It's the point in the NFL season when coaches like John Fox in Denver are openly stumping for their players as MVP candidates. With only one regular-season week left, I see four players as legitimate candidates.
One of those players -- J.J. Watt -- probably doesn't have a realistic chance with voters. I sense Tom Brady probably isn't resonating with voters because he doesn't have a great storyline, which is too bad. That leaves Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson as the two players most likely to win the award, although one of them doesn't crack the top two on my list.
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Yes, it's weird to elevate Peterson to the top spot after an 86-yard performance. But I've thought about this a lot over the last two weeks and agree with some suggestions that voter bias against non-QBs is worth considering. It was comical to watch the Houston Texans' defense put eight and nine in the box every play, usually run blitzing.
It's not a new approach for defenses, but it's really grown out of control over the last month. Peterson often sees so much penetration in the backfield, and yet he has overcome it all. It would take a unique, historic season for a running back to be ahead of Brady and Manning this year. My mind remains open entering a monster Week 17 matchup, but Peterson is an all-time great having an all-time season without much help.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady is approaching 5,000 passing yards again on the best offense in football. His tougher schedule and fewer interceptions give him the slight edge over Manning on my list, although Brady's December turnovers won't help him with voters.
3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Another Manning-Brady AFC Championship Game would put their personal rivalry at another level. Manning continues to dissect weak opponents in such a routine way that it's easy to lose sight of how incredible this season has been.
4. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Watt has taken the overall sack lead by one, which should help him beat Aldon Smith for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Von Miller really should be Watt's competition, but he has been quieter in December. Watt had a sack, three tackles for loss and three more quarterback hits against the Vikings in Week 16.
5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
I've heard some fantasy owners complain that Rodgers shouldn't be ranked this high in the MVP race because his overall yardage and explosive play numbers are down. Watch Rodgers every week and report back. He's still right there with Manning and Brady, and I'd take Rodgers if I needed one quarterback right now for a playoff run.
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: He has played his best football in the first quarter and last quarter of the season.
7. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: This might not even be his best season, but he has done all he can possibly do to help the Lions.
8. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks: There's no doubt who the most valuable player is on the Seahawks' offense.
9. Von Miller, Denver Broncos: He's more complete than Aldon Smith. In most seasons, Miller would win the Defensive Player of the Year award.
10. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: Dan Hanzus' preseason prediction (Romo for MVP) doesn't look that crazy anymore.