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Thursday, December 11, 2008
NFC East MVPs

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

For most of the season, the NFC East seemed like the best division in football. That might not be the case anymore as we sprint toward the playoffs, but the Beast still has its fair share of legitimate MVP candidates.

At one point, Clinton Portis, DeMarcus Ware and Eli Manning were all making strong arguments. Ware and Manning remain in the conversation, but Portis' injuries and slippage in production has dropped him out of the running. But let's take a look at my MVP choice for each team in the division:

Ware

Dallas Cowboys, DeMarcus Ware, OLB

The Cowboys produced 13 Pro Bowlers in 2007, but they won't have half that many this season. Tony Romo is the biggest star on the team, but Ware's undoubtedly been the best player. He displayed immense talent from the start of his career, but a player taken after him in the draft, Shawne Merriman, was considered the more dynamic pass-rusher.

Things have changed dramatically. Merriman may be breaking down and Ware has 16 sacks with three games left to play. I've seen how my fellow bloggers voted in the ESPN.com MVP straw poll, and they completely blew it on Ware. Troy Polamalu and Albert Haynesworth are getting most of the love, but Ware should be right there with them.

Manning

New York Giants, Eli Manning, QB

The numbers won't blow you away (20 touchdowns, eight interceptions), but no quarterback in the league is more important to his team's success. Kurt Warner's the sexy pick (and he's earned the attention), but Manning's the player you want when the game's on the line. Everyone wanted to know what last season's breakout performance in the playoffs would do to Manning. Well, it made him even hungrier. He'll have to do it without Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress the rest of the way, but I like his chances.

Giants general manager Jerry Reese believes Manning might be the smartest player in the league. He constantly puts the Giants in the right position. Give Tom Coughlin a ton of credit for helping this team overcome adversity, but it all starts and ends with Manning. Not long ago it seemed ludicrous to compare him to his older brother. But at this point, I think Eli will end up with more rings than Peyton.

Westbrook

Philadelphia Eagles, Brian Westbrook, RB

This is a tough one. I'd like to give Donovan McNabb some sort of lifetime achievement award, but he hasn't been the best player on the team this season. Westbrook hasn't been himself because of injuries, but if the Eagles qualify for the playoffs, he'll be the one to get them there. He was brilliant in Sunday's upset of the Giants, and it looks like he's fully healed.

His numbers are down from last season, but he's still one of the best players in the game. The Eagles rewarded him with a lucrative extension in the preseason, and they'll reap the rewards for years to come. It's a little sad that he and McNabb won't win a Super Bowl together -- unless they stay hot right now. Let's give Darren Howard a little credit for his eight sacks.

Portis

Washington Redskins, Clinton Portis, RB

He was having a remarkable season before things went south in the loss to the Steelers. Pittsburgh stuffed Portis, and in subsequent weeks he's been plagued by injuries. Still, he's rushed for 1,260 yards and seven touchdowns. After a slow start in Week 1 against the Giants, he put together a remarkable string of 100-yard games.

Redskins head coach Jim Zorn has done a lot of things right in his first year, but picking a fight with his star player wasn't one of them. Portis has never been a great practice player. He's someone who shows up on game day, though, and lays it on the line. Questioning Portis' preparation in public wasn't the best way to go. Portis was coddled by Joe Gibbs, and the adjustment to Zorn hasn't been easy on him. He has a chance to finish strong -- especially since the Bengals are on the schedule. He's the third-ranked back in the league right now, and that speaks to the amazing start he had.