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MVP race? Not much of a battle with Rodgers in lead, but ...

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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Sorry, Tom Brady, it's not you. It's that guy over in Green Bay. (Getty Images)  
Sorry, Tom Brady, it's not you. It's that guy over in Green Bay. (Getty Images)  

It's never too soon to sort through MVP candidates, though people out there tell me this year's contest really is no contest at all; that it's a party of one, with the party at Aaron Rodgers' address.

They're probably right, but that doesn't mean we can't assemble a field anyway. There are plenty of worthy candidates, all trying to maintain contact with Rodgers, but the more the Packers win the harder that becomes.

In fact, if the season were to end today there's a better-than-even chance that Rodgers becomes the NFL's second unanimous MVP winner.

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But the season won't. In fact, we're not even halfway through, which means we still have a race ... even if it's a lopsided one. The question, of course, is not who's leading, but who fills out the rest of the field -- and I have a few ideas.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Why we like him for this award: He's done it all for Green Bay. Win. Throw touchdown passes. Lead the league in passing. Establish himself as one of the premier passers in the game. You watch Rodgers, and there's nothing not to like. He completes 71.5 percent of his passes. He leads the leagues in touchdown passes. He has only three interceptions. He has a passer rating of 111.4 or better in all seven starts and leads all quarterbacks with a season figure of 125.7. Oh, yeah, I almost forget: He wins, with a string of 13 straight victories, a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP Award behind him. People tell me there's no better quarterback in the game today, but I'll still challenge him with a guy I know from New England.

Why we don't: There's as much talent on the field as there are Cheeseheads in Lambeau, meaning Rodgers is surrounded by a substantial support group. That's no reason to apologize. It's just to say that maybe, just maybe, he has more supporting actors than others up for this award. Let's see, there's Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Ryan Grant, James Starks, James Jones and Randall Cobb ... and I haven't even gotten around to a defense that includes Charles Woodson, B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews.

Where he stands: He's at the head of the class, and look for him to be considered for the league's Offensive Player of the Year, too. Too often the MVP goes to the game's standout player rather than the game's most valuable player, and, yes, there is a difference. For now, consider Rodgers a slam-dunk for the award.

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England

Why we like him for this award: Because he's doing what he always does -- namely, throwing for lot of yards, lots of touchdowns and lots of wins without the benefit of a star-studded cast. I honestly believe Brady could be ... should be ... a candidate every year because every year is Groundhog Day in New England. He's one of the league's top quarterbacks, the Patriots are one of the league's top teams and there is no one who shoulders more of a load than Brady. Look at the New England defense. It has more holes than the Big Dig, right? It doesn't matter because Brady is there to bail it out. The Patriots keep subtracting veterans on offense and defense, yet they keep winning the AFC East. Wonder why? You're looking at him.

Why we don't: Because voters always are looking for a new face, and Rodgers is that face. Also because Brady has twice as many interceptions (8) through six games as he had through 16 last season. But there's one more thing. There's always a belief that maybe Brady wouldn't be as good without his head coach, but I think we have that inside out. Look at Bill Belichick's record sans Tom Brady: It's 51-62. Now tell me what happened the one season between 2003 and now that New England missed the playoffs. Yep, no Tom Brady.

Where he stands: He's the reigning MVP, but he's a distant second to Rodgers now. That has nothing to do with what he's done, and everything to do with what's going on in Green Bay.

3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

Why we like him for this award: For the same reason we like Brady: He throws for a zillion yards, a zillion touchdowns and wins a slew of games. Yeah, OK, so he has Jimmy Graham, who might be the best pass-catching tight end in the game. There's also a glut of talented receivers, including running back Darren Sproles, but nobody the quality of, say, a Greg Jennings. It seems like guys are getting hurt all the time here, yet the Saints keep on truckin'. Brees is the reason. He has touchdown passes in 34 straight games and is closing on Johnny Unitas' NFL record of 47. He also completes 71 percent of his passes this season, has thrown for 300 or more yards in all but one start and is on top of the NFC South. Any questions?

Why we don't: Because the Saints lost twice already and are no lock for their division. Also because Rodgers already outdueled him in the first game of the season.

Where he stands: Running neck and neck with Brady at the second spot, with Rodgers so far in front he's barely visible.

4. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

Why we like him for this award: Because there must be someone behind the resurrection of the Detroit Lions, and Calvin Johnson is that someone. All he's done is score 10 times -- including two touchdowns in each of his first four games -- to lead everyone in the NFL. He's practically unstoppable, and if you don't believe me, rewind the videotape to that come-from-behind defeat of Dallas. The Cowboys had three guys on him at one point, and he still outleaped them for a touchdown pass. He's the premier wide receiver in the game and the best playmaker on a team that makes a lot of plays.

Why We Don't: First of all, there's Matthew Stafford and the argument of how much he means to the Lions. Without him, they're toast, and they proved that the past two seasons. Second, there's the Lions' past two losses, with Johnson held in check vs. San Francisco. Third, there's his position. Wide receivers don't win this award, and you can look it up. No wide receiver ever was a league MVP, but one kicker was. Case closed.

Where he stands: A distant fourth.

5. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears

Why we like him for this award: He does everything but call pass protections for the Bears. He leads them in rushing. He leads them in receiving. He's tied for the lead in touchdowns. He's responsible for 46 percent of the offense. He leads the league in total offense and is third in rushing. There's virtually nothing he can't do ... except get a pay raise.

Why we don't: First of all, the Bears are 4-3. Second, they have Jay Cutler at quarterback, Devin Hester to return kicks and Brian Urlacher to make tackles. Last, of course, if the Bears don't think Forte deserves a pay raise why should we think he's so invaluable? I'll pass that one on to GM Jerry Angelo.

Where he stands: On the outside looking in.

Honorable mention: Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Why he should win this award: He shouldn't ... and he won't. He hasn't taken a snap. But lighten up, people. I like the idea because look where the Colts were with him. Now look where they are without him. They can't win a freakin' game, for crying out loud. Worse, they just got drilled, 62-7, by New Orleans in a nationally televised disgrace. The more I see of Indianapolis, the more I'm convinced that Peyton Manning is the league's most underpaid quarterback. I also know why he won four MVPs.

Why he shouldn't: You can't vote for someone who isn't in the huddle, though Manning meets the criteria with his absence. You never know what you have until it's gone, right? Trust me, the Colts know.

Where he stands: On the sidelines ... each and every weekend.

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