Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Through the first half of his second NFL season, Dalton wasn't quite the quarterback we'd seen surprise us in his 2011 rookie campaign. He'd thrown an interception in each of his first eight games, and really hit a wall against the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago, when he completed 14 of 28 passes for a YPA rate of just 3.75.
Apparently, the cure for whatever ailed the TCU alum was a day against the New York Giants' suddenly sloppy defense. Dalton threw a career-high four touchdowns against the Super Bowl champs, and avoided any picks. Twenty-one of 30 for 199 yards -- well, that's not a stat line that really jumps off the page, but when you lead the league in TD passes on a single Sunday, and you do it against a team that's supposed to know better? Well, that's a good way to lead the MVPs list.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: We're starting to think that we should just copy/paste Purple Jesus on this list. In a 34-24 Vikings win against a Detroit Lions team whose offense suddenly caught fire, Peterson ran for 171 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. In his last four games, Peterson has run for at least 123 yards in each outing, averaged 6.3 yards per carry at his "low point," and amassed five rushing touchdowns.
In those same last four games, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has thrown for 58 and 63 yards in two of those. You think Peterson cares that Minnesota's opponents are stacking the box with seeming impunity? He's certainly not playing like it, and we continue to marvel at the fact that he's doing all of this less than a year after the kind of major knee surgery that would have knocked most power backs out of the game for good just a few years ago. I mean ... really. Per SI.com's Peter King, Peterson is still breaking up scar tissue in his knee, and he's beating the league to smithereens.
John Schneider, GM, Seattle Seahawks: When Schneider put together his 2012 draft, there were some pretty serious questions about what the heck he was thinking. Schneider is the engine behind Pete Carroll's high-velocity style, and he gave his coach some unexpected gifts. Nobody expected the Seahawks to take West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin with the 15th pick in this draft, but Irvin currently leads all rookie defenders with seven sacks, including two in Sunday's win over the New York Jets. That's one more than New England's Chandler Jones (6) has this year, and four more than any other first-year sack artist.
In the third round, Schneider took advantage of his Wisconsin connections and selected a short quarterback named Russell Wilson, who went into Seattle's preseason as a possible third QB and won the job outright by the end of the preseason. In an NFL with five-first-year starters, Wilson now leads all rookie quarterbacks with 15 passing touchdowns, and he's second to Robert Griffin III in rookie passer rating. He threw two touchdown passes in the Jets game, and he's got an 11-0 touchdown-to-interception count in five home games. Schneider has put together three very impressive drafts since Carroll asked him to ride shotgun, and those in the know understand that he's become one of the league's most astute personnel evaluators.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints: Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez had one of the greatest days in his history of his tight end position when he caught the 100th touchdown pass of his incredible career against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Impressive enough, but it was the performance of Saints tight end Jimmy Graham -- one of the new regime of former basketball players who are revolutionizing the position under Gonzalez's influence. Graham was Drew Brees' main man in the Saints' 31-27 upset, catching seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. After the game, Graham said that one-upping his hero was definitely on his mind.
"Tony, he kind of made the way for me," he said. "It seems like you go out every drive and kind of go up against the things he did in the last drive. It's definitely something that motivates me. He's a guy that I look up to. I spent a lot of time with him this offseason. No tight end plays the game like he does. The fact he's done it for so long is simply amazing. I try to learn and take away as much as I can from his game."
In this case, the student became the teacher.
Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota Vikings: We always wonder if Deacon Jones is going to head-slap us when we include a kicker in the MVPs, but now that Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein fell victim to an inexcusable delay of game penalty that killed his chances of kicking a game-winner against the San Francisco 49ers, we must turn our attention to another -- and in comparison, woefully underrated -- rookie kicker. All Walsh has done this season is to boot 23 of 24 possible field goals this season ("Young GZ" is 18 of 22), hit 4 of 4 in Sunday's 34-24 win over the Detroit Lions, and go 5 for 5 in kicks over 50 yards. Maybe Walsh is the one who needs the cool nickname.