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You might have noticed ESPN.com's Thursday Hot Read feature on the NFL's MVP race. (NFC North connection: Adrian Peterson is mentioned!)
To supplement that feature, let's take a stab at our 13-game MVPs from each team in the Black and Blue:
Chicago Bears, QB Kyle Orton:
After defeating Rex Grossman in a less-than-rousing training camp competition, Orton entered the season with pretty middling expectations. The "game manager" label was thrown around often, as was the unfortunate concept that Orton was less likely to make a mistake than Grossman -- rather than more likely to do something well.
But Orton is close to establishing himself as the Bears' long-term starter. He's mastered the Bears' version of the no-huddle offense, and even after a midseason downturn related to a sprained ankle, Orton still has a 15-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Without him, it's doubtful the Bears would be challenging for the division title.
Detroit Lions, WR Calvin Johnson:
Johnson might be the Barry Sanders of this generation: A great player buried on a bad team. Johnson has made some singularly athletic receptions this season, and seems equally comfortable reaching over a cornerback as he does running past them.
At times, he is truly a man among boys.
There was some question about how Johnson would handle increased defensive attention since the trade of Roy Williams. But in the eight games since, Johnson has 33 receptions for 678 yards and eight touchdowns.
Green Bay Packers, CB Charles Woodson:
Woodson might seem an odd choice considering the recent meltdown of the Packers' defense. But for most of the year, Woodson was the best player on one of the NFL's top pass defenses. He is tied for second in the NFL with five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, and has played most of the season with a fractured toe.
The Packers recently moved Woodson to safety because of an injury to starter Atari Bigby, and there has been a noticeable downturn in pass defense ever since. Make no mistake: Woodson has been an All-Pro player for a 5-8 team.
Minnesota Vikings, RB Adrian Peterson:
I'll give you the Reader's Digest version of what I wrote in the main Hot Read: Peterson is not only leading the NFL in rushing yards, but also in runs of 20 or more yards. He has not only been consistently productive, but also routinely gives the Vikings big gainers and opens up the passing game for receiver Bernard Berrian -- who is averaging more than 20 yards on 41 catches this season.