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NFL MVP forecast: Tom Brady passes Peyton Manning

The MVP race is not just a two-horse race yet, but it will take an incredible three-week stretch at this stage for anyone not named Peyton Manning or Tom Brady to win the award. After Monday night's beatdown, we have a new leader.

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Brady's back-to-back prime-time games against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers allow him to make a strong closing statement for MVP. He's halfway home. His four-touchdown, 296-yard effort against the Texans helps to point out so many ridiculous things about Brady's season.

Brady has 29 TD passes and just four interceptions. The Patriots have scored 97 points more than any other NFL team. Brady beat Manning's Broncos head-to-head comfortably. If Brady plays well against San Francisco, he'll have my pretend vote.

2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

The expectations have raised so high in Denver that Thursday night's blowout victory in Oakland feels rather ordinary. The Baltimore Ravens' defense is not playing well overall, but this week's game still marks Manning's toughest test in a wildly easy second half of the season.

3. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

Watt hit Brady a lot Monday night, but the defensive end probably needed an epic performance to seriously get voters thinking about picking him. Watt remains this high on our list because he has affected games as much as a defensive player can.

4. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

He'd be a great MVP candidate most years. He probably has the best shot to unseat one of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks above if he reaches 2,000 rushing yards and Minnesota makes the playoffs. At this point, we're afraid to bet against him.

5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers leads the NFL in touchdowns per throw once again. His 29 to eight TD-to-INT ratio matches Manning. Rodgers only ranks behind Manning and Brady because of an uneven start to the year and fewer big plays out of the Packers' offense.

6. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: He's good at catching footballs thrown in the air at him.

7. Von Miller, Denver Broncos: Still could pass Watt for DPOY with a strong finish.

8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Still holding strong at No. 3 in QBR.

9. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: Missing a game or two would hurt his Rookie of the Year candidacy.

10. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks: Peterson's wild run has overshadowed the clear No. 2 running back in the league.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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