickly shaken off the rust following a four-game suspension and is performing at a high level.

Roethlisberger has guided his team to two victories, and has directed an offense that was pedestrian in his absence.

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In two starts, Roethlisberger has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes with five touchdown passes and only one interception. His 122.4 passer rating would blow the doors off the league leaders if he had enough attempts to qualify.

That sampling of numbers would make him a worthy Most Valuable Player candidate at anytime, but it has been his impact on the offense as a whole that has him on the radar. Roethlisberger has added a big-play element that had been missing. The Steelers only connected on 12 passes over 20 yards during their first four games, but have completed 14 passes of 20-plus yards since the two-time Super Bowl winner returned.

With the return of the deep ball, the Steelers have had an effective answer to opponents trying to slow down Rashard Mendenhall.

Some would argue that Roethlisberger is only a controversial call away from having a .500 record in his return. Still, that officiating error can't take away from his production.

While his play can't completely remove the stain that Roethlisberger's behavior cast on the Steelers' organization and the league, it has thrust him into a pool of MVP contenders.

Most Valuable Player

1. Peyton Manning, Colts, QB (Week 6 ranking: 1): He has already nabbed four MVP awards, but it will be hard to deny him his fifth if he continues at this level. With Manning among the league's passing leaders and the Colts sitting near the top of the AFC South, he will once again be in the MVP conversation at season's end.

2. Tom Brady, Patriots, QB (2): He wasn't at his best against the Chargers, but continues to lead his team to victories by making key plays at critical moments.

3. Matt Ryan, Falcons, QB (NR): If he could play all of his games at home, Ryan would draw comparisons to Manning and Brady as one of the NFL's great winners. Regardless, his play in guiding the Falcons to a 5-2 mark makes him worthy of consideration for the award.

4. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers, QB (NR): If you want to know how the Buccaneers have quietly become one of the NFC's top teams, then you should look closely at Freeman's play. The second-year pro notched the fifth come-from-behind win of his career by engineering a 16-play, 81-yard drive to beat the Rams that showcased his poise and ability.

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, QB (NR): See above.

Previously rated: Drew Brees, Saints, QB (3), Aaron Rodgers, Packers, QB (4) and LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets, RB (5).

Offensive Player of the Year

1. Philip Rivers, Chargers, QB (2): It is a shame that the Chargers' woeful special teams have kept the team from winning more games because Rivers is deserving of MVP recognition. However, the team's 2-5 record will force the league's leading passer to settle for the NFL's highest offensive honor.

2. Peyton Manning, Colts, QB (3): See above.

3. Arian Foster, Texans, RB (4): He has been a dominant force for the Texans as a runner/receiver. Although Foster has fallen behind in the race for the rushing title, his overall impact on Houston's offense makes him a worthy candidate here.

4. Kyle Orton, Broncos, QB (1): It appears that Orton has come back to Earth after getting off to a sizzling start in the Broncos' wide-open offense. After posting four straight 300-yard games, he has failed to come close to that kind of production in the team's last two losses.

5. Roddy White, Falcons, WR (NR): He is quickly closing in on Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald as the game's top receiver. White has four 100-yard games under his belt, and few opponents have had success slowing him down.

Previously rated: Michael Vick, Eagles, QB (5).

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Clay Matthews, Packers, LB (1): A nagging hamstring injury has limited his effectiveness of late, but his torrid start still makes him the front-runner. Matthews leads the league in sacks (8.5), and is emerging as one of the best at the position.

2. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys, LB (3): No.94 is still producing despite his team's disappointing start. He is tied for second with eight sacks, and continues to deliver turnovers with big hits.


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3. Osi Umenyiora, Giants, DE (4): Few know that the Giants sport the No. 2 ranked defense, but their recent surge has been keyed by Umenyiora's re-emergence as a premier pass rusher.

4. James Harrison, Steelers, LB (2): After spending a few days contemplating retirement following the league's reinforcement of the helmet-to-helmet policy, Harrison returned to the field as the same menacing and disruptive player that has accounted for five sacks and four forced fumbles.

5. Michael Griffin, Titans, S (NR): Several of you will raise your eyebrows at the sight of Griffin on this list, but a close look at the tape will reveal that he is arguably the Titans' biggest difference-maker. With a four-game streak with at least one interception, the NFL is starting to take notice of Griffin's remarkable skills.

Previously rated: Shaun Phillips, Chargers, LB (5).

Offensive Rookie of the Year

1. Sam Bradford, Rams, QB (1): The No. 1 pick struggled with his accuracy against the Buccaneers, but he found a way to keep his team in the game despite being slightly off the mark.

2. Dez Bryant, Cowboys, WR (NR): It's not often that a rookie receiver lives up to the hype, but Bryant has been every bit as sensational as many expected. With three touchdown receptions and two punt return scores, Bryant is a legitimate threat to score whenever he touches the ball.

3. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots, TE (4): He has become Brady's security blanket. Hernandez ranks third among rookie receivers with 27 grabs, and has eight receptions that have covered at least 20 yards.

4. Mike Williams, Bucs, WR (3): While the football world is singing Freeman's praises, it has been the emergence of Williams as a legitimate No. 1 receiver that has keyed the Bucs' aerial attack.

5. Jahvid Best, Lions, RB (2): He has been a dual threat for the Lions. Even though he has yet to crack the 100-yard rushing mark, Best is averaging 89 total yards while adding balance to the offense.

Previously rated: Chris Ivory, Saints, RB (5).

Defensive Rookie of the Year

1. Ndamukong Suh, Lions, DT (1): He is already on the cusp of being regarded as one of the most dominant interior defenders in the league.

2. Earl Thomas, Seahawks, S (3): Pete Carroll knew what he was doing when he picked Thomas to be his designated playmaker in the secondary. With four interceptions in only six games, Thomas has helped the defense be among the most opportunistic.

3. Nate Allen, Eagles, S (2): Brian Dawkins' shadow still looms large in Philadelphia, but Allen's play is slowly making fans envision another perennial Pro Bowler roaming in the back end.

4. Alterraun Verner, Titans, CB (NR): After watching him capably man the right cornerback position, scouts are digging up their notes to see why he didn't merit a higher grade in the draft.

5. Eric Berry, Chiefs, S (NR): He has thrived as a multi-faceted playmaker. Though his statistics don't fully reveal his impact, it is not a coincidence that the defense has improved with him in the back end.

Previously rated: T.J. Ward, S, Browns (4) and Brandon Spikes, Patriots, LB (5).

Coach of the Year

1. Todd Haley, Chiefs (2): While some of the credit for the Chiefs' success deservedly goes to coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, Haley has implemented an old-school blueprint that has Kansas City set to make a serious run at the postseason.

2. Mike Tomlin, Steelers (1): The Steelers might have benefitted from a questionable call in Miami, but it is hard to dispute their standing among the contenders.

3. Pete Carroll, Seahawks (5): After guiding the Seahawks to a surprising 4-2 start, the Pacific Northwest is starting to drink the championship Kool-Aid that Carroll is dispensing.

4. Rex Ryan, Jets (3): It's not bragging when you're telling the truth, and the Jets' 5-1 mark suggests that they are as good as their coach advertised prior to the season.

5. Raheem Morris, Bucs (NR): Some might snicker at Morris' proclamation that the Bucs are the best team in the NFC, but his young squad is serving notice that it will not take a backseat to the conference's so-called elites.

Previously rated: Steve Spagnuolo, Rams (4).

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