Mike Sando's MVP Watch
New England's Tom Brady, the NFL's highest-rated passer for the team with the league's best record, became the obvious choice Tuesday night without even playing. His only legitimate competition for the award, Michael Vick, took a physical pounding in defeat and barely finished the Philadelphia Eagles' game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Rank 'Em: NFL MVP Candidates
Does Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers have a legitimate shot at being the league's MVP?
Quarterbacks have won the award 35 times in 55 chances. Running backs have won 17 times. Alan Page (defensive lineman), Lawrence Taylor (linebacker) and Mark Moseley (kicker) are the only players from other positions to win the award.
That helps explain why quarterbacks and running backs -- OK, only one running back -- account for all 10 spots on my latest MVP Watch list.
San Diego's Philip Rivers fell off the list despite impressive numbers. MVP quarterbacks have posted a 12-3 record on average over the years (teams played fewer than 16 games before 1978). Rivers can finish no better than 9-7 after his Chargers lost by two touchdowns at Cincinnati with their season on the line.
1. TOM BRADYQuarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 1/2 vs. MIA ... Last Week: 1
The 2007 MVP has thrown 25 TD passes since tossing his last INT -- way back in Week 6. His three scoring passes against Buffalo in Week 16 gave him a league-leading 34 this season. Brady stands at plus-30 in TD-to-INT ratio, an astounding differential. Thirty-eight players in NFL history have thrown 30 or more scoring passes in a season, according to Pro Football Reference. They combined to accomplish the feat 70 times, tossing 16 INTs on average (excluding Brady's totals from this season).
Week 16 at BUF
2. MICHAEL VICKQuarterback | Philadelphia Eagles ... Next Game: 1/2 vs. DAL ... Last Week: 2
It's been a great run this season. The Eagles' struggles against Minnesota do not significantly diminish what Vick has accomplished. The pounding he took did revive questions about whether a quarterback can hold up over the course of a full season while running as aggressively as Vick has run this season, particularly when taking so many sacks (34 for Vick).
Week 16 vs. MIN
3. DREW BREESQuarterback | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 1/2 vs. TB ... Last Week: 9
The MVP list starts breaking down at this point. Should Brees rank this high after throwing two fourth-quarter picks, giving him 21 INTs for the season? Ideally, he would not, but I'm not seeing clear-cut superior choices, either. Brees has continued to make the difference for New Orleans as the Saints press Atlanta in the NFC South race.
Week 16 at ATL
Manning completed a season-low 53 percent of his passes against Oakland in Week 16, but he gets extra credit for that scramble late in the game (unless his decision to forgo the TD cost your fantasy team). The Colts have won three in a row to retake control of the AFC South race. Was there ever any doubt? Yes, there was.
Week 16 at OAK
The fifth player on my MVP Watch list didn't even earn a Pro Bowl berth this season. The concussion Rodgers suffered against Detroit took him off the field just as players and coaches were preparing to cast their Pro Bowl ballots. I suspect Rodgers might have landed on the NFC squad if voting took place following his four-TD, zero-INT showing in Week 16, but we'll never know.
Week 16 vs. NYG
Jones-Drew's streak of six consecutive 100-yard games ended somewhat improbably against the Colts, and a knee injury sidelined him during a critical defeat to Washington in Week 16. Jones-Drew still ranks second to Arian Foster in rushing yards per game. He carried Jacksonville back into the playoff race this season, no small feat.
Week 16 vs. WAS
7. MATT CASSELQuarterback | Kansas City Chiefs ... Next Game: 1/2 vs. OAK ... Last Week: 10
Three TD passes without an INT against Tennessee left Cassel with a 27-5 ratio of TDs to INTs. The Chiefs' offense struggled to function when Cassel missed the San Diego game. The team has won two in a row since Cassel's return to clinch the AFC West title. Cassel has showed admirable toughness and efficiency.
Week 16 vs. TEN
8. MATT RYANQuarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 1/2 vs. CAR ... Last Week: 6
Losing at home to New Orleans had to hurt. Ryan had won eight consecutive starts. Even though he did not throw a pick against the Saints, Ryan has four in his past four games after going four games without any. Finishing up against the Panthers would seemingly improve Ryan's chances for a strong finish, but he finished with one TD, one pick and a 76.5 rating in his last game against Carolina.
Week 16 vs. NO
9. JAY CUTLERQuarterback | Chicago Bears ... Next Game: 1/2 at GB ... Last Week: NR
The Bears' surge to the NFC North title must be rewarding for Cutler given all the criticism he has taken. That seemed clear when Cutler took jabs at reporters during a recent news conference. Twelve QBs have higher ratings this season, but Cutler has put up triple-digit ratings in four of his past five games.
Week 16 vs. NYJ
10. JOSH FREEMANQuarterback | Tampa Bay Buccaneers ... Next Game: 1/2 at NO ... Last Week: NR
The Bucs' young starter has 13 TDs with one INT in his past seven games. He has benefited from an easy schedule, tossing nine TDs with no picks against the NFC West this season. Leading the NFL's youngest team to a winning record was enough to earn Freeman a spot on the list.
Week 16 vs. SEA