Mike Sando's MVP Watch
Minnesota's Percy Harvin, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne did not suddenly become excellent players. They've been strong producers. The fact that their teams have nine combined victories through Week 5, up from 12 all last season, makes their contributions more meaningful.
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While the Vikings were improving to 4-1, Wayne's Colts were shocking the Green Bay Packers to reach 2-2, matching their victory total for 2011. Wayne was the catalyst. As Paul Kuharsky pointed out, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck averaged 10.6 yards on 20 attempts when targeting Wayne in that game, compared to 4.3 yards on 35 attempts targeting other players.
Lynch nearly appeared on the list a week ago, but the Seahawks were coming off a 19-13 defeat at St. Louis. Coach Pete Carroll is leaning heavily on Seattle's defense and ground game to carry the team while rookie quarterback Russell Wilson develops. Lynch keeps delivering. He has 1,449 yards rushing in the Seahawks' past 14 games, most in the NFL by 155 yards.
1. MATT RYANQuarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 10/14 vs. OAK ... Last Poll: 1
Ryan had 32 first-half pass attempts and a pick-six when the Falcons went to halftime against the Redskins with the game tied 7-7. He wasn't as sharp as he'd been to that point in the season. But with the outcome at stake in the fourth quarter, Ryan led one drive to a tying field goal and another to the winning touchdown. A 29-yard strike to Julio Jones was the key play during the TD drive. The Falcons could have stuck with their ground game in that situation. Instead, they trusted Ryan with a more aggressive plan.
Week 5 at WAS
2. TOM BRADYQuarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 10/14 at SEA ... Last Poll: 2
Brady and Ryan were opposites in Week 5. Whereas Ryan recovered from a shaky start, Brady completed 17 of 20 first-half passes (85 percent) for 165 yards and a touchdown. That was good enough for the Patriots to build a 17-7 lead at halftime. What was striking, however, was just how much Brady was able to lean on the Patriots' ground game. He completed only six second-half passes for 58 yards, taking four sacks and scrambling four times on 15 drop-backs.
Week 5 vs. DEN
Manning has nine touchdown passes without an interception since tossing those three first-quarter picks against the Falcons in Week 2. It would be easy to knock him down the list based on the Broncos' 2-3 record, but that would ignore the stiff competition Manning has faced to this point in the season. There's no shame in losing road games to the Falcons and Patriots. Denver's third defeat was to Houston, arguably the best team in the NFL. From here, the Broncos face San Diego (twice), New Orleans, Cincinnati, Carolina, Kansas City (twice), Tampa Bay, Oakland, Baltimore and Cleveland.
Week 5 at NE
4. ALEX SMITHQuarterback | San Francisco 49ers ... Next Game: 10/14 vs. NYG ... Last Poll: NR
Smith was about as effective as a quarterback could be during the 49ers' 45-3 victory over Buffalo. He threw scoring passes to three different wide receivers. He scrambled for 49 yards on three plays. He beat the Bills with passes traveling, on average, 9.7 yards past the line of scrimmage. That was the fifth-longest average for a starting quarterback in Week 5. The four with longer averages combined to complete 52.6 percent of their passes. Smith completed 75 percent. He leads the NFL in passer rating and Total QBR this season. He also leads the league in victories by a starting QB since the start of last season (17).
Week 5 vs. BUF
5. ELI MANNINGQuarterback | New York Giants ... Next Game: 10/14 at SF ... Last Poll: 8
Manning is coming off one of his better games. He trailed only the 49ers' Smith in QBR for the week. He has eight TD passes with only two interceptions since throwing three first-half picks against Tampa Bay in Week 2. That game against the Bucs featured Manning's 510-yard passing performance while highlighting, again, just how heavily the Giants rely upon their quarterback. A rejuvenated ground game should only help, although Manning and the Giants face a difficult test against the 49ers' defense at Candlestick Park in Week 6. They play three of their next five on the road heading into a bye.
Week 5 vs. CLE
6. ARIAN FOSTERRunning Back | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 10/14 vs. GB ... Last Poll: NR
Foster is back on the MVP Watch list for the first time since Week 1, replacing teammate Matt Schaub. Removing Schaub from the list wasn't an indictment of how he's been playing, necessarily. It's just that dedicating 30 percent of the list to one team seemed excessive. Foster's 152-yard game against the Jets was his third of the season with at least 100. He ranks second to Jamaal Charles in rushing yards while leading the league with five rushing scores. Charles appeared on this list two weeks ago, but the Chiefs' 1-4 record and overall prospects aren't looking so good.
Week 5 at NYJ
7. PERCY HARVINReceiver | Minnesota Vikings ... Next Game: 10/14 at WAS ... Last Poll: NR
The Vikings are a surprising 4-1 through five games, and they've largely got Harvin to thank for making their offense viable. Harvin ranks tied for the NFL lead with 38 receptions, but that only begins to explain his contributions. Harvin is the only wide receiver this season with 25-plus catches and no drops. The passes he has caught have traveled only 3.6 yards past the line of scrimmage on average. None of the 15 other wide receivers with at least 28 receptions has a route-depth average lower than 8.3 (Danny Amendola). That's fine by the Vikings, because Harvin is so tough after the catch. Harvin averages 8.4 YAC, far more than any leading wideout other than Denver's Demaryius Thomas (8.7). Harvin also has 13 carries for 62 yards (4.8-yard average) and one touchdown. Oh, and he averages 38.3 yards per kick return, with a 105-yard TD by that route.
Week 5 vs. TEN
8. J.J. WATTDefensive End | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 10/14 vs. GB ... Last Poll: 9
Watt leads the NFL lead in sacks with 8.5. He has at least one in five consecutive games. Watt batted down two passes during the Texans' victory over the Jets on Monday night by ESPN's count. He now leads the NFL in batted passes with five this season. As Ben Stockwell of Pro Football Focus noted, "He is recording a stop on nearly one in five of the run plays that he is on the field for and he is recording pressure on one in seven pass rush snaps. Combine that with his freakish streak of pass disruptions and you have the most complete defensive player in the league at present." Throw in the Texans' 5-0 record, and Watt has MVP Watch list staying power.
Week 5 at NYJ
The raw rushing stats are impressive enough for Lynch to make his MVP Watch list debut, particularly now that the Seahawks are back above .500. But the "how" is nearly as important as the "what" when it comes to appreciating the one constant in Seattle's low-risk offense. Lynch leads the league in yards after contact with 229 even though he isn't a breakaway runner. The three other backs with at least 199 yards after contact have four 20-yard-or-longer rushes apiece this season. Lynch has one. His ability to gain 11 yards through multiple defenders on a third-and-7 play helped Seattle run down the clock during its 16-12 victory over Carolina.
Week 5 at CAR
10. REGGIE WAYNEReceiver | Indianapolis Colts ... Next Game: 10/14 at NYJ ... Last Poll: NR
The play Wayne made in reaching the ball over the goal line following a tough reception Sunday helped the Colts complete their comeback victory over Green Bay. With coach Chuck Pagano hospitalized for cancer treatment, this has to stand as one of the more meaningful regular-season outcomes in the Colts' Indianapolis-era history. Wayne played a leading role in making it happen, catching 13 passes for 212 yards and one touchdown with 11 first downs and no drops. He ranks third among wide receivers with 36 receptions. He ranks third in yardage with 506. Wayne also ranks second with 12 fourth-quarter receptions. No one has more fourth-quarter receiving yards (165) or fourth-quarter receiving first downs (nine).
Week 5 vs. GB
San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Marshawn Lynch, Eli Manning, Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, Arian Foster, Percy Harvin, Danny Amendola, Alex Smith, Demaryius Thomas, Mike Sando's MVP Watch, 2012 MVP Watch