Who's the NFL MVP so far?
By SAM SPIEGELMAN
The NFL quarter pole is the perfect time to digest what we've seen so far in the first month of the season.
Earlier in the week, we broke down the five biggest surprises, including the upstart Cowboys and Texans, veteran quarterbacks, and the rash of quarterback changes. There were also the five biggest disappointments, including preseason favorites that have flopped and our not-so-favorite first-round fantasy picks.
In the midst of the surprises should be the NFL MVP race, which is not as we might have anticipated a month ago. Here are the current favorites for the league's top honor:
1. Philip Rivers
The San Diego Chargers are off to a 3-1 start, a spot ahead of the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos in the AFC West. The Bolts have beaten the likes of the Seattle Seahawks, with their only loss a heartbreaker in Week 1 against another playoff contender, the Arizona Cardinals.
Rivers' career continues to be on the upswing in his second second under the tutelage of Mike McCoy. In four games, Rivers has completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 1,155 yards and nine touchdowns compared to just one interception. He's the sixth-leading passer in the NFL, and doing so with suspect offensive line play and a beat up stable of running backs.
2. DeMarco Murray
So long as the Dallas Cowboys are winning, Murray will have a realistic shot at being the first running back to take home the MVP trophy since 2012 and for just the second time in the past seven years.
Murray is the league's leading rusher with 534 yards, more than 150 yards more than than the next back, Le'Veon Bell. Murray is taking advantage of the NFL's top offensive line and a more balanced offense in Big D. He's the reason why Tony Romo has been able to force less balls in the passing game and subsequently cause fewer turnovers.
The 'Boys are 3-1 because a healthy Murray is changing the tone of this team.
3. J.J. Watt
What, a defensive player can't be the league MVP? Come on!
Watt has been a force for the upstart Texans, totaling nine tackles, two sacks, a pick-six, a fumble return, and an offensive touchdown reception through four games. Watt is the heart and soul of Houston's stout front seven, and he's doing all this work without the help of first-round pick Jadeveon Clowney playing on the opposite side.
A defensive player hasn't won the MVP trophy since 1986 when Lawrence Taylor did so by notching a league-best 20.5 sacks. Watt will remain a darkhorse for the award; the odds suggest as much. But he's making a case to be in the discussion.
4. Peyton Manning
Surprise, surprise. Manning is again putting his name in the hat for the MVP.
Manning's season has somewhat been brushed aside because Denver is coming off a Week 3 loss in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks, and now we're not paying attention to the fact he leads one of the best offenses in football, owns a 9:1 touchdown to interception ratio and will probably wind up leading his team to 12 or 13 wins.
Through three games, Manning's yardage total is down. I think the early bye week will help him and the offense, though, as they find a way to jump-start the running game to set up bigger plays down the field.
5. Andrew Luck
If the Colts were 4-0 or 3-1, Luck may be higher on this list. But because they're .500 with their only wins coming against the Jags and Titans, Luck is still without a signature victory to put on his MVP resume.
Luck leads all quarterbacks with 1,305 yards passing to go along with a league-best 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. His quarterback rating is fourth behind only Rivers, Manning, and Russell Wilson among starters.
The Colts are relying on the third-year signal-caller to be their difference-maker this year, as the talent around him is not meeting expectations. He has a tough stretch beginning Week 5 against Baltimore to get through, then we'll see where he stands in the race.
6. Russell Wilson
The anchor of the league's top team, Wilson is off to a very strong start. Wilson has completed 69 percent of his passes for 651 yards and a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio in three games, coinciding with a 2-1 mark.
Wilson will never reach Manning or Rivers-esque statistical numbers, but you have to give credit where credit is due, and in this case it's to the leader of the Seahawks.
NFL Week 5: Picks and predictions
Fantasy football's under-the-radar stars
Tigers star says no to dough, yes to ring