LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers. It's impossible to argue against a player who set the NFL record for touchdowns (31) and points (186) with two games remaining. If those achievements aren't enough to sell Tomlinson, consider that he's the heart of the Chargers, and his presence has made the life of quarterback Rivers, a first-year starter, much easier. "He's such a threat, and he's so consistent," says Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "He shows up for every game. He's a threat to take it to the house in the run game, and he's also a good blocker and a great receiver. There are so many things he can do."
Brees was the pick of a handful of insiders in the SI poll.
Sean Payton, Saints. New Orleans' first-year coach changed the mind-set on a team that mostly floundered for six seasons under Jim Haslett. The former Cowboys assistant consistently inspired and prepared his players while breaking in a new quarterback and overhauling the defense. At 9--5 the Saints aren't just a feel-good story—under Payton, they're a threat to reach the Super Bowl. Says Giants All-Pro running back Tiki Barber, " Payton has been masterful at utilizing the strengths of his players and bringing a contender to a city that desperately needed a hero." The only other coaches named in SI's poll were Marty Schottenheimer of the Chargers and Eric Mangini of the Jets; each got one vote.
Jeff Fisher, Titans. Despite a dearth of veteran playmakers, the Titans have won seven of nine games since an 0--5 start and are, remarkably, in playoff contention. Fisher's deft touch has helped quarterback Young blossom.
my SI DOWNLOAD FREE
Pick your NFL team and get news from across the Web on your desktop at SI.com/mysi.