Week 11 might have been the best week of the NFL season. Both the Thursday night game (Indy's comeback over Tennessee) and the Monday night game (Carolina beating New England after a pass interference call that wasn't a pass interference call) were down-to-the-wire nailbiters, and Sunday night's showdown between Peyton Manning's Broncos and the (previously) undefeated Chiefs lived up to the hype. With six weeks left in the regular season, let's take a look at the players making the most noise in the MVP race...
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos QB
3,572 passing yards, 69.9 completion percentage, 34 TDs, 6 INTs
Peyton Manning's numbers in Sunday night's game against the Chiefs weren't mind-blowing (24/40, 323 yards and a TD), but Kansas City might just have the NFL's best defense. Manning's Broncos put up 27 points in the Denver win, and up until Sunday no team had scored more than 17 against KC.
Manning was his usual, surgical self, and while Kansas City's excellent front seven gave him less time and space than he's used to, he still found ways to get the job done. We could reach a point by week 14 or so where Peyton could sit out the rest of the season and still win the MVP award. He's been that good.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints QB
3369 passing yards, 68.2 completion percentage, 26 TDs, 8 INTs
The NFL gods finally delivered some karma this weekend, compensating the Saints for their controversial Week 6 loss in New England with a questionable call that ended up handing them a victory against San Francisco.
Drew Brees didn't make it rain fire and brimstone on the 49ers, but that doesn't mean he didn't make the difference - his 30 completions were the most an opposing QB has racked up on San Francisco since Matt Ryan (remember him?) had 30 in last season's NFC Championship game. In a "normal" season (a season where Peyton Manning wasn't playing like a football demigod), Brees would easily be the MVP frontrunner. Instead, he's going to be an incredibly impressive runner-up.
3. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions WR
59 receptions, 1083 yards, 11 TDs, 18.4 average yards/reception
Let's take a quick look at Megatron's last four games:
9 catches for 155 yards and 2 TDs against the Bengals
14 catches for 329 yards (!?!&%) and a TD against the Cowboys
6 catches for 83 yards and 2 TDs against the Bears
6 catches for 179 yards and 2 TDs against the Steelers
Those are BANANAS numbers. Those are "playing Madden on the easiest setting with all your stats turned up to 99" numbers. No, the Lions aren't an elite team, but they aren't very different from the 10-6 Vikings team that Adrian Peterson played for last year - and if that decent-but-not-fantastic 10-6 record was enough for Peterson to win the MVP award, it should be enough for Johnson to get some serious consideration.
4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts QB
2430 passing yards, 59.4 completion percentage, 14 TDs, 6 INTs
Truly great players don't let themselves have two bad games in a row. Andrew Luck rebounded from a poor showing against St. Louis with an inspirational win over the Titans, and while he didn't throw a touchdown pass, he was instrumental as the Colts erased a 14-point deficit and snuck out of Tennessee with a vital win against an AFC South rival.
Luck and the Colts are still a work in progress, as illustrated by their three losses - a team that can beat Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco shouldn't be losing to St. Louis, San Diego or Miami. While it's still too soon for Luck to win the MVP award, the incredible progress he's made already makes it clear - it's just a matter of time.
5. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers QB
2179 passing yards, 63.2 completion percentage, 16 TDs, 8 INTs (plus 70 carries for 328 rushing yards and 4 TDs)
After two straight wins over very good teams (New England and San Francisco), we can safely say that Cam Newton and the Panthers are the real deal. Newton thrived in the spotlight on Monday Night Football, putting on a show in what might have been the highest-profile game of his NFL career.
Newton is riding high at the moment, and his last two wins are enough to vault him into our top five despite middling passing statistics on the year. The real litmus test will come in December, when Newton's Panthers play Drew Brees and the Saints twice in a three-week period, with a game against Rex Ryan's Jets sandwiched in-between.
On the verge:
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks RB
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs RB