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Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson headline our list of 10 finalists for NFL MVP

12.18.13 at 7:47 pm ET

FOXBORO — As the 2013 regular season nears the end of the road, the MVP race is starting to come into sharper focus. With two games remaining, here are our top 10 candidates — in no particular order — to take the honors.

Tom Brady: After a relatively slow start — he completed 56.6 percent of his passes over the first five games of the season, and in two of those games he threw for less than 200 yards — the quarterback has nudged his way back to the forefront of the MVP debate. Over the last six games, he’€™s gone 181-for-271 (67 percent) for 2,225 yards, with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, all while dealing with serious personnel losses. He’€™s received a boost in that time from wide receiver Julian Edelman (who could be the first Patriots wide receiver other than Wes Welker to catch 100 passes from Brady since Troy Brown broke the 100-catch mark in 2001) and Shane Vereen (who could be the first 50-catch/50-carry running back in New England since Kevin Faulk turned the trick in 2008). He needs a strong finish to really put a capper on his candidacy, but is every bit the equal as most of the people on this list.

Calvin Johnson: Johnson is enjoying another terrific season, and with 81 receptions through 14 games, appears to have an outside shot at another 100-catch year. (If he does reach 100, it would be the second time in three seasons he’€™s hit that mark.) He’€™s tied for eighth in the league in catches, but is second in the league in receiving yards (1,449) and touchdown grabs (12, tied with Vernon Davis). The 6-foot-5, 236-pounder is the prototypical big receiver, one who can only be stopped if he drops the ball (he has eight drops on the season) or someone gets to his quarterback before he can get the ball out to him. If he’€™s able to crack 100 catches and the Lions reach the postseason (right now, they’€™re 7-7), Johnson should be considered a candidate.

Peyton Manning: In the eyes of many people, the default choice for the award, based primarily on his performance over the first half of the season. (He hit on 60 percent or better of his passes over the first six weeks of the season, and didn’€™t throw a pick until Week 5.) Manning stands poised to breaks Brady’€™s single-season mark for touchdown passes in a season (50, set in 2007), and it appears the Broncos will capture the No. 1 seed in the AFC while possibly setting a handful of new offensive records. That could be enough to lift him above the rest of the field in the eyes of the voters.

Robert Quinn: Probably an outside candidate at this point for several reasons, including the fact that defensive players almost never get their proper due when it comes to MVP voting. But the St. Louis defensive lineman has really come on down the stretch. He’€™s second in the league in sacks with 15, and leads the league with seven forced fumbles. You can argue whether or not a defensive player on a team that will struggle to reach .500 deserves a shot (the Rams are 6-8 heading into the final two games of the season), but Quinn’€™s overwhelming dominance at times certainly suggests he should earn a spot in the Top 10 — at the very least, he’€™ll certainly receive Defensive Player of the Year consideration.

J.J. Watt: Another defensive lineman who deserves to be on this list despite the fact that his team has had a bad year, the Houston defensive lineman remains a transformative defensive presence. Rated as the No. 1 3-4 defensive end in the league by Pro Football Focus, PFF also has him graded out as the leading pass rusher and run stopper at his position. He has 9.5 sacks through 14 games, and while he’€™s not batting down passes as the same rate he did last season (he has six this year, as opposed to 16 last season), but he’€™s someone you have to always account for on every play. Probably not in the running for the top spot this year, he’€™ll almost certainly garner serious consideration (along with Quinn) for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Josh Gordon: He’€™s the best wide receiver the Patriots have faced to this point in the season, and while he’€™s probably more in the running for something like ‘€œBest Offensive Player’€ as opposed to MVP, it’€™s still worth mentioning that the Cleveland pass catcher leads the league with 1,467 receiving yards, and is 15th overall with 74 catches. His epic streak of four straight games with at least 125 receiving yards included a memorable seven-catch, 151-yard effort against New England — that came on the heels of back-to-back performances of at least 200 receiving yards. Like Quinn, you can argue the merits of handing out the MVP to a player on a team that won’€™t make the postseason, but his numbers are undeniable, and that should be enough for him to warrant consideration.

LeSean McCoy: A statistical marvel who has found a real home in Chip Kelly‘€™s turbo offense in Philadelphia, the running back is a multidimensional threat like no other. He leads the NFL with 1,343 rushing yards, and is fifth in the league in receiving yards with 1,275. While he’€™s probably not going to ultimately win the award, a strong finish over the last two games will almost cement his spot as a Top 5 candidate.

Jamaal Charles: He’€™s the main offensive cog for a Chiefs team that is heading to the playoffs for the first since 2010, and is in the top 5 in rushing touchdowns (tied for first with 11), rushing first downs (67), rushing yards per game (fourth at 84.4 yards per game) and total rushing yards (fourth at 1,181). The 26-year-old running back is a terrific example of the best offensive player on a playoff team being a candidate for the award. Regardless of whether or not you think running backs are worthy of MVP status, it’€™s hard not to look at his eight-catch, 195-yard, five-touchdown performance Sunday and not put him among the top 5.

Russell Wilson: The Seattle quarterback is not statistically overwhelming on any level — he’€™s not in the Top 5 when it comes to passing yards, completion percentage, touchdown passes or quarterback rating — but the fact that he’€™s steady, consistent and the face of one of the league’€™s rising young franchises is certainly enough to get him on the ballot. He’€™s also performed well in big situations, including an impressive performance against the Saints on Sunday night a few weeks ago that really started people talking about Wilson as an MVP possibility. Like Charles, the fact that he’€™s even mentioned in the discussion is an honor for him at this point in his career, and a solid finish to 2013 should insure he’€™ll be in the MVP conversation for the future.

Cam Newton: The third-year quarterback is becoming everything the Panthers hoped he could be when they took him out of Auburn in 2011. He’€™s poised, rarely makes mistakes and is smart enough to rely on those around him to make plays. It’€™s all coming together this season for the Carolina signal-caller — like Wilson, he’€™s not statistically overwhelming as a passer (his scrambling skills are among the best in the league, however), but has done an excellent job managing games and leading the Panthers to elite status in the NFC.

Also receiving votes: Richard Sherman (six picks, tied for best in the NFL), Drew Brees (68 percent completion rate, 4,500 passing yards, 34 TD passes) and Philip Rivers (70 percent completion rate and a 28:9 touchdown:interception ratio).

Read More: Calvin Johnson, Cam Newton, Jamaal Charles, JJ Watt



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