NFL Awards Watch: Midseason
The pulse of the NFL season changes weekly. Every Wednesday, SI.com will break down the front-runners for the major NFL awards.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos: This has been Manning's award to lose since Week 1 when he lit up the defending champs for seven scores. While Manning and the Broncos offense has shown slightly less dominance lately -- we're quibbling, considering Denver is still scoring more than 42 points per game -- Peyton has been masterful in running the best scoring attack in football. He could sew this award up in his next four games: at San Diego, Kansas City (home and away) and at New England.
2. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts: Imagine the storylines if Manning and Luck finished 1-2 in the MVP voting and meet in the playoffs with the AFC on the line. Luck and his Colts gave Manning his only loss of the season, and Luck outplayed the man he replaced in that game. His stats won't wow you, a completion percentage under 60 and a QB rating of 91.5, but Luck has just three interceptions to 13 touchdowns and has sparkled in the fourth quarter, bringing his team back for wins three times already.
3. Aaron Rodgers QB, Green Bay Packers: If the season ended today, Rodgers has to be on this list. A fractured collarbone will sideline him at least a few weeks, throwing a wrench into his MVP machine, but his play through 7+ games was nothing short of spectacular, especially with Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley missing for stretches. Before his injury, Rodgers was second only to Manning in quarterback rating, with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos: In all likelihood, Manning isn't going to get to Tom Brady's touchdown record, nor will he approach Drew Brees and his passing yardage mark, but he could get close to both. As it stands, Manning is just hundredths of percentage points behind Brees' completion percentage record. And with the way teams like Kansas City and Indianapolis are playing, Denver likely won't have the luxury of being able to rest Peyton down the stretch unless the Broncos want to prioritize rest over playoff seeding.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: Just another remarkable, efficient and wildly successful year throwing the ball for Brees. He's second to Manning in a number of passing categories, and will stay second to Manning on this list for now, particularly after a lackluster Week 9 performance against the Jets.
3. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints: With apologies to Rob Gronkowski, Calvin Johnson and others, Jimmy Graham is the biggest mismatch in the NFL right now. Despite playing through injuries, Graham leads the NFL in touchdowns, is 10th in catches and fifth in yards ... and he plays tight end. Even on one foot, he's better than the guy trying to cover him and if he can stay healthy, the single-season touchdown record for tight ends (17) is in play, as is the overall single-season mark (23).
1. Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs: He's the best player on the league's best defense, but more than that, he's developed into the most explosive edge pass-rusher in the game. His 11 sacks are a product of two incredibly dominant performances -- 7.5 sacks over two games -- but he also leads the league in the MMQB's total pressure points and efficiency metrics.
2. J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans: By Pro Football Focus' grading scale, this award is Watt's in a landslide -- my colleague Greg Bedard agrees. Given that Houston is first in yards allowed and tops against the pass, not to mention Watt's unprecedented dominance as a 3-4 defensive end, it's hard to argue.
3. Robert Mathis, OLB, Indianapolis Colts: He leads the league in sacks with minimal help around him. Mathis seemed to single-handedly knock the Broncos offense out of their rhythm in their Week 7 showdown.
1. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers: Lacy was good when defenses had to worry about the threat of Aaron Rodgers, yet was somehow great against the Bears after Rodgers went down with injury. The second-round pick from Alabama is fifth in the league in rushing yards per game, and despite his size, has a higher per carry average than stud backs such as Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore and Jamaal Charles.
2. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: After another standout performance in a game against the Dolphins -- 104 total yards and two touchdowns on just 14 touches -- you have to wonder why he doesn't get more opportunities in the Cincinnati offense.
3. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams: The fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt has put together back-to-back 100-yard games and is the focal point of this offense with Sam Bradford out for the year. San Diego's Keenan Allen has likewise come on strong and should be watched closely in the second half of the season.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets: Not only has Richardson come into New York and recharged a waning defense with his own stellar play, but he has made it easier for guys like Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples to make plays around him. Don't worry about the lack of flashy stats; Richardson has been a beast for the Jets.
3. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers: Traditional metrics don't do Carolina's first-round pick justice, as Lotulelei is anchoring one of the league's best defenses. He's quickly becoming one of the best space-eating run-stoppers in the game.
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs would probably have to lose every game for the rest of the year for Reid to lose this award. To take a team from 2-14 to 9-0 without changing most of the pieces is remarkable.
2. Rex Ryan, New York Jets: Yes, that Rex Ryan. As it turns out, he coaches much better as a plucky upstart, underdog than he does as a bravado-filled front-runner. Either way, he has proven his coaching mettle, putting a team with a rookie QB in a position to make the playoffs.
3. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers: He'll move up this list if the Packers can stay in the playoff hunt without Aaron Rodgers. No one has faced more injury-related adversity than Green Bay, yet they're still tied for the lead in one of the best divisions in football.