The pulse of the NFL season changes weekly. Every Tuesday, SI.com will break down the front-runners for the major NFL awards.
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (last week: NR). The veteran running back is a comic book character. Less than a year removed from reconstructive knee surgery, he has gone over 100 yards in four straight games and leads the league in rushing with 1,128 yards. More noteworthy, he has done it despite a Vikings passing game that has been held to 63 yards or fewer in two of its last four games. Want to know why the Vikings are 6-4 and in the playoff hunt? Peterson is a good place to start.
2. Matt Ryan, Falcons (1). Atlanta finally lost a game, but Ryan still threw for 411 yards and three touchdowns, and was picked off just once in a season-high -tying 52 attempts. If there is a danger for the Falcons, it's that coordinator Dirk Koetter sometimes leans too heavily on Ryan, such as near the goal line Sunday.
3. Peyton Manning, Broncos (3). The veteran QB is first in rating, second in completion percentage and fifth in yards per game. Sunday was considered an off game, and all he did was complete 71 percent of his passes for 301 yards and a touchdown. There are a lot of quarterbacks who would be celebrated for that stat line.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (1). The reigning MVP had a bye last week, but is still tied for the league lead with 25 touchdown passes and is second in rating at 107.4. He has led Green Bay to four consecutive wins and five in their last six games, despite virtually no running game and injuries to key wideouts Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.
2. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (2). Pittsburgh has also won four in a row and five of six, and their burly QB is a big reason -- although that wasn't the case Monday night after he sustained a shoulder injury. Still, he is having a career year under new coordinator Todd Haley, with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. If his injury is serious he'll fall out of the running, but for now he deserves to be recognized.
3. Reggie Wayne, Colts (NR). Among pass catchers, the veteran wideout is No. 1 in receptions and first downs, No. 2 in yards, and No. 3 in catches of 20 yards or more. He also has been the rock on whom rookie Andrew Luck has leaned. Without him, the Colts aren't in playoff contention.
1. J.J. Watt, Texans (1). The second-year defensive end was held without at least a half sack for only the second time all season (but the second time in three games). Still, he remains a defensive force with a league-high 10.5 sacks and 10 batted passes.
2. Charles Tillman, Bears (2). The unanswerable question from the Bears' loss to the Texans on Sunday is, how did Tillman not force a fumble on a rainy night in Chicago? He still leads all players with seven forced fumbles to go with his two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. His coverage also has been excellent.
3. Tim Jennings, Bears (NR). Jennings not only leads the league with eight interceptions, but also with 26 passes defensed. He has been overshadowed much of the year by Tillman, his partner in crime, but Jennings is having a terrific season. In three games he has had multiple picks, and in one he returned an interception for a score.
1. Andrew Luck , Colts (1). The No. 1 overall pick has helped Indianapolis to four straight wins and five in six outings. He hasn't always been perfect, but he has been there when it matters most, with a rookie-high four fourth-quarter or overtime wins. He's also tied with Peyton Manning for the league lead with 41 completions of 20 yards or longer.
2. Robert Griffin III, Redskins (2). The Baylor standout is coming off a needed bye. After a stellar first quarter of the season, he has thrown for only one touchdown the past two games and has not scored on the ground in three straight outings.
3. Doug Martin, Buccaneers (3). He was so good the previous two weeks that people were almost disappointed Sunday when he finished with 119 yards from scrimmage, including 68 rushing. Martin leads all rookies and is fourth overall with 95.8 yards rushing per game.
1. Lavonte David, Buccaneers (NR). The most impressive thing about him is not that he has been a starter since Week 1, but that he also makes all the defensive calls and consistently shows up when big plays need to be made. David also is tied for second among all rookies with 81 tackles.
2. Bobby Wagner, Seahawks (2). The first-year linebacker has started nine games and is averaging 10 tackles over the last three games. He also has two sacks and has been a steady performer on one of the league's top defenses.
3. Bruce Irvin, Seahawks (NR). If the end could play all his games at home, he might challenge for Player of the Year for all defensive players. Irvin has at least a half sack in every home game but one, and overall leads all rookies with seven sacks to go with one forced fumble.
1. Gary Kubiak, Texans (NR). Houston showed it's built to win in any condition, leaving the comforts of its retractable-roof dome and winning in the rain and wind of Soldier Field. Kubiak's club is tied for the league low with one loss and will be a factor in the playoffs.
2. Mike Tomlin, Steelers (3). He preaches to his players that "The standard is the standard," and regardless of injuries, roster turnover or holdouts he has his club ready to play at a high level. His mantra could be tested the next few weeks if Roethlisberger is out with a shoulder injury and with the rival Ravens on the schedule twice in three weeks.
3. Mike Smith, Falcons (1). Atlanta suffered its first loss of the season, but it took an inspired performance by rival New Orleans to halt the Falcons' win streak at eight games. With talk about an undefeated season behind the Falcons, they should be able to refocus on winning the division and making a statement in the playoffs.
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