The pulse of the NFL season changes weekly. Every Wednesday, SI.com will break down the front-runners for the major NFL awards.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (last week: 1): In all seriousness, if the Broncos go out and light up the best defense in the league Sunday night, just hand this award to Manning. He was brilliant again Sunday against the Chargers, tossing four touchdown and putting him back on track to threaten single-season passing marks for yards, touchdowns and completion percentage. Manning's leg injury late in the game in San Diego will be something to watch over the next few weeks as the Broncos face their biggest tests of the season.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (NR): Brees won't catch Manning in terms of statistical success barring some sort of historic tour-de-force down the stretch, but in any other year, Brees would be the runaway favorite to win the MVP. The Saints still face the stingy Panthers defense twice this season, games that will decide the division and have serious implications in the NFC playoff race. For Brees, they're also showcase games for his MVP campaign.
3. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (NR): Early on, it appeared Wilson was going to succumb to a sophomore slump, as Seattle won games in spite of him rather than because of him. Yet, as it stands today, Wilson is one of only five quarterbacks with a QB rating over 100 (and one of the only to start the majority of his team's games), and one of only five with a yards-per-attempt average above 8.0. Not to be overlooked either are his four game-winning drives, as the Seahawks remain the favorite in the NFC.
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (1): Manning is on track to top Tom Brady's single-season touchdown mark and Drew Brees' yardage mark -- the latter of which he could obliterate. He is also just behind Brees' completion percentage mark -- although Philip Rivers is currently ahead of the pace. If Manning doesn't get to those records -- let's say he sits a game or two late -- and Brees comes on strong, voters could split this award and the MVP. For now though, that seems unlikely.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (2): Brees would need a few more games like his virtuoso performance against the Cowboys to nip at Manning's heels, but we've seen that story before. Remember, Brees took home OPOY in 2011 when Aaron Rodgers won the MVP.
3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions (NR): I argued last week for Jimmy Graham in this spot, but the momentum seems to be firmly on the side of Megatron. Detroit is now the favorite in the NFC North and we saw how putrid that Lions offense looked without him early in the season. No receiver in the league can dominate a game like he can. To wit, Johnson leads all non-quarterbacks in Win Percentage Added.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs (1): I can't fault Houston for the Chiefs' bye last week, although his competitors in the race for DPOY played extremely well. The Colts were able to shake Manning with edge pressure earlier this season. If Houston can lead the charge for the Chiefs against Manning, he will take charge of this race.
2. J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans (2): There may not be a more uniquely dominant player in football than Watt. Even on a bad team, he continues to have a huge impact and is making a case for himself as the best 3-4 defensive end ever. The sack numbers aren't going to floor you, but he can control the game in a way no other interior player in the league can. He has a tough mountain to climb with K.C.'s defense playing so well, and other players putting up such gaudy numbers. That being said, the answer to the question "Who is the best defensive player in the game right now," is "J.J. Watt."
3. Robert Quinn DE, St. Louis Rams (NR): Sack leader Robert Mathis had been in this spot, but much like Megatron, the momentum is clearly in Quinn's corner. The former first-round pick has multiple-sack games in two of his last three, is second in the league overall in sacks and tops in forced fumbles with five. His two sacks Sunday were a big reason why Quinn and the Rams destroyed Mathis' Colts.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers (1): An astonishing 61 of Lacy's 70 yards Sunday came after contact as the Packers' punishing rookie back continues to impress. Lacy is fifth in the league in per game rushing average and he isn't just a plodding bulldozer; his season-long run of 56 yards is longer than that of so-called home run backs like LeSean McCoy (41), Reggie Bush (39), or Jamaal Charles (24). Further, he leads all rushers with 618 yards since Oct. 1.
2. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (2): Maybe Cincinnati has figured out Bernard is its best running back, and second-best offensive weapon. His 95 total yards on 22 touches with a touchdown against the Ravens is a sign that Lacy's hold on this award is tenuous at best.
3. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams (3): Stacy struggled to get on track against the Colts and failed to show the kind of burst he'd flashed earlier this season. He's been solid, but players such as Keenan Allen and Jordan Reed are primed to push for a spot on this list.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1. Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets (1): The Jets had the week off and while the Panthers smothered the 49ers, it's hard to unseat Richardson from this spot given his stellar season. The Jets' defensive lineman has been superb against the run and flashed juice as a pass-rusher as well. He's been a major factor in the Jets recapturing their form as a really good defensive team.
2. Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills (2): Alonso got back on track against the Steeler with a 10-tackle day, although his impact has been mitigated lately by up-and-down play from the rest of the team, especially the defense. Pro Football Focus has him as the second-best coverage linebacker in the league.
3. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers (3): It will be hard to deny Lotulelei if the Panthers keep smashing opponents the way they have been lately. On Sunday, Carolina, led by Lotulelei, just out-muscled the most physical and talented offensive line in football, making life miserable for the 49ers offense.
Coach of the Year
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (1): For Reid to remain in pole position for this award, the Chiefs can't get embarrassed Sunday against the Broncos. A win and this race is all but over.
2. Rex Ryan, New York Jets (2): Not only are the Jets in good position to make the playoffs, but with just one winning team left on the schedule, New York could legitimately get to 10 wins. That would be pretty remarkable given the flux around this team the last year.
3. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles (NR): Ron Rivera deserves credit for his turnaround with the Panthers, but it's hard to congratulate a coach for fixing problems he created. Chip Kelly, a rookie head coach with a backup quarterback, has righted the Eagles' ship and has his sights on a division crown and the playoffs.