NFL Nation: NFC MVPs
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
To go along with our package on MVPs, I chose one for each of the NFC South's teams. New Orleans and Atlanta were easy. Carolina and Tampa Bay, the top teams in the division, were a little harder. In each case, I went with the guy who I think has meant the most to his team.
He has given the Falcons a consistently good running game and has put up better numbers than LaDainian Tomlinson, the guy he spent four years backing up in San Diego. That's taken the pressure off Ryan and kept the defense fresh. Without Turner, the Falcons wouldn't be anywhere close to the playoff picture.
But I'm going off the beaten path here. Carolina is in the spot it is in mainly because of its defense.
Peppers is having a very good year, but I'm going with Beason.
The logic is that game in and game out, he's the best player on a very good defense.
He's putting up huge numbers and, aside from Lance Moore, he's been the only consistent bright spot on this team.
Much has been made that Brees' numbers are inflated and not that important because the team's record isn't that great.
But what would that record be without Brees?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, LB Barrett Ruud:
I was tempted to go with receiver Antonio Bryant, who is having a phenomenal year after being out of the NFL last season. But, much like the Panthers, the Bucs are winning because of their defense. No one is more important to that defense than Ruud. With Derrick Brooks, Kevin Carter and Ronde Barber nearing the ends of their careers, Ruud has stepped up as the best player on this defense and has made the changing of the guard a very smooth process.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The division with the fewest combined victories -- 17, one fewer than the AFC West -- has managed to produce an MVP front-runner. Kurt Warner isn't the only NFC West player proving his value this season. A quick look at my MVP for each team:
Arizona Cardinals, QB Warner:
Skeptics wondered if Warner might be too old to play at an MVP level. Entering Week 15, age falls well down the list of numbers most closely associated with this two-time former award winner.
Warner has a realistic chance at 5,000 yards passing. He has the Cardinals in the playoffs for the first time since 1998. He is also in the running for a third career league MVP award and his first since 2001 with the Rams.
"I think I've played as well as I have ever played this season," Warner told reporters Wednesday. "I'll never say that I am playing better than I did in some of those years with the Rams because we played at an extremely high level, but I feel like I am playing just as well at this stage of my career."
Seattle Seahawks, TE John Carlson:
The rookie second-round choice needed 13 games to tie the single-season franchise record for receptions by a tight end. Carlson leads the Seahawks in receptions, receiving yards and total touchdowns. He bulls over defenders with the ball in his hands and can make difficult catches against tight coverage.
Carlson's efforts, though impressive for a rookie, wouldn't be enough to earn team MVP honors in most seasons. The Seahawks simply lack worthy candidates during this 2-11 season.
Carlson's 46 receptions match the total for Itula Mili in 2003, when Mili set the franchise record for tight ends. Jerramy Stevens caught 45 in 2005.
Jackson missed training camp during a holdout, missed games after suffering a bruised thigh and lost two critical fumbles against the Cardinals in Week 14.
He's still the easy choice as the Rams' MVP.
The Rams are 1-1 when Jackson rushes for 100 yards this season. They are 1-10 in the other games. They lost by a combined six points in the two other games when Jackson topped 70 yards rushing.
San Francisco 49ers, RB Frank Gore:
Gore was the most important and valuable player on offense before and after the 49ers switched coaches and offensive philosophies. He has ranked among the league leaders in yards from scrimmage most of the season.
Gore leads the 49ers in rushing with 978 yards and a 4.3-yard average. He ranks second in receptions with 42 and first in touchdowns with eight.
Gore is also a willing pass blocker. He runs hard, breaks tackles and punishes defensive players far more than most running backs his size.
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.
For most of the season, the NFC East seemed like the best division in football. That might not be the case anymore as we sprint toward the playoffs, but the Beast still has its fair share of legitimate MVP candidates.
At one point, Clinton Portis, DeMarcus Ware and Eli Manning were all making strong arguments. Ware and Manning remain in the conversation, but Portis' injuries and slippage in production has dropped him out of the running. But let's take a look at my MVP choice for each team in the division:
Dallas Cowboys, DeMarcus Ware, OLB
The Cowboys produced 13 Pro Bowlers in 2007, but they won't have half that many this season. Tony Romo is the biggest star on the team, but Ware's undoubtedly been the best player. He displayed immense talent from the start of his career, but a player taken after him in the draft, Shawne Merriman, was considered the more dynamic pass-rusher.
Things have changed dramatically. Merriman may be breaking down and Ware has 16 sacks with three games left to play. I've seen how my fellow bloggers voted in the ESPN.com MVP straw poll, and they completely blew it on Ware. Troy Polamalu and Albert Haynesworth are getting most of the love, but Ware should be right there with them.
New York Giants, Eli Manning, QB
The numbers won't blow you away (20 touchdowns, eight interceptions), but no quarterback in the league is more important to his team's success. Kurt Warner's the sexy pick (and he's earned the attention), but Manning's the player you want when the game's on the line. Everyone wanted to know what last season's breakout performance in the playoffs would do to Manning. Well, it made him even hungrier. He'll have to do it without Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress the rest of the way, but I like his chances.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese believes Manning might be the smartest player in the league. He constantly puts the Giants in the right position. Give Tom Coughlin a ton of credit for helping this team overcome adversity, but it all starts and ends with Manning. Not long ago it seemed ludicrous to compare him to his older brother. But at this point, I think Eli will end up with more rings than Peyton.
This is a tough one. I'd like to give Donovan McNabb some sort of lifetime achievement award, but he hasn't been the best player on the team this season. Westbrook hasn't been himself because of injuries, but if the Eagles qualify for the playoffs, he'll be the one to get them there. He was brilliant in Sunday's upset of the Giants, and it looks like he's fully healed.
His numbers are down from last season, but he's still one of the best players in the game. The Eagles rewarded him with a lucrative extension in the preseason, and they'll reap the rewards for years to come. It's a little sad that he and McNabb won't win a Super Bowl together -- unless they stay hot right now. Let's give Darren Howard a little credit for his eight sacks.
Washington Redskins, Clinton Portis, RB
He was having a remarkable season before things went south in the loss to the Steelers. Pittsburgh stuffed Portis, and in subsequent weeks he's been plagued by injuries. Still, he's rushed for 1,260 yards and seven touchdowns. After a slow start in Week 1 against the Giants, he put together a remarkable string of 100-yard games.
Redskins head coach Jim Zorn has done a lot of things right in his first year, but picking a fight with his star player wasn't one of them. Portis has never been a great practice player. He's someone who shows up on game day, though, and lays it on the line. Questioning Portis' preparation in public wasn't the best way to go. Portis was coddled by Joe Gibbs, and the adjustment to Zorn hasn't been easy on him. He has a chance to finish strong -- especially since the Bengals are on the schedule. He's the third-ranked back in the league right now, and that speaks to the amazing start he had.