With Cardinals flying high, Warner soars to front of MVP chase
With Tom Brady injured and Peyton Manning's individual numbers down, Kurt Warner has found his way back to a familiar role: MVP favorite.
Warner finished with 32 points in balloting, followed by New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (19 points), New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (16), Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (14), Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner (9) and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (6). Scoring was on a 5-4-3-2-1 points system, with five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place vote and so on.
Results of voting by ESPN.com NFL bloggers for MVP. Bloggers selected their top five; points were awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis. First-place votes in parentheses.
1. Kurt Warner 32 (5)
2. Eli Manning 19 (1)
3. Drew Brees 16
4. Adrian Peterson 14 (1)
5. Michael Turner 9 (1)
6. Troy Polamalu 6
7. Albert Haynesworth 5
8. Brett Favre 4
9. Jay Cutler 3
9. Peyton Manning 3
9. Chad Pennington 3
9. Clinton Portis 3
13. James Harrison 2
14. DeMarcus Ware 1
Also getting votes were Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (5 points), New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre (4), Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler (3), Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (3), Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis (3), Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington (3), Steelers linebacker James Harrison (2) and Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (1).
The MVP award is determined by voting of a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. (None of the ESPN.com bloggers has a vote this year.) The winner is announced the week after the regular season ends.
A look at ESPN.com's top six MVP candidates:
Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Warner is putting up MVP-caliber numbers without a dynamic running back to keep defenses off balance. That makes this season different from his 1999 and 2001 MVP seasons in St. Louis, where the Rams' Marshall Faulk remained the focal point of opposing game plans.
Warner is on pace to complete 427 of 621 passes (68.7 percent) for 4,947 yards with 31 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 99.1 passer rating. Those numbers are mostly in line with those from his previous MVP seasons. For reference: Dan Marino threw for more yards in a season once. Marino threw for more touchdown passes twice. Marino averaged more yards per attempt twice. He posted a higher passer rating once.
Unlike last season, when Warner led the NFL in touchdown passes over the final eight games, the Cardinals are racking up stats while winning regularly. Warner has led them to their first division title since 1975 and their first home playoff appearance since 1947, when the team was based in Chicago.
According to Stats LLC, Warner leads the NFL with a 116.0 passer rating when opponents blitz. He has 13 touchdown passes with only two interceptions and four sacks against 170 blitzes. His ability to get rid of the ball quickly has been a key to sustaining drives. Arizona ranks tied for 10th in time of possession despite fielding the NFL's last-ranked rushing attack in yards per game and yards per carry.
Warner has completed at least one touchdown pass in 21 consecutive games, a franchise record and the NFL's longest current streak by seven games.
-- Mike Sando, NFC West blogger
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
Manning doesn't have the flashiest stats in the league, but no player is more important to his team. One of the reasons the Giants are one of the best rushing teams in football is the respect opponents have for Manning's arm.
He has thrown for 2,747 yards and 20 touchdowns, but the key stat is eight interceptions. And almost half those came in his one truly poor performance of the season -- against the Browns.
Manning has all the intangibles you look for in a great quarterback. He hasn't flinched during all the Plaxico Burress controversy this season. When Burress was out with an injury in training camp, Manning seized the opportunity to bond with young receivers such as Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham. He also identified the fact that the Giants weren't making enough plays downfield and made the deep ball a huge priority.
An MVP award should go to someone a team couldn't live without. On the Giants, everything begins and ends with Manning. If the team needed him to put up Warner-like stats, he certainly could. But he'd rather focus on winning.
-- Matt Mosley, NFC East blogger
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
But the 7-7 New Orleans Saints remain in the playoff picture -- barely --- and that's almost entirely because of Brees. In a season in which almost everything else has gone wrong for the Saints, everything has gone right for Brees.
With 4,332 passing yards already, Brees is on pace to challenge Marino's record for yards in a season (5.084). It has been said by some that Brees' accomplishments are inflated because the Saints don't have much of a running game and their record isn't gaudy.
But the fact they're .500 at this point is almost entirely down to Brees. Without him, New Orleans' season already would be over. With him, the Saints are still in the playoff hunt and a strong finish could make Brees' lofty numbers significant.
-- Pat Yasinskas, NFC South blogger
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
The running game is about yards, of course. But most coaches will tell you they value one facet more than any other: explosive plays.
Those are the types of plays that change games and can alter a team's course in a season. Peterson has amassed that total through a combination of speed and power that largely has been unstoppable.
If anything, Peterson is running harder this season than he did in his 2007 rookie-of-the-year campaign, busting through would-be tacklers aligned close to the line of scrimmage specifically to stop him. And don't discount the impact Peterson has had on the Vikings' passing game.
Peterson himself has only 19 catches for 109 yards, but check out what designated deep receiver Bernard Berrian has done. Berrian is averaging 20.1 yards a catch on 41 receptions, the highest mark in the NFL for anyone with at least 30 receptions. Without Peterson drawing the defenses to the line of scrimmage, either on pre-snap reads or in play-action, Berrian never would have been left open for so many long passes.
-- Kevin Seifert, NFC North blogger
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons
That has turned out to be a huge move as the 8-5 Falcons have been the NFL's most pleasant surprise. That's largely because of Turner, who has shown he can be a true feature back after spending the first four years of his career as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup.
With 300 carries already, Turner has been a workhorse. He has produced 1,269 yards and 14 touchdowns. But Turner's contribution has been about more than numbers. His steady production has allowed rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to prosper. The presence of a strong running game has prevented defenses from putting much pressure on Ryan, who also has benefited from breakout years by receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. Just about everything has clicked offensively for the Falcons, but it all started with the arrival of Turner.
-- Pat Yasinskas, NFC South blogger
Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers
Although no defensive player has won the NFL Most Valuable Player award since 1986, Polamalu is pushing the envelope of conventional wisdom this year.
If there were an award this year for Most Unique Player in the NFL, Polamalu would be a lock. Yet it's still very high praise for a defensive player to be in the running for MVP alongside another strong field of offensive candidates.
-- James Walker, AFC North blogger