Manning has won four of the last nine MVP awards in Associated Press balloting. Tom Brady commanded 99 of 100 votes in winning the 2007 and 2010 awards. He's the favorite this year, but if Manning fails to recapture his usual form after missing the exhibition season, non-quarterbacks can feel better about their chances.
Defensive lineman Alan Page, kicker Mark Moseley and linebacker Lawrence Taylor defied the MVP odds even more improbably. They won the NFL's highest individual honor without handling the football regularly as a quarterback or running back. They were the exceptions since the Associated Press began naming MVPs back in 1957.
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 9/12 at MIA ... Last Poll: 1
Brady has won MVP honors twice in the past four seasons. He became the first unanimous choice last season, collecting all 50 votes. Brady also led the NFL in QBR last season and it wasn't particularly close (76.0 for Brady to 69.5 for Peyton Manning). Brady, Drew Brees and Manning are the only players with at least 60 touchdown passes over the past two seasons. The INT totals for the same period are telling: 17 for Brady, 33 apiece for Brees and Manning.
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 9/8 vs. NO ... Last Poll: 5
Winning a championship last season enhanced Rodgers' credentials. He's still an ascending player coming off only his third season as an NFL starter. Rodgers cut down his sacks last season after taking a league-high 50 in 2009. MVP balloting had closed by the time Rodgers started playing his best -- in the playoffs. We won't hold that against him here.
Quarterback | Philadelphia Eagles ... Next Game: 9/11 at STL ... Last Poll: 2
Vick finished second in the MVP Watch last season. His placement near the top of this list last season generated particularly strong resistance for some reason. Vick was one of four qualifying quarterbacks with a passer rating in triple digits, joining Brady, Philip Rivers and Rodgers. Only Rivers had more pass plays covering at least 40 yards. Vick passed for 21 touchdowns, ran for nine more and finished with more rushing yards than Ricky Williams, Michael Bush, Marshawn Lynch or Jahvid Best. He was also fifth in QBR, ahead of Brees.
Quarterback | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 9/8 at GB ... Last Poll: 4
Not many quarterbacks could pass for 4,620 yards and 33 TDs during a "down" season. The 22 interceptions he threw matched Brees' total in 31 starts across the 2004 and 2005 seasons. His YPA also plummeted from 8.5 in 2009 to 7.0 last season. The way the Saints lost in the playoffs -- against a 7-9 Seattle team -- wasn't true to form, either. Opening on the road against the Packers on Thursday night gives Brees a big stage early.
Quarterback | San Diego Chargers ... Next Game: 9/11 vs. MIN ... Last Poll: 9
The Chargers haven't fared well enough as a team for Rivers to consistently rank among the top MVP candidates. San Diego has opened the past four seasons with records of 2-5, 2-3, 4-8 and 1-3. That shouldn't happen when a quarterback plays as well as Rivers has played. This should be a huge season for Rivers, who hasn't missed a game since becoming the Chargers' starter for the 2006 season.
Running Back | Minnesota Vikings ... Next Game: 9/11 at SD ... Last Poll: NR
The first running back on the list is entering a contract year after four seasons with at least 1,298 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Peterson solved his fumbling problem last season, leaving him with no real weakness. The Vikings are a team in transition at quarterback. Will that make life tougher for Peterson or only accentuate his value? Tomlinson (2006) and Alexander (2005) are the only running backs to win MVP honors since Faulk in 2000.
Running Back | Tennessee Titans ... Next Game: 9/11 at JAC ... Last Poll: NR
Johnson rushed for 642 fewer yards in 2010 than he had in 2009 and still finished with 1,364 -- more than Peterson. He did not win MVP honors for his 2,006-yard season in 2009, however, and he'll have a hard time upstaging the quarterbacks this year unless the Titans improve significantly upon their 6-10 record last season.
Quarterback | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 9/11 vs. IND ... Last Poll: NR
Question marks surrounding the division-rival Colts put the Texans in prime position to finally break through. They need to take that next step for Schaub to factor seriously in the MVP race this season. He has 9,140 yards and 53 touchdowns over the past two seasons, but the Texans must enjoy more team success. If they do, however, teammates Andre Johnson and Arian Foster figure to siphon off votes from Schaub.
Quarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 9/11 at CHI ... Last Poll: 6
The new QBR stat loved Ryan last season, ranking him third behind only Brady and Manning for overall quarterback effectiveness. Ryan has been very solid for the Falcons, but he hasn't surpassed 4,000 yards in a season or been flashy enough to generate much traction in the MVP race. Having Roddy White and Michael Turner on the team gives voters other front-line players to consider from the same roster. That does not help Ryan's candidacy.
Quarterback | Indianapolis Colts ... Next Game: 9/11 at HOU ... Last Poll: 3
It would be a joke to rank Manning so low on an MVP watch list under normal circumstances. He's a four-time winner of the award and arguably the best player in the league when at his best. Neck surgery and a lingering rehabilitation are threatening to prevent Manning from playing in the opener. His MVP status is in question until Manning returns.