- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here are my picks for midseason most valuable player for each team in the division:
If it weren't for Aaron Rodgers making it a one-man debate, Manning would right now be in the conversation for MVP of the entire league. He ranks sixth in the league in passer rating, passing yards per game and touchdown passes. A year after throwing a league-leading 25 interceptions, he's thrown only six in eight games. With all of the injury, offensive line and run game issues the Giants have had to overcome, Manning has been forced to take on a higher level of responsibility than he ever has in the past, and he has responded to it. He has protected the ball, led his team to white-knuckle comeback victories in the fourth quarter and elevated the play of previously unproven receivers such as Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard. Manning has everything you could want in an MVP candidate, most important the 6-2 record.
Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware could threaten the league's single-season sack record, and he deserves consideration for this honor. But no player on the Dallas defense took to or thrived in the complex scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan like Lee has at inside linebacker. His ability to fly all over the field making plays, to work so seamlessly and athletically in a defense that relies on deception and pre-snap movement was a key reason the Cowboys' defense had so much success in its first six games, especially against the run. And his absence since dislocating his wrist early in the Week 8 game in Philadelphia has done even more to prove his value, as the defense has struggled in the middle of the field without him.
The Eagles' biggest problem so far has been that their big-time, superstar athletic playmakers haven't made enough big-time, superstar athletic plays when it has counted. Not the case with McCoy, who has been one of the top two or three running backs in the NFL this year. He leads the league in rush yards and rushing touchdowns. He's second in yards per carry among players with at least 100 carries. He's caught 28 passes in eight games and has scored in every game he has played. He's been the workhorse, carrying the ball 58 times over a two-game stretch against Washington and Dallas. He's been the big-play guy, finding every hole he can and breaking runs for big gains. He's been everything they could ask him to be, and there's really not a strong challenger to him for team MVP at this point.
There's no way it could go to a player on Washington's struggling offense, and so we look to the defense, where outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan have excelled at rushing the passer but inside linebacker Fletcher has brought brilliant, consistent play and leadership. The Redskins through five games were one of the best defenses in the league, and they're still ranked seventh in fewest points allowed per game. The main reason they hang together and have made so many improvements in the second year of Jim Haslett's and Mike Shanahan's 3-4 scheme is Fletcher, who was drilling his teammates on it during players-only workouts during the lockout and has carried that fire and leadership into the season. The defense wouldn't work without Fletcher, who's doing all he can to hold together a sinking season in Washington.