The NFL MVP race is one of the more captivating topics all season long, and it’s never too early to start listing the favorites. Here are 10 of mine right now.
NFL MVP Race: Power Ranking the Top Candidates After Week 4
The NFL MVP race typically comes down to a couple of players but the list of candidates is always changing throughout the season. Despite only playing 16 games, so much changes during an NFL season and you never know how a team or player that starts well will finish. Typically the MVP goes to the best player on one of the top regular season teams. I'm not sure I agree with this, but it's how things work.
I believe the award should go to the player who is truly the most valuable to his team and without that player, the team would have gone nowhere. Or, as in Aaron Rodgers' case last year, if someone has just a ridiculous statistical year and his team is dominant, obviously it should go to that player regardless if you feel other players could do what he did.
Most of the players on this top 10 list would fall into the main category. Their team has been successful and they are the best player on that team, or at least have played the best in 2012. Some of the players on this list will surprise you, but that's also because those teams have gotten off to great starts despite most people writing them off.
Surprisingly there are only four quarterbacks on the list, which is the same number of defensive players I chose. The award will likely go to a quarterback this year, again, but it would be cool to see it go to a defensive player. Though that's a rarity as it's only happened twice in NFL history.
Enough out of me. Here are the top 10 MVP Candidates after Week 4 of the NFL season.
10. Chad Greenway - Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings are off to a very surprising 3-1 start and are coming off back-to-back wins against the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, two playoff teams from a year ago. Part of their surprise has been the mistake free play of Christian Ponder, but most of it is due to their defense only allowing 18 points per game so far.
Linebacker Chad Greenway is the leader of that defense, which consists of a blend of old veterans and a few rookies like Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson. Greenway is leading by example as well, racking up 44 tackles, two sacks and two pass deflections. If nothing else, Greenway should be near the top of the list for defensive player of the year.
9. Jay Cutler - Chicago Bears
Despite the terrible game against the Green Bay Packers, Jay Cutler has played well and shown improvement now that he has weapons he can rely on. The only issue has been his offensive line, which often has Cutler on the run. Hooking up with Brandon Marshall again has proven to be a dangerous combination as it was when the two were in Denver.
Mostly what put Cutler on this list, for me, was his performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. He played very well against one of the league's top pass defenses. Cutler was having a terrific season before he got hurt last year and has picked up where he left off. Hopefully Mike Tice can give him protection like he did on Monday every game.
8. Patrick Willis - San Francisco 49ers
Other than a poor performance against the Vikings, the 49ers have looked like one of the NFL's best teams. To no one's surprise, their defense has been playing great football and are led by Patrick Willis, who is the best middle linebacker in the game right now. Yes, even better than Ray Lewis.
The 49ers were expected to run away with this division, but it appears the Arizona Cardinals are going to give them a run for their money. Those matchups will be fun to watch as both defenses have been very physical and dominant thus far. In the immortal words of Bart Scott, "can't wait."
7. Eli Manning - New York Giants
Yes, the New York Giants are just 2-2 and have looked bad at times, but one consistent so far has been the play of Eli Manning. He is second in the NFL in yards and has the Giants in the top 10 of most offensive categories. This even with the Giants having no semblance of a running game.
He had one of his heroic performances against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bringing the Giants back from 14 points down to win by scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter. Really, Manning should be on this list for that performance alone. He's been one of the best quarterbacks so far in 2012, as was expected of him.
6. Ray Rice - Baltimore Ravens
Some will have you believe that Joe Flacco is the main cog of the Baltimore Ravens offense, but in my opinion that offense goes as Ray Rice goes. Flacco has indeed taken drastic steps forward over the past two years, but Rice is still top dog. He has an incredible 491 yards from scrimmage in four games with three rushing touchdowns.
Even when Rice is held in check in the running game, as was the case against the Cleveland Browns last Thursday, he finds a way to beat you in the passing game. He's the most dangerous weapon in the league right now.
5. A.J. Green - Cincinnatti Bengals
A.J. Green was pegged as one of the next elite wide receivers coming out of Georgia, and he has lived up to those expectations and then some. He's second in the NFL with 428 receiving yards to go along with his three touchdowns. He has other-worldly talent and should get even better as the season progresses. The scary thing is I'm not sure we've seen Green's full potential.
4. Michael Vick - Philadelphia Eagles
It may surprise you to see Michael Vick on this list, considering the amount of turnovers he's given up over the first four games of the season. But I'm not looking at those when I put Vick on this list. I'm looking at the way he's been able to bring his team back from fourth quarter deficits to win games.
Three times this season, Vick has been given the ball down late with little time left, and all three times he led the Philadelphia Eagles down the field for the go-ahead score. It takes a special kind of player to be able to do that once, let alone three times. The stats will come with Vick, but he has to be given credit for his clutch play so far.
3. Daryl Washington - Arizona Cardinals
If your first reaction to this name was "Who?" don't worry, you're not alone. Daryl Washington has been one of the more underrated defenders in the league over the past two years, and is leading that ball-hawking Cardinals defense to new heights. Washington leads them with 34 tackles but also has three sacks, two pass deflections and a forced fumble. The Cardinals are undefeated right now and the biggest surprise in the NFL; Washington is a big part of that.
2. J.J. Watt - Houston Texans
The Houston Texans look like the most complete team in the league right now, demolishing any and all opponents thus far. A major part of that has been the play of their defense, but more specifically J.J. Watt turning into one of the most dominant defensive players in the league. He has eye popping stats right now, including a league leading 7.5 sacks in just four games.
He also has five pass deflections already, which is unheard of from a defensive lineman. He's on pace for 80 tackles, 30 sacks and 20 pass deflections. The sacks obviously won't trend the rest of the year that way, but he could seriously challenge the single-season sack record if he continues to play the way he has so far.
1. Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
The runaway MVP favorite has to be Matt Ryan thus far. Yes, the Texans are also 4-0 and Watt is playing like a man possessed, but this award typically goes to offensive players. Ryan has been incredible so far, completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 1,162 yards, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His 112.1 QB rating is tops in the NFL.
The Atlanta Falcons look like the favorite to win the NFC right now, but the season is far from over and we've seen this in the regular season before from the Falcons. If Ryan wins the MVP it will be great, but he'll still be measured on his success in the playoffs. Judging by how they are playing right now, they should like their chances.