It's that time of year. Analysts and observers are so bored with Peyton Manning's historic pace that they are frantically searching for viable alternatives in the MVP race. Aiming to stand out from the crowd, some have talked themselves into Russell Wilson or even Nick Foles as superior to a player who has led his team to the AFC's best record while leading the league in nearly every statistical category.
Would you hand the MVP award to a baseball player who missed two months of the season? Of course not. Foles has started six of the Eagles' 12 games, including a performance against Dallas that ranks as one of the least effective in the NFL this season. He's yet to lead a signature game-winning drive in 2013 since taking over for Michael Vick.
Foles has been instrumental in turning the Eagles' season around over the past six weeks. That doesn't put him on the same level as Manning and Wilson for the entire season.
Just when he was being written off as an over-the-hill quarterback who can't perform in cold weather, Manning produced a signature performance with 403 yards and five touchdown passes as he riddled the Chiefs' secondary with deep balls. The "noodle-armed" master is on pace for a record-breaking 5,500 yards and 55 touchdowns. He's already the oldest quarterback -- by nearly four years -- with 40 touchdown tosses in a season.
Is there anything the piping-hot Wilson can't do? He's not asked to carry the offense like Manning does, but he's led his team to the NFL's best record -- without Percy Harvin -- while playing behind an injury-ravaged offensive line. With four games to go, Wilson (48) has a chance to leapfrog Manning (52) for the second-most touchdown passes over the first two seasons of his career. Gregg Rosenthal outlined Wilson's impressive two-month stretch in this week's Quarterback Index.
Brady has now won 10 of 14 head-to-head meetings with Manning. Although he missed more throws than any quarterback in the league over the first two months, Brady deserves credit for keeping his team in first place despite the loss of nearly all of his top playmakers. With Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen back in the lineup, the Patriots' 35.75 points and 473.3 yards lead the NFL over the past five weeks. Nobody wants to face Brady's revived offense in the playoffs.
Quick, name another above-average player on Mike Shula's offense. You can't. Rosenthal has astutely pointed out that Newton's passing isn't much different than a year ago. The Panthers have won eight consecutive games thanks to the NFL's best defense and improved decision making and leadership from their quarterback. Newton's great escapes and the ability to consistently pick up key first downs on the ground cannot be overlooked in his MVP candidacy.
Brees joins Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts as the best quarterbacks without an MVP award. It's not going to change this year, either. After a hot start, his offense has cleared 25 points only once in the last five games. His Week 13 performance at Seattle was the first time since the 2010 season finale in which he's failed to pass for 200 yards.
There's a split-vote effect in the Motor City, with Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, Ndamukong Suh and DeAndre Levy all playing at a Pro Bowl level. Johnson is the most valuable of the bunch, though, as evidenced by his team's Week 5 faceplant when he missed the Packers game.
Charles leads the 9-3 Chiefs in rushing yards, receptions and touchdowns as the focal point of Andy Reid's offense. When asked to close out tight games, he's been the best clock-killer in the league. He just hasn't had that opportunity over the past month with the defense falling apart.
Shady's breakneck early-season pace has faded, but he's still leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage as the engine that makes Chip Kelly's offense go. Kelly's next order of business is figuring out how to simultaneously rest McCoy and keep a big lead in the second half of blowouts.
If Luck were removed from the Colts roster right now, this team would be in the conversation for biggest doormat in the league. With the Titans threatening to close the gap in the AFC South, Luck has put the team on his back and carried the Colts to victory in two of the past three weeks, all but wrapping up the division crown.
More than any quarterback in the NFL, Rodgers makes the players around him better. That much has been evident as the Packers have slipped from first place to third place in the NFC North without winning a single game in Rodgers' five-week absence. He's the answer to Dave Dameshek's question about the most indispensable player in the NFL's version of Jenga.