By Jim Trotter
October 02, 2012

The pulse of the NFL season changes weekly. Every Tuesday, will break down the front-runners for the major NFL awards.

1. Matt Ryan, Falcons (last week: 1). Beside ranking No. 1 among passers with a 112.1 rating, No. 2 with 11 touchdowns and tied for sixth with 1,162 yards, Ryan's ability to rally Atlanta to victory from his 1-yard line with less than a minute to play on Sunday showed he's on a different level.

2. J.J. Watt, Texans (2). The second-year defensive end has had at least 1.5 sacks in every game and has batted down five passes at the line. He's playing at such a high level it would be wrong to keep him out of the MVP discussion.

3. Joe Flacco, Ravens (3). The fifth-year pro continues to come up big when Baltimore needs him. He ranks third in yards and is tied for seventh in touchdown passes. He also has the Ravens 3-1 despite playing four games in 17 days.

1. A.J. Green, Bengals (NR). All he does is make plays. The second-year pro is No. 2 in receiving with 428 yards, is one behind the league leaders with three touchdown catches, and is No. 5 in receptions with 27 and 19 first downs.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (2). The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has thrown for eight touchdowns (in three games) with only one interception. He also ranks No. 2 with a 109.2 passer rating.

3. Robert Griffin III, Redskins (NR). See Offensive Rookie of the Year.

1. J.J. Watt, Texans (NR). See MVP.

2. NaVorro Bowman, 49ers">49ers (NR). The inside linebacker often gets overshadowed by teammate Patrick Willis, but Bowman should take a back seat to no one. He leads the league with 45 tackles, is second among linebackers with five passes defensed and also has an interception.

3. Daryl Washington, Cardinals (NR). Get used to this name, because Washington is having a breakout season. The ace linebacker makes up for being slightly undersized with speed and relentlessness. He has 34 tackles, a forced fumble and is a presence on the blitz.

1. Robert Griffin III, Redskins (1). The double threat from Baylor is tied for the league high with four rushing scores and leads all rookie passers with a 103.2 rating while ranking second in yards per game and touchdowns. More impressive, he has thrown only one interception.

2. Andrew Luck, Colts (2). He had a bye last week, but still ranks No. 1 among passers in average yards per game and touchdowns. His rate of 1.3 interceptions a game is worrisome, though.

3. Alfred Morris, Redskins (3). The seventh-round pick leads all rookies in rushing with 376 yards and is tied for the league lead with four rushing scores. He's also No. 1 among first-year players with 19 first downs.

1. Chandler Jones, Patriots (2). The defensive end has a sack in every game but one, has forced two fumbles, and has a league rookie-high 17 tackles. New England got a keeper with this pick.

2. Bruce Irvin, Seahawks (1). The first-round pick from West Virginia has just 2.5 sacks, but that doesn't begin to tell the problems he presents for opposing blockers in passing situations.

3. Mark Barron, Bucs (NR). The first-round pick has been solid from the start and has provided a physical presence at safety. His 27 tackles rank third among all rookies, and he also has five passes defensed and a forced fumble.

1. Mike Smith, Falcons (1). His 4-0 team simply meets every challenge -- primetime game, cross-country trip on a short week, one score down with under a minute to play and ball on the Atlanta 1. Doesn't matter.

2. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals (2). Arizona is 4-0 for the first time since moving to the desert, and Whisenhunt is a major reason. People say the Cardinals win ugly. Well, there are a lot of teams that would like to be called ugly this morning.

3. Leslie Frazier, Vikings (3). New week, same summation: Predicted to be among the dregs in the league, Minnesota is 3-1 and a field goal away from being unbeaten thanks in part to Frazier's steady ways.

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