Position Power Rankings  

 

Brady, Palmer headline list of top MVP candidates

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Every week in this space, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position, attribute or award.

With the byes wrapping up last week, all 32 teams have played exactly 10 games. As we turn our attention to the six-game stretch run, it's time to start thinking about the NFL Honors and the regular-season awards.

Let's kick it off with the Most Valuable Player watch:

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots quarterback: Excluding last year's meaningless regular-season finale, the Patriots have won 23 of Brady's last 24 starts -- an astounding level of sustained dominance. Brady stated earlier this season that he's a better quarterback now than he was five years ago. That's not hyperbole. A slimmer Brady is more nimble in the pocket and has lost nothing from his fastball. He puts on a weekly quarterbacking clinic, showcasing rare field vision, processing information at rapid speed and attacking the right players on the right down and distance.

At age 38, Joe Montana was playing out his final season, wrapping up a magnificent career which featured double-digit victories in six different seasons. At age 38, Brady is the best player in the game, already notching his 13th season of double-digit victories while dissecting opponents and battling the attrition that is taking its toll on the rest of the Patriots' offense. He's the greatest of all time.

2. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals quarterback: Palmer leads the NFL in touchdown passes (27), passer rating (108.6), first-down percentage (43.4) and passes over 20 yards (46). If he tosses three more touchdown passes versus San Francisco in Week 12, he will equal Kurt Warner's single-season franchise record -- with five games to spare. After just 10 games, Palmer's league-leading offense has already tied the Cardinals' record with seven games of 30+ points. A "godsend" to Arizona, per general manager Steve Keim, Palmer is the MVP of the best Cardinals team any of us has ever seen.

3. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers quarterback: The September and October MVP buzz surrounding Newton seemed ill conceived. He wasn't passing particularly well and needed Josh Norman to come through with spectacular plays to win close games. He has raised his game to another level of late, though, completing his first 11 passes versus the Titans and throwing five touchdowns in the first 32 minutes of last week's blowout victory over the Redskins. Newton not only boasts a 15:0 TD-to-INT ratio in the red zone, he's also the most effective short-yardage weapon in football.

"The evolution of our offense," coach Ron Rivera told The MMQB early this month, "has been as much the evolution of Cam."

4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers quarterback: If one was to track jaw-dropping throws this season, the bulk of them would be attributed to three quarterbacks: Rodgers, Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger. Of that trio, Rodgers would be responsible for twice as many as the other two. For the first quarter of the 2015 season, Rodgers advanced the evolution of his craft, playing quarterback at a higher level than I have ever seen: unparalleled arm talent, uncanny scrambling, coach-like pre- and post-snap recognition and an unshakeable confidence allowing him to envision possibilities and interrogate the limits of the game.

As talented as Rodgers is, he couldn't overcome the NFL's slowest receiving corps, Eddie Lacy's midseason vanishing act and his own bad habit of throwing without setting his feet during a three-game losing streak. If the offense gets back in synch following the promising Week 11 performance in Minnesota, Rodgers can still give Brady a run for the top spot.

5. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver: The best route runner on the planet, Brown is second only to Julio Jones in receptions and receiving yards despite failing to reach 50 yards in three consecutive games with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined. His 26-game stretch since the beginning of the 2014 season (208 receptions, 2,839 yards and 18 touchdowns in 26 games) is Jerry Rice-like in dominance and ruthless efficiency. Brown and freakishly athletic Martavis Bryant are easily the best wide-receiver duo in the league right now.

6. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots tight end: Greg Olsen is the lone NFL tight end within 175 yards of Rob Gronkowski's 843 through 10 games, a phenomenal fact considering Gronk draws consistent double teams in addition to getting jammed by defensive ends and linebackers at the line of scrimmage. As long as Brady and Gronkowski are healthy, the Patriots keep winning despite the losses of their top two offensive linemen, their best running back and their best wide receiver. Already the most unstoppable tight-end force the NFL has ever seen, Gronkowski is simply too big, too strong and too dynamic for any one defender to handle.

7. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback: The Dalton skeptic is becoming an endangered species. The beleaguered Bengals quarterback has taken full advantage of his surrounding talent, showing his mettle with dramatic comeback victories versus the Ravens and Seahawks en route to the first 8-0 start in AFC North/Central history. After the upset loss to the Texans, it seemed natural for the doubts to resurface considering Dalton's miscues, Tyler Eifert's late-game drops and the quarterback's downright bizarre overreaction to J.J. Watt's playful Red Ryder BB Gun jab.

When Marvin Jones dropped a perfectly thrown Dalton bomb with the Bengals down 10 points in the fourth quarter last week, one member of the Around The NFL Podcast stated matter-of-factly: "These guys just aren't ready." Dalton promptly directed a pair of late-game scoring drives against the NFL's best secondary on the road to tie the game. It was a valiant effort in a tough loss, earning trust and newfound respect for a quarterback with a reputation for coming up short when it matters most.

8. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback: As impressive as any passer when he's played season, Roethlisberger would be in the top five had he not missed nearly half of Pittsburgh's games. Incredibly accurate downfield, he leads the NFL in passes of 40+ yards. Brady has uncorked nine such throws on 198 more attempts. Two years ago, the Steelers asked Roethlisberger to reign in his swashbuckling playing style in favor of a more cerebral approach similar to those of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Mission accomplished.

9. Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers cornerback: Step aside Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman. Norman has emerged as the NFL's stingiest lockdown corner, stifling the game's top receivers while also defending the run and coming through with clutch plays. Norman boasts the cover skills to lead all cornerbacks in opposing passer rating (38.7, per Pro Football Focus) while also exhibiting insane acrobatics on a game-clinching interception versus the Saints and a diving pass deflection to prevent a game-winning T.Y. Hilton touchdown in the overtime thriller with the Colts.

10. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans wide receiver: This spot could easily go to NFL sack leader J.J. Watt, who has been more productive through 10 games than he was in last year's Defensive Player of the Year campaign. Hopkins deserves credit, though, for emerging as a consistent top-flight receiver, almost single-handedly keeping the offense afloat on a first-place team. He's on pace for 122 receptions, 1,672 yards and 14 touchdowns with Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and T.J. Yates as his quarterbacks. Hopkins was a dynamic threat long before he dispensed with the notion that Revis Island still exists.

Honorable mention: J.J. Watt, Julio Jones, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Tyrann Mathieu, Geno Atkins, Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Justin Houston, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aaron Donald, Luke Kuechly, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Doug Martin

Not an MVP candidate: Tony Romo

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