Mike Sando's MVP Watch
How about Charles Tillman?
The 10th-year cornerback earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time last season. He blanketed the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson during a 13-7 victory Monday night.
With two forced fumbles against the Lions, Tillman has 32 for his career. That ranks tied for third since Tillman's rookie season (2003) and the most for a defensive back, according to the Bears. Tillman has two picks and scored on both.
Tillman is playing very well. He's playing for a dominant defense. His team is winning. He makes the MVP Watch list this week, his first appearance.
Tillman joins MVP Watch mainstay J.J. Watt as the only defensive players to appear on the list this season. Lawrence Taylor was the most recent defensive player to win the Associated Press version of the award. He won following the 1986 season.
The Broncos have played the NFL's toughest schedule to this point (.632). They have the easiest schedule from this point forward (.333). That would seem to give Manning a good shot at becoming MVP and top comeback player. Since 2005, Manning has a 6-0 record in the game following bye weeks. He leads the NFL in Total QBR after throwing 11 TD passes with one INT over his past four games.
Week 6 at SD
2. ELI MANNINGQuarterback | New York Giants ... Next Game: 10/28 at DAL ... Last Poll: 2
The Giants are 3-0 this month and have a 26-5 record in October with Manning as their starting quarterback. That is the best record for any starting QB during the month since the 1970 merger. Manning and the Giants are 3-0 in the Cowboys' current stadium. Manning needs three TD passes to match Jim Hart's record for career scoring passes against the Cowboys (35).
Week 7 vs. WAS
Rodgers has 16 TD passes with two INTs during a four-game stretch since failing to throw a scoring pass against Seattle in Week 3. He faces a Jaguars defense that has allowed more TDs rushing (eight) than passing (seven). Only Denver and Jacksonville have played a tougher schedule than the Packers have played to this point in the season.
Week 7 at STL
4. J.J. WATTDefensive End | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 10/28 vs. BUF ... Last Poll: 9
Watt leads the league in sacks with 9.5 heading into the Texans' bye week. He's making a fairly significant jump on the list, a bit of a correction. Defensive players generally don't rank this high because they rarely win the actual MVP award. Watt was probably right when he told the Ravens' Ray Rice, "I've eaten burritos bigger than you."
Week 7 vs. BAL
5. MATT RYANQuarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 10/28 at PHI ... Last Poll: 3
The Falcons had a week off after Ryan tossed three INTs during a 23-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Ryan and the Falcons keep finding ways to win. Their game against Philadelphia in Week 8 recalls a 2011 comeback from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Eagles. Ryan has three TDs with four INTs over his past two games after posting an 11-2 ratio over the first four.
Week 6 vs. OAK
6. TOM BRADYQuarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 10/28 at STL ... Last Poll: 5
Brady and the Patriots are riding a string of 16 consecutive games with at least 350 yards, tying the NFL record St. Louis set over the 1999 and 2000 seasons. They can break the record against the Rams in London. Brady is on pace for 27 TD passes with seven INTs. That would be down from 39-12 and 36-4 over the past two seasons, respectively. His team has scored at least 29 points against every opponent but Arizona (18) and Seattle (23).
Week 7 vs. NYJ
The Redskins have a 3-4 record after losing a heartbreaker to the Giants. That makes Griffin the only player from a losing team to earn a spot on the list this week. Griffin joins Michael Vick as the only players in NFL history with at least 1,600 yards passing and 400 yards rushing in the first seven games of a season. Andrew Luck is arguably enjoying a better rookie season. Perhaps he'll appear on the list soon, too.
Week 7 at NYG
Tillman is playing a leading role for a defense that leads the NFL by a wide margin in ESPN's expected-points metric. The Bears have allowed six TD passes, tied for fewest in the NFL. Tillman helped limit the Lions' Calvin Johnson to single-game season lows for receptions (three), receiving yards (34) and longest reception (16).
Week 7 vs. DET
9. PERCY HARVINReceiver | Minnesota Vikings ... Next Game: 10/25 vs. TB ... Last Poll: 6
Harvin caught a scoring pass against the Cardinals, but he dropped on the list after a relatively quiet week overall. The Cardinals limited Harvin to 37 yards rushing, 10 yards receiving and 47 yards on two kickoff returns. A penalty for holding enabled (and wiped out) a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game. His MVP candidacy will suffer if Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder continues his recent struggles.
Week 7 vs. ARI
10. FRANK GORERunning Back | San Francisco 49ers ... Next Game: 10/29 at ARI ... Last Poll: NR
There wasn't room on the list for both Gore and NFC West rival Marshawn Lynch this week. Gore gets the call after rushing for 131 yards against the Seahawks' defense. He became the first player to reach 100 yards against Seattle this season. Gore suffered bruised ribs during the game, an injury to watch as the season progresses. The 49ers lead the NFL in yards per carry (5.9) while ranking second in rushing yards per game (176.6). Gore leads the NFL with 23 carries of at least 10 yards.
Week 7 vs. SEA