By Jim Trotter
October 23, 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). He had a bye in Week 7, which in the "What have you done for me lately?" world of professional athletics is enough to make people forget his accomplishments. So let me remind you that he's the QB of the league's only undefeated team, has come up big in the big games, and is completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 14 scores and 1,756 yards. He may have been out of sight last week, but he's definitely not out of mind.

2. Robert Griffin III, Redskins (2). As a passer, the rookie QB is first in completion percentage (70.4) and yards per attempt (8.47), third in rating (101.8) and has put up 1,601 yards and seven scores. As a runner he ranks second -- second! -- among all players in touchdowns (six) and 12th in yards (468). If Tea Party members are interested in checking birth certificates, his should be at the top of the list. No rookie this poised and productive can be 22.

3. J.J. Watt, Texans (3). The second-year defensive end was held without a sack for the first time Sunday, leaving him at 9.5 for the year. But there has been no more powerful defensive force this year than Watt, who had two more batted passes, pushing his season total to 10.

1. Peyton Manning, Broncos (1). He had a bye last week, but consider this: In his last 19 quarters the veteran QB has thrown for 12 touchdowns, with only one interception. He's completing 67.8 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,808 yards. Oh, he also helped erase a 24-0 halftime deficit in a win at San Diego. SMH.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (NR). The reigning MVP ranks No. 1 with 19 TD passes, No. 2 with a 69.8 completion percentage, and overall has thrown just four interceptions. Equally important, in critical games the past two weeks he put his team on his back and led it to victory with a total of nine TDs and passer ratings of 133.8 and 133.2. No quarterback is hotter.

3. Arian Foster, Texans (2). He's proving that workhorse backs are not extinct. He leads all backs with an average of 24.0 carries a game and ranks No. 1 with nine rushing scores and No. 2 with an average of 94.1 yards rushing per game.

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

2. Charles Tillman, Bears (2). On Monday he did the unthinkable and made Lions all-world wideout Calvin Johnson invisible. Tillman and Tim Jennings comprise one of the game's top cornerback tandems.

3. NaVorro Bowman, 49ers">49ers (NR). He plays on one of the league's stingiest defenses and has a team-high 67 tackles with one interception and a sack. But stats don't fully tell the story with Bowman. His intensity and physical play is something off which teammates feed.

1. Robert Griffin III, Redskins (1). See MVP.

2. Andrew Luck, Colts (2). He's led the Colts to a 3-3 record, most recently beating out fellow rookie Brandon Weeden and the Browns. His 1,674 passing yards are second among rookies only to Weeden, but Luck leads all rookies in yards per game (279).

3. Alfred Morris, Redskins (3). See Alfred run. The sixth-round pick is third in the league in rushing, with an average of 94 yards a game. He also is tied for third with five rushing scores. Morris is physical and unintimidated by the moment.

1. Chandler Jones, Patriots (1). The defensive end leads all rookies in sacks (five) and forced fumbles (three). He also ranks 10th with 31 tackles. New England's defense has been inconsistent, but Jones has been a steady bright spot.

2. Harrison Smith, Vikings (NR). Minnesota is allowing a league-low 10.03 yards per completion, and the play of Smith, a first-round pick from Notre Dame, is one of the reasons. He has started from Day 1 and has 32 tackles, one interception, one touchdown, nine passes defensed and incalculable maturity.

3. Lavonte David, Bucs (NR). You have to look beneath the surface to appreciate what he does. He's third among all rookies in tackles, is the only linebacker who plays all three downs for the Bucs, even in dime packages, and he makes all the calls for the front seven. Smart, fast and a sure tackler, the arrow definitely is pointing up with him.

1. Mike Smith, Falcons (1). His team is the last of the undefeateds. Enough said.

2. Tom Coughlin, Giants (2). The defending Super Bowl champions have won five of their last six and are starting to get healthy.

3. Lovie Smith, Bears (NR). His team is tied for the league's second-fewest losses (one), and his defense surrenders points as easily as a hungry dog does a bone.

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