Friday Night Spotlight: The unheralded MVP candidate

Fifteen weeks into the NFL season, it seems that most of the MVP discussion focuses on the following potential recipients: Peyton Manning(notes), Drew Brees(notes), Chris Johnson, Brett Favre(notes), and for those who like esoteric "it'll never happen" write-in votes, the eventual winner of the Ungodly Ridiculous Cornerback Derby going on between Charles Woodson(notes) and Darrelle Revis(notes) (Note: I wanted Troy Polamalu(notes) to win the NFL MVP award last season. I am one of those people). One name that should be discussed more is that of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers(notes), whose Christmas Night game against the Tennessee Titans will be shown on the NFL Network (and thus, completely brutalized by Matt Millen).

Personally, I think Manning will be a deserving lead-pipe lock for the award when all is said and done. When you lead your team -- in a definitive sense -- to 23 regular-season wins in a row (and counting!), you are indeed The Man. However, it's important to look at the architect of the second-longest winning streak in the game right now -- that's Rivers, the captain of the Chargers' current nine-game run. San Diego hasn't lost since October 19, when they dropped a 34-23 contest to the Denver Broncos. In the rematch a month later, Rivers threw only five incompletions in a 32-3 butt-whomping.

When you look at the Chargers' dynamic offense, you see that it's on Rivers shoulders at this point. LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles(notes), the team's two primary running backs, each average just 3.3 yards per carry this season. San Diego currently ranks first in Offensive Passing DVOA -- Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted efficiency metric -- and 31st in Rushing Offense DVOA. Just as it is with the Colts, everyone knows what the Chargers are going to do, and they still do it at an elite level. That, my friends, is domination. FO's quarterback stats go like this: Tom Brady(notes), Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Rivers leads the league in yards per pass attempt. He's got two great targets in tight end Antonio Gates(notes) and the criminally underrated Vincent Jackson(notes), another guy who deserves a lot more press than he gets.

The Titans are vulnerable to these kinds of aerial attacks; they rank 24th in DVOA against the pass and give up big gains to ancillary receivers and tight ends (in fact, only the Browns are worse when covering tight ends, and the Titans will not have veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck(notes) on the field to direct traffic). When teams force coverage to Gates and Jackson, guys like Malcom Floyd(notes) and Legedu Naanee(notes) can pop up out of nowhere to have big days. The Titans are still fighting for playoff life after starting their season 0-6, but this will be a tough win. They'll have to stop a vertical passing game that's been frustrating defenses all season.

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