1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady could have clinched my hypothetical vote Sunday night, but came just short. Still, I can't move him off the top spot when he throws for 443 yards and helps the Patriots score 31 points against one of the best defenses in football. My guess is that Brady won't win the award because his story isn't as compelling as the next guys on the list. Weak reason.
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Peterson's case for the top spot, made lovingly by Michael Silver this week, becomes stronger by the week. Peterson didn't come out of the gates that hot, but he's absolutely carrying an offense that has next to no passing game.
I don't think an MVP should come down to whether Peterson breaks Eric Dickerson's record or whether the Vikings make the playoffs. But if Peterson continues his amazing late-season run the next two weeks, he might top the quarterbacks after all.
3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Is Manning getting knocked slightly for making it all look too easy against mostly inferior competition? Yes, yes he is. I would have absolutely no problem with Manning winning the award at this stage. This is not a year where the *wrong * guy is going to win.
4. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
It's hard to evaluate a defensive tackle against a quarterback. (That's true for running backs too.) But we can't imagine a defender being more valuable to his team than Watt this year.
5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The NFL leader in touchdowns-per-pass, quarterback rating, and sacks taken. His 291-yard, three-touchdown effort against the Chicago Bears was typical of his season. Rodgers is closing very strong.