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Tom Brady, Steve Smith among AFC MVP candidates

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We've reached the midpoint of the season -- which means it's time to highlight players who are operating at an MVP level.

Rather than focus on the candidates for the NFL MVP award, however, I thought I'd broaden the discussion by singling out the top performers within each division, as some players who might not make the league-wide cut nonetheless deserve kudos for guiding their teams to solid starts in 2014.

Below you'll find my MVP for each division in the AFC through Week 8; click the tab on the right to see my MVP for each division in the NFC. I'm sure some of you will disagree with my selections. Feel free to voice your opinions to me @BuckyBrooks.

AFC EAST

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

Brady got off to a slow start, but he's been brilliant over the past four weeks, connecting on 69.4 percent of his passes with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14:0 and a passer rating of 129.1 during that span. The veteran's burst of efficiency and effectiveness has coincided with an apparent return to full health by Rob Gronkowski and the emergence of Brandon LaFell on the perimeter. Now that Brady has a pair of big-bodied receivers to target down the field, we're beginning to see that transcendent player of old yet again.

AFC NORTH

Steve Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens

The wily veteran has emphatically proved that any reports of his football demise following his release from the Carolina Panthers were a bit premature. The 14th-year pro is having one of the best years of his career thus far. He's already notched four 100-yard games and regained his status as one of the league's premier deep threats with four receptions of 40-plus yards. Smith is averaging 16.5 yards per catch and anchoring the Ravens' passing game as the primary option. He deserves recognition for his efforts.

AFC SOUTH

J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year has been sensational this season, compiling 32 tackles, seven sacks, seven passes defensed, one fumble recovery and an interception. Remarkably, Watt's statistical production underscores his impact as a dominant playmaker for the Texans. He's scored twice on defense and added another score on a short-yardage touchdown reception. Considering Watt's disruptive production and consistent dominance, he gets the nod here over the division's star quarterback (Andrew Luck).

AFC WEST

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

Is Manning playing the best football of his illustrious career at age 38? Crazy to think, but quite possibly true. Manning, who has tossed two-plus touchdown passes in 13 straight regular-season games, is on pace to notch another 50-touchdown season as the director of the Broncos' high-powered offense. Yes, coach John Fox has dialed back the pass attack in an effort to add much-needed balance by featuring the running game more. Still, Manning's overall efficiency and production (119.0 passer rating with a TD-to-INT ratio of 22:3) in leading the NFL's top team makes him the obvious pick here.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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