Dirty Dozen: Countdown to MVP
The expanded media and fans who interact on social media began speculating and asking who the league's MVP would be last spring, when offseason workouts began. Or maybe it just seems like that. And the chatter changes every week -- Peyton Manning's stock is holding steady, especially since Curtis Painter showed last week how valuable Manning is to the Colts; Drew Brees and Brett Favre are dropping as their teams lose and Philip Rivers' stock is on the rise.
It also seems like Manning has been the MVP every year. Not true. It's only been three times, tied with Favre for the most -- and in one of those seasons, they were co-MVPs, Peyton with Steve McNair in 2003; Brett with Barry Sanders in 1997. But like the Heisman Trophy winner, the MVP is usually a quarterback -- six of the nine times this decade, a stretch broken by Marshall Faulk in 2000, Shaun Alexander in 2005 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
In any case, if it's not a quarterback, it's a running back. The last MVP who didn't play one of those positions was Lawrence Taylor in 1986, one of two defensive players ever to get it. The other, which came in 1971, was Alan Page, who has been a justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court since 1993.
Whoever wins it this year can only hope to accomplish something close to that after his career ends.
I'm a voter. My countdown, still subject to change with this week's game:
12. Elvis Dumervil, LB, Denver: Still really a situational player, but one who is being used as he should by Mike Nolan and Josh McDaniels after being a bit overwhelmed as a 5-foot-11 defensive end in the schemes run by Mike Shanahan and Bob Slowik. (That's a warning to Redskins fans about the potential of a Shanahan regime.) Leads the league with 17 sacks and has to be accounted for on every play.
11. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore: As Joe Flacco has slid a bit in his second season, Rice has come on. Has rushed for 1,269 yards and a 5.3 yards per carry average, second to Chris Johnson among regulars. Leads the Ravens with 74 receptions and is 48 yards away from 2,000 combined rushing and receiving yards in a system in which Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain also carry the ball.
10. Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis: Not a true pass-catching/blocking tight end in what is now the ancient tradition of John Mackey and Mike Ditka. But no one really is these days. Probably should share this with Reggie Wayne because they're Manning's only two experienced targets. They've made it a lot easier for Manning to find his youngsters, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.
9. Wes Welker, WR, New England: Tom Brady is having only an average year (for him) as he comes back from a knee injury. So where would the Patriots be without this little guy (listed at 5-9 but closer to 5-6) who has 122 catches? And why are AFC teams starting to fear the Pats despite their young and often leaky defense? Brady, of course. And Welker.
8. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay: Technically a cornerback, Woodson is also a linebacker and safety who runs a defense that has the Packers in the playoffs. A veteran presence on an otherwise young team.
7. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets: The Jets lead the league in defense by a large margin, largely because Revis is by far the NFL's best shutdown cornerback -- perhaps the best of the decade. He's one of the reasons a team with an erratic rookie quarterback remains in contention for a playoff spot entering the last week of the season.
6. DeSean Jackson, WR/KR Philadelphia" The test of an MVP is where a team would be without him. Considering the state of the Eagles' banged-up defense, without Jackson's gamebreaking ability -- eight TDs of 50 or more yards and a league-leading 18.7 yards per catch -- they might be below .500.
5. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota: When I made a list like this a month or so ago, he was at the top. His performance has slipped since then and so has his presence. He's probably right in his desire to run his own offense, but his feud with Brad Childress doesn't help as the Vikings slip from a serious Super Bowl contender into the second tier.
4. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans: Statistically, he was better last season. But was running 1-2 with Manning while the Saints stayed unbeaten (although as noted, being 1-2 in the MVP race in October, November and December doesn't really count.) The offense has slowed down, Brees has slowed down, and the Saints have lost two straight, the second an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay. But Brees would be deserving in most years. This one, too.
3. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee: Needs 75 yards rushing and receiving in Seattle to break Marshall Faulk's single-season record for combined yards from scrimmage and needs 128 to reach 2,000. Everyone credits Vince Young for turning around the Titans' season. Having this guy on his side was the main reason Vince did it.
2. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego: An interesting example of how media and fan projections shape the race. It's as if Rivers didn't exist until we looked up and suddenly saw the Chargers on a 10-game winning streak and perceived them as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. West Coasters call it east coast bias. Nah, Tomlinson and Alexander won in consecutive seasons. It's called "start slow'' bias. The only way to stop it is to tell everyone to say "too early'' when the MVP discussion starts.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis: If you saw Curtis Painter, you know how valuable this guy is to the Colts. Heck, if you've watched him for 12 seasons, you know. And a good soldier -- if Favre had been pulled with his team unbeaten, we'd be debating until next June, when we'd be monitoring takeoffs from Hattiesburg to Minneapolis again. Anyway, I hate conventional wisdom in these votes and would have gone for Ndamukong Suh if I was a Heisman voter. In this case, however, Peyton is the MVP.