By Jim Trotter
October 30, 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). Firmly cemented his status as the front-runner with a stunning performance against the Eagles. He was 22-of-29 for 262 yards, three TDs, no interceptions, and a 137.4 rating -- against an Eagles team that had never lost under coach Andy Reid the week after a bye. Oh, he also leads the only unbeaten team.

2. JJ Watt, Texans (3). The second-year defensive end had a bye last week, but he remains the league's most disruptive force, with a league-high 9.5 sacks, 10 pass deflections and two fumble recoveries.

3. Peyton Manning, Broncos (NR). Take away the first quarter of the Atlanta game and he has thrown for 17 touchdowns and only one interception, with five consecutive games of 300 yards or more. His 33 completions of at least 20 yards are a league high, as is his 109.0 rating.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (2). The reigning MVP ranks No. 1 with 21 TD passes and a 69.0 completion percentage, is No. 2 with a 107.9 rating and has thrown just four interceptions.

2. Arian Foster, Texans (3). He's proving that workhorse backs are not extinct. He leads all runners with an average of 24.0 carries a game, is first with nine rushing scores and ranks third with 94.1 yards rushing per game.

3. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (NR). The burly QB has put the team on his back and has it contending for the division title. He has thrown 14 TDs with only three picks. He has put up better statistics before, but it's possible he's playing as well as he ever had.

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

2. Charles Tillman, Bears (2). His position is cornerback. His role is playmaker. He is tied for the league lead in both defensive touchdowns (two) and forced fumbles (three), and consistently has been strong in coverage.

3. Tim Jennings, Bears (NR). Not to be upstaged by his teammate on the other side, the cornerback leads the league with six interceptions, is No. 1 with 19 passes defensed and last week scored on an interception return.

1. Robert Griffin III, Redskins (1). He can throw. He can run. He has poise and maturity. Now if Washington could put together some wins.

2. Andrew Luck , Colts (2). He can throw. He can run. He has poise and maturity. Now he's putting together wins -- two in a row and three of four.

3. Alfred Morris, Redskins (3). See Alfred run. The sixth-round pick leads all rookie running backs with 717 yards rushing and five touchdowns. His five carries of at least 20 yards also ranks first among rookie running backs.

1. Chandler Jones, Patriots (1). The defensive end leads all rookies in sacks (six) and forced fumbles (three). He also ranks 10th with 33 tackles.

2. Casey Hayward, Packers (NR). Green Bay regularly seems to find a young corner who steps in as a rookie and performs well, and Hayward is the latest. The Vanderbilt alum leads all rookies and is tied for third in the league with four interceptions. He also has 25 tackles.

3. Bobby Wagner, Seahawks (NR). Seattle is ranked fifth in total defense, and Wagner, a starter at middle linebacker, leads all rookies with 62 tackles, trying him for 13th most in the league. He also has a sack.

1. Mike Smith, Falcons (1). Sunday at Philadelphia was supposed to be a test for the Falcons. They aced it -- just as they've aced every other test -- to remain the league's only unbeaten.

2. Tom Coughlin, Giants (2). The defending Super Bowl champions have won six of their last seven. More impressively, they find a way to answer when challenged in the fourth quarter.

3. Lovie Smith, Bears (3). His team is tied for the league's second-fewest losses (one), and his defense scores seemingly as often as his offense.

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