The weekly MVP Watch is back, with or without legitimate candidates from the NFC West.
My initial list of 10 candidates featured none from the division. I'd rank the top four this way:
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals. It's been a tough offseason for Fitzgerald. He lost Kurt Warner, sprained a knee and hasn't gotten much work with new quarterback Derek Anderson. Opposing defenses must respect teammate Steve Breaston, but they won't have to worry about Anquan Boldin. That could make it easier for defenses to focus on Fitzgerald.
2. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers. He's coming off four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and his 10 touchdowns in 2009 were a career high. A breakthrough season for the 49ers would give Gore a chance as long as he has better luck with injuries this season. The 49ers still must show they can run an offense that makes Alex Smith comfortable without diminishing Gore's role.
3. Patrick Willis, 49ers. Leading a top-10 defense for a winning team might bring Willis to the fringes of the discussion. He would probably need more sacks and interceptions to gain serious traction. No defensive player has won the award since Lawrence Taylor following the 1986 season. Taylor had 20.5 sacks that season. Willis' position prevents him from affecting games the way Taylor could. He's not playing in the New York market, either.
Other considerations: Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams would have a shot playing for a better team. But Chris Johnson proved last season how difficult it can be for even a 2,000-yard rusher to win MVP playing for a non-winning team (the Tennessee Titans were 8-8). I don't see any other legitimate candidates in the division, barring an unexpected breakthrough season (sorry, Vernon Davis, but no tight end has won the award).