Manning: Blame a 1-5 record over the Giants' last six games even though Manning remains supremely valuable to his team.
Roethlisberger: A nasty ankle injury and the San Francisco 49ers' defense doomed Roethlisberger to a three-interception performance while raising questions about his status for the near future.
Suggs: Great player, horrible defensive performance from Baltimore against San Diego.
Gronkowski: How dare the Patriots target other players for a week. Gronkowski went without a touchdown after scoring 11 in his six previous games.
Welker: Had four receptions for 41 yards, his second-lowest totals of the season.
Those five remain in the conversation outside The Conversation. In other words, none is going to seriously challenge for MVP honors while Rodgers, Brees and Brady are rewriting record books, but all five remain worthy of a mention.
The same was true for the five players new to the list from last week.
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 12/25 vs. CHI ... Last Poll: 1
It'll take more than one defeat to knock Rodgers from his perch atop the list, but if the Packers stumble again and Brees/Brady keep on the pressure, there's a debate, at least. Rodgers continues to lead the NFL in yards per attempt (9.2). It's tough to argue with his 6.7 to 1 ratio of TDs to INTs. Rodgers has two more TD passes than Brett Favre ever threw in a season, and two games remain.
Quarterback | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 12/26 vs. ATL ... Last Poll: 2
The NFL is apparently a video game for Brees. He has thrown 16 TD passes without an INT since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ronde Barber picked him off during the third quarter of a Nov. 6 game. Brees is dangerous all the time, but especially on play-action fakes. From ESPN Stats & Information: "Brees has attempted the most passes with a play-action fake this season and has the highest completion percentage on such attempts (70.4 percent). In Week 10 against the Falcons, Brees completed 17 of 19 passes for 212 yards and two TDs when using play action."
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 12/24 vs. MIA ... Last Poll: 3
With Rodgers and Brees grabbing attention, Brady has somewhat quietly joined Favre as the only players in NFL history with 35-plus TD passes in three separate seasons. Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Steve Young each had two such seasons, according to the NFL. The standard Brady set with 50 TD passes in 2007 might be creating abnormally high expectations for Brady. No matter what he does, he probably did it better that year.
Receiver | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 12/24 vs. SD ... Last Poll: NR
Johnson's 214-yard total against Oakland in Week 15 gave him nearly as many yards in one game as he had managed in the Lions' previous four (236). This was his first game in triple digits for yardage since the Lions' Week 9 bye ended a streak of four such games and six with at least 96 yards. The Lions needed clutch play from Johnson against the Raiders and got it. The overall numbers -- 81 catches for 1,335 yards and 14 TDs -- are impressive.
Quarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 12/26 at NO ... Last Poll: 10
This feels a little high for Ryan, but another strong game further improved the Falcons' playoff positioning. Ryan has 12 TDs against two INTs over his past five games. The Falcons have gone 4-1 during that time. How Ryan plays against Brees and the Saints will determine whether he remains this high on the list, and possibly whether he remains on the list at all.
Quarterback | Dallas Cowboys ... Next Game: 12/24 vs. PHI ... Last Poll: NR
Romo returns to the list after the Cowboys snapped a two-game losing streak. He has gone 6-3 as a starter with 21 TDs and two INTs since Dallas opened the season with a 2-3 record. Finishing games against Philadelphia (home) and the New York Giants (road) set up a dramatic finish for Romo and the Cowboys. That might not be a good thing for either. The Cowboys have won their final two regular-season games just once in the past decade (2009).
Running Back | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 12/22 at IND ... Last Poll: 7
The Texans' ability to persevere through significant injuries has contributed to Foster's place on the list, even though other backs, notably LeSean McCoy, have put up better numbers for losing teams. I nearly included McCoy anyway. The Texans did have their seven-game winning streak snapped this past week. Foster still managed 109 yards on 16 carries.
Quarterback | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 12/24 vs. SD ... Last Poll: NR
Stafford has 33 TD passes in 14 games after throwing 19 in 13 previous games as a professional. He has six TDs without a pick during a two-game winning streak that has stabilized the Lions' season following a rough stretch. Finishing games against San Diego (home) and Green Bay (road) will likely reveal whether Stafford belongs in the MVP conversation.
Quarterback | San Diego Chargers ... Next Game: 12/24 at DET ... Last Poll: NR
The body of work has not been there consistently enough for Rivers or the Chargers. Rivers is coming on strong late, however. He has become the third quarterback in NFL history to reach 4,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. The Chargers have outscored opponents 109-38 during their three-game winning streak. Rivers has seven TDs without a pick during that stretch.
Defensive End | San Francisco ... Next Game: 12/24 at SEA ... Last Poll: NR
Those loosely familiar with the 49ers might wonder whether I've singled out the wrong Smith here. The 49ers have four of them, after all, and their rookie pass-rusher, Aldon Smith, is coming off a 2.5-sack game on Monday night. Justin Smith remains the best player on arguably the NFL's best defense, however. He has at least six sacks in four consecutive seasons while doing all of the dirty work associated with life in the NFL as a 3-4 defensive end.