1. Tom Brady
2. Peyton Manning
3. Aaron Rodgers
It's easy to view MVP candidates Brady and Manning as a coin-flip at the top. I'm giving the slight edge to Brady, as he's been far superior in the playoffs with five Super Bowl appearances. Now that Gronkowski and Hernandez are finally close to peak form, Brady may be directing the best offense of his career over the next month. ... Manning finished the regular season with Broncos records
for completions (400), passing yards (4,659), touchdowns (37), completion percentage (68.6), and passer rating (105.8). Perhaps an even more impressive indication of Manning's dominance, Denver scored 172 more points
than the 2011 squad with quarterback as the only major addition. After ranking 32nd in completion percentage
last year, the Broncos were 2nd in 2012. ... Rodgers was at or near the top
in accuracy on passes of 20+ yards
, accuracy on all aimed throws
, and accuracy under pressure. He also took more sacks
than any QB in the league this season. The upshot is that Rodgers is streaking into the playoffs with a chance to play one more game than his NFC counterparts.
4. Matt Ryan
5. Russell Wilson
6. Colin Kaepernick
Still seeking his first career playoff win, Ryan has the luxury of the Georgia Dome's friendly environs. Only Brady owns a better home record over the last five seasons
. ... Perhaps the league's most creative scrambler since Fran Tarkenton, Wilson has been no slouch as a passer since mid-season. The rookie's passer ratings over the past eight weeks: 127.3, 131.0, 125.9, 104.9, 88.0, 104.4, 115.3, 136.3. Manning is the only quarterback with more games
featuring a 90+ Total QBR than Wilson's five. Joe Flacco is the only quarterback with a greater percentage of deep throws
than Wilson. ... Kaepernick finished with the same number of pass attempts (213) in seven starts as Alex Smith compiled in nine starts. The Packers-Vikings winner isn't a bad matchup for the 49ers' passing attack; Kaepernick's ranking comes down to how confident you are in his ability to move on to the NFC Championship game.
7. Robert Griffin III
8. Joe Flacco
9. Matt Schaub
10. Andrew Luck
11. Andy Dalton
12. Christian Ponder
RGIII said this week that his knee feels good and that he's been able to do more each week since the injury
. He's still going to be limited by a bulky leg brace in a tough matchup versus the Seahawks. Griffin finished the season first in the NFL
in yards per pass, yards per rush, and INT rate. It's interesting to note that he and Russell Wilson each passed 393 times
, with one leading in yards and the other in touchdowns. ... Flacco is the only quarterback in NFL history
to reach the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. He's won at least one game every year. For all of his maddening ups and downs, Flacco is still one of the league's elite deep passers
. ... Schaub is in a month-long funk
. It's on Gary Kubiak to get more creative with his schemes and play-calling
against a rabid Bengals defense.
Luck's 65 completions of 20+ yards
are the most in the NFL this season. I've never seen a young quarterback with more poise or better instincts in the pocket. He can't be counted out even if the rest of his team is overmatched. ... The Bengals offense has stalled of late
, in large part because an overly hesitant Dalton has taken too many sacks
. Unless A.J. Green has a lot more success against Johnathan Joseph this year than last, it's hard to imagine Dalton moving the offense consistently. ... Following a deep November slump, Ponder is coming off a three-game stretch of above-average performances
. I have no confidence that he will extend that streak at Lambeau Field in his first game fighting the elements under 40 degrees.
1. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
2. Arian Foster, Texans
3. Stevan Ridley, Patriots
4. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
5. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
6. Ray Rice, Ravens
An argument can be made for any of the backs in this tier to top the list. Moreno gets the nod here because he's a three-down back on the Super Bowl favorite after closing the season tied for fantasy's No. 5 back over the final five weeks. After replacing Willis McGahee in the starting lineup in Week 12, Moreno averaged a cool 25 touches per game. ... Too much has been made of Foster's decline in yards per carry this season. He may no longer have the fifth gear that he flashed in his 2010 breakout season, but he's cutting as sharply and decisively as ever. The revamped o-line, on the other hand, has underperformed. ... Ridley would be No. 1 if he didn't have to worry about Danny Woodhead stealing passing-down work and Brandon Bolden or Shane Vereen vulturing goal-line opportunities. ... Clearing 85 rushing yards in every game but two, Lynch shattered his career high by 386 yards as perhaps the most consistent back in the league. If you believe Seattle can run the gauntlet with three road games, it's not a reach to grab Lynch as the first back off the board.
Peterson's virtuosity cannot be overstated. His 409 yards in devastating the Packers this season are the fourth-most by any player versus a single opponent in a season. His 861 December yards set the record for most in a month -- and would have placed him 19th among backs for the entire season. Peterson demolished the competition in big plays and forced missed tackles, averaging more yards after contact than Foster did total. His 1598 yards over the final 10 games were more than all but Alfred Morris had for the entire season. If you believe Peterson is not one-and-done, draft him first. ... Rice draws a Colts defense that surrendered 165 to Jamaal Charles in one quarter two weeks ago, but it's a tall order to expect more than two games with a matchup looming against the Broncos or Patriots.
7. Frank Gore, 49ers
8. Alfred Morris, Redskins
9. DuJuan Harris, Packers
Gore was just 18th in fantasy points over the final five weeks with a YPC average of 3.66 after being well over 5.0 for the majority of the season. It's the second straight season that his effectiveness has tailed off down the stretch, which certainly isn't usual for an aging back. ... Morris has at least 20 carries in every game since the Redskins' Week 10 bye. His 1,613 rushing yards is the third-highest total for a rookie in NFL history. His ranking here reflects the Skins' status as underdogs this week. ... Mike McCarthy insists the Packers don't have a starting running back, but it's clear that Harris has developed the hot hand. The coaching staff is doing everything they can to "keep progressing" Harris because "he does have unique skills and run ability."
10. Michael Turner, Falcons
11. Danny Woodhead, Patriots
12. Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons
13. Vick Ballard, Colts
14. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals
It's no secret around these parts that I haven't liked what I've seen on Turner's film for the better part of a year and a half now. His speed and leg drive have evaporated, he's losing snaps and touches to Jacquizz Rodgers, and his fantasy value is almost completely reliant on goal-line opportunities. ... Would you believe Woodhead finished 25th in fantasy points this season? Darren Sproles was the only back with more of a fantasy impact in the passing game. ... Ballard is a good bet for 20 touches at Baltimore, but he's scored just three times this season. ... Green-Ellis will be playing at less than full strength against a Texans defense that allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing backs. I can't envision the Bengals running the ball with success on Saturday.
15. Ryan Grant, Packers
16. Ben Tate, Texans
17. LaMichael James, 49ers
18. Bernard Pierce, Ravens
19. Brandon Bolden, Patriots
20. Shane Vereen, Patriots
Harris has the hot hand in Green Bay, but it's worth wondering if that was primarily due to the Metrodome's faster surface. Grant is more of a grinder, which should mean a bigger role on the redundantly-named frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. ... Tate, James, Pierce, Bolden, and Vereen are the best of the pure backups.
21. Alex Green, Packers
22. Ronnie Hillman, Broncos
23. Robert Turbin, Seahawks
24. Lance Ball, Broncos
25. Jason Snelling, Falcons
26. Cedric Peerman, Bengals
27. Brian Leonard, Bengals
28. James Casey, Texans
29. Justin Forsett, Texans
30. James Starks, Packers
31. John Kuhn, Packers
32. Evan Royster, Redskins
33. Delone Carter, Colts
34. Anthony Dixon, 49ers
35. Leon Washington, Seahawks
36. Toby Gerhart, Vikings
37. Mewelde Moore, Colts
38. Vonta Leach, Ravens
39. Darrel Young, Redskins
40. Michael Robinson, Seahawks
Green didn't see a single snap in the regular-season finale. At this point it's hard to imagine a significant role for the playoffs, but there's not a more fluid backfield than Green Bay's. ... Hillman isn't guaranteed to enter the playoffs as Moreno's primary backup after landing in the doghouse for fumbling last week. ... Peerman and Leonard will split touches if Green-Ellis' hamstring injury flares up. ... Eligible at running back on most fantasy sites, Casey is a sneaky play in deep leagues.