1. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts.2. Drew Brees, QB, Saints.3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings.
While the Colts get used to a new coach, new defense and three important new offensive parts, Manning is playing as well as he ever has. In his illustrious 12-year career, he's never opened a season with four straight 300-yard games, as he has this year. The 4-0 Colts will go as far as he takes them.
1. Josh McDaniels, Broncos.2. Rex Ryan, Jets.3. Brad Childress, Minnesota.
This one doesn't seem very hard. I pick Childress to round out the top three because he made the gutsy move -- which I criticized -- of going out on a limb to talk Favre into playing when he wasn't confident he could make it through a season healthy, at 40. But Favre has won one game, maybe two, that the Tarvaris Jackson Vikes wouldn't have. At the top, McDaniels, as I explained Monday in MMQB, is a lock.
1. Mike Nolan, defensive coordinator, Broncos.2. Gregg Williams, defensive coordinator, Saints.3. Dante Scarnecchia, offensive line, Patriots.
Lots of deserving candidates, and it's clear why Nolan and Williams are far and away the leaders on this list. Scarnecchia is here not because of long and meritorious service; this is his 26th season as a Patriots assistant. It's because New England had a major protection problem that Scarnecchia and the staff worked on, and the past two weeks, against one very good defense (Baltimore) and one middling one (Atlanta), the troops kept Brady mostly clean.
1. Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets.2. Michael Oher, T, Ravens.3. Percy Harvin, WR/KR, Vikings.
When receivers Julian Edelman (New England), Kenny Britt (Tennessee), Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh) and Johnny Knox (Chicago), and left tackle Eugene Monroe of the Jaguars don't make the top three, you know it's a good year for rookies. I give a premium to a quarterback who steps into a difficult situation (starting opening day, in New York no less, and winning) and performs.
1. James Laurinaitis, LB, Rams.2. Louis Delmas, S, Lions.3. Jerraud Powers, CB, Colts.
It's not hard to shine on an awful team, and Laurinaitis is going to have to weather a couple of years of stormy weather in St. Louis. But he's been the defensive playcaller since day three of camp, and he's on pace to be the kind of heart-of-the-defense player Barrett Ruud is in Tampa and DeMeco Ryans is in Houston.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts.2. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens.3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans.
Adrian Peterson will be back in contention before the end of the year, but the Monday-nighter knocked a little of the shine off his star. For now. Manning is far and away the best player.
1. Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets.2. Elvis Dumervil, OLB, Broncos.3. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota.
Revis held Andre Johnson and Randy Moss to eight soft catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2 and is the shutdown corner that a bold and aggressive defense Rex Ryan has to have. Dumervil's the oddest-looking pass-rusher, at 5-foot-11 and 260 pounds, I've ever seen, but he has rare quickness and he's tied for the NFL with eight sacks. Dumervil's a legitimate threat to get 20 in a defense built to feature him.
1. Darren Sharper, FS, Saints.2. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota.3. Correll Buckhalter, RB, Broncos.
Sharper told me Sunday that he seriously considered signing with the Steelers and old college teammate Mike Tomlin early in free-agency, but then New Orleans got into the picture and Sean Payton told him, "We just need a couple more pieces on defense, and you're a big one.'' Tomlin agreed that New Orleans was a better spot for Sharper, and so he went. He's the NFL interceptions leader with five after four games.
Did you know Jared Allen played hurt last night? Sick, actually. As I talked to a coughing-and-congested Allen by his locker after the Vikings' 30-23 win over the Packers, one of the Minnesota trainers passed him a pill envelope, with, I presume, a couple of decongestant tablets.
"Some sinus infection, I think,'' Allen said.
That really held Allen back. Taking advantage of the absence of Packer left tackle Chad Clifton, Allen played the best game of his six-year career. He sacked Aaron Rodgers 4.5 times, once for a safety, another time forcing a fumble. Twice more he hurried Rodgers into incompletions. "One of those games players dream about,'' he called it after the game.
Allen said he was watching the Green Bay injury report all week, wondering if he'd get the injured Chad Clifton or a usual guard, Daryn Colledge, at left tackle. Though Allen had a sack and safety against the Packers and Clifton last year, Clifton had good success against Allen. "I'll take the other guy [Colledge] any day of the week,'' Allen said. Colledge got turnstiled until rookie T.J. Lang had to sub for the injured Colledge late in the game.
Allen will be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year if he keeps this up, and he just might be able to. After just 21 Minnesota games, he's already the Vikings' career record-holder for safeties (three), and he's on a sack-a-game pace since his trade here 18 months ago. He came to the perfect place. With Kevin Williams and Pat Williams caving in the middle of so many offensive lines, Allen is free to rush around the left tackle or come inside, knowing that in most cases the quarterback is going to be in an already-collapsing pocket.
"Because we have such a great middle rush,'' Allen said after the game, "the quarterback can't usually step up. Tonight, we kept him [Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers] running. We kept him guessing.''
That's a dominant line, made complete by the best all-around defensive end in football.
Now for your e-mail of the week:
• WE'LL AGREE TO DISAGREE ON THIS ONE. From Nick DeMaria of Atlanta: "Why does Jeff Fisher continue to get a pass from the media? He's the most overrated coach in the NFL. He has a career 5-6 playoff record and needed a miracle play to make the Super Bowl that year and give him three of those wins. He's lost his first playoff game twice with homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. I'm hoping Bud Adams finally wakes up and fires him during their bye week after an 0-6 start. Their defense is a mess this year and most head coaches with a particular expertise on one side of the ball would take over and take control, like Lovie Smith in Chicago this year.''
Tough crowd. I'll agree with you that the Titans haven't been a good playoff team; one weak defense about last year's team is that if Chris Johnson doesn't get hurt early against Baltimore, the Titans probably win the game and then host Pittsburgh in the AFC title game, four weeks to the day after they beat the Steelers by 17 in the same stadium.
My usual defense about Fisher -- that he most often gets the most out of his team -- is taking a beating this year. But after getting the Oilers/Titans on the right track and coaching them through the orphan stage of Houston and Memphis and into Nashville, Fisher's record in his past 10 years entering the year was 95-65. I don't think you fire a guy who's 23-9 over the previous two years, even with the two opening-game playoff losses. Now, if he'd lost the team, or if there was some indication the players have tuned him out, I could see firing him. But there's no evidence of that.
• MIAMI GOT A GREAT BEGINNING FROM HENNE. From David Steinberg of Watervliet, N.Y.: "What did you think of the start of the Chad Henne era in Miami? I know his stat line didn't open any eyes, but it was a dominating performance by the team. Henne spread the defense, had no turnovers and has made this team's clock-controlling offense even more dangerous.''
I remember Tony Sparano saying in August that somehow, some way, he had to figure a way to get Henne into the lineup. Even if the Dolphins had to force-feed him in there, it was essential to begin the process because there was no certainty the Dolphins would bring Pennington back after his two-year deal expired. Now the force-feeding begins.
The game against Buffalo was a good example of how the Dolphins will play now, putting Henne in winning situations, not asking him to throw downfield too much early, and getting him used to the reins of an NFL team. I doubt the Dolphins can get back in the race, but who knows? Three of their next four games are against the Jets and Patriots, so we'll know by early November if they've got a pulse.
• YOU GO, RODNEY. From Anthony of Carlsbad, Calif.: "I, frankly, agree with Rodney Harrison's statement about Tom Brady being soft. Calling the roughing penalties was bad enough, but when Brady (while standing, mind you) turns to the ref and demands the call, gets an approving nod and a flag from the ref, then pumps his fist over it, well that just looks like a coddled brat who cried to mommy and got his way.''
Players in every sport ask for calls, and after watching the Brady play four or five times on Monday, I think that one could have gone either way -- though I would not have called roughing the passer there. Keep in mind that Harrison told me he was just kidding when he called out Brady. His point, as it's always been, is that the league is over-protective of quarterbacks, and I think you agree with him.
• THE BRONCOS, REVISITED. From John Kaleto of San Diego: "What do you think will be the Broncos' record in four weeks, after they play New England, San Diego, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh?''
Six wins, two losses. Don't ask me to predict which ones they'll win and which ones they'll lose. The Broncos are simply playing at a high enough level right now to go .500 through a very difficult stretch of the schedule.