Last year, it came down to a choice between Mike Anderson and Jamal Lewis on offense. This season, running backs are again front and center in the debate. San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, Chicago's Anthony Thomas and Indianapolis' Dominic Rhodes all have made a case for themeslves.
In addition, Arizona guard Leonard Davis and Miami wide receiver Chris Chambers are strong candidates, with Washington WR Rod Gardner rating a longshot.
But first, the running backs. It's a matter of what you value? In terms of yardage and touchdowns, the choice is Tomlinson. The former TCU standout is fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,198 yards, and has a rookie-leading 10 touchdowns. He also has caught 49 passes for 299 yards, meaning he'll finish with more than 1,500 total yards.
But Tomlinson has lost some momentum because his early season numbers were so strong that he appeared to have hit the wall thereafter. He had 486 yards rushing and seven TDs in his first five games, but just 712 yards and three TDs over the course of his next 10. His 3.7 average carry on a whopping 325 attempts might also play against him.
By comparison, Thomas and Rhodes have done most of their damage from mid-October on. Thomas gets the vote if helping a team win is a big part of the criteria. His Bears are playoff-bound, and he's one of the major reasons, with 947 yards and six TDs on 220 carries (4.3), and another 167 yards on 21 receptions.
Rhodes has the best per carry average of the three (880 yards on 182 rushes, 4.8) and is surrounded by that out-of-nowhere buzz after taking over for the injured Edgerrin James. He also has eight TDs and 30 receptions for 185 yards.
Davis has been dominating for Arizona, where he has blocked out a good bit of the sun. His statistic-less position will probably hurt his cause with some voters, but folks who know say he'll be one of the game's most-decorated offensive lineman for the next 10 years. As for Chambers, he has developed into a clutch, fourth-quarter receiver in the season's second half. His numbers aren't Moss-ian (43 receptions, 791 yards, seven TDs), but his talent has drawn comparisons to Minnesota's enigmatic fourth-year veteran.
On defense, where Chicago's Brian Urlacher was honored last year, there has been near unanimous support for another linebacker since midseason:
Pittsburgh's Kendrell Bell. The second-round pick has been a key cog in a No. 1-ranked Steelers defense that has limited nine of its 14 opponents to 14 points or less, and allowed an AFC-low 179 points overall. But Cleveland nickelback Anthony Henry at least deserves a mention. His nine interceptions are tied for the NFL lead, and he returned one of those 97 yards for a touchdown.
With two weeks remaining to ponder the issue, the vote here on offense goes to Tomlinson, by a slight margin. Bell is the clear choice on defense.