The new unquestioned leader of the Denver offense, Manning has looked much the four-time league MVP fans are used to seeing. After a full season off the field, the 36-year-old QB is among the league leaders in every statistical passing category: passer rating, touchdown-to-interception ratio, completion percentage, yards-per-game, and yards-per-attempt. Perhaps most importantly, he has quarterbacked the Broncos to a 5-3 record after three consecutive wins, good for the outright AFC West division lead.
2 of 15Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI
The league leader in rushing yards despite coming off tears to both the ACL and MCL in his left knee last December, Adrian Peterson is a big reason the surprising Vikings are competing in the difficult NFC North division. "All Day" is without a doubt back in his four-time Pro Bowl form as the only back averaging 100 or more yards per game through nine weeks, and one of only a few running for five or more yards per carry.
3 of 15Bob Levey/Getty Images
In just his second season, Houston defensive end J.J. Watt leads the entire NFL with 10.5 sacks and has become a player opposing quarterbacks must locate on the field before every snap. With fellow Texans' defensive stalwart Brian Cushing going down to a season-ending ACL tear in Week 5, the Wisconsin product has been an integral part of the Texans, at 7-1, securing the AFC's best record through Week 9.
4 of 15John Gress/Getty Images
With some of his performances in 2012, Bears defensive back Tim Jennings has emerged as one of the NFL's top lockdown corners. In his third year with Chicago after four with the Colts, he is the league leader in interceptions, with six, and paces a stingy defensive side of the ball for a 7-1 Chicago team that is giving up just two touchdowns per game to the opposition.
5 of 15Dick Druckman/AP
After one-year stints with both the Raiders and Colts in his first two seasons in the league, 25-year-old Stevie Brown seems to have found a more permanent home in New York as the Giants' starting strong safety. The 2010 seventh-round pick out of Michigan has five interceptions and two fumble recoveries for a 6-3, NFC East-leading New York squad ranked second in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-14: 26 takeaways to 12 giveaways.
6 of 15Al Tielemans/SI
The man to decisively emerge as the lead horse from the Redskins' typical running back by committee under coach Mike Shanahan, Alfred Morris has been a key component in an upstart Washington offense that ranks near the league's best, totaling more than 25 points per game.The rookie sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic has five touchdowns to go along with averaging 4.8 yards per carry in keeping opposing defenses honest against quarterback Robert Griffin III.
7 of 15MSA/Icon SMI
With 835 yards, Reggie Wayne is the NFL's leader in receiving yards through Week 9. The 12-year pro and five-time Pro Bowl wideout is averaging a career-best in yards per game (104.4) and is well on his way to an eighth 1,000-yard season.
8 of 15Andy Lyons/Getty Images
In his fourth NFL season, Percy Harvin is Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder's top target, atop the league with 62 receptions. The dynamic offensive threat has five touchdowns through Week 9, functioning as the Vikings' primary kick returner and also playing in the rushing game from time to time.
9 of 15Al Tielemans/SI
Robert Griffin III
With three consecutive losses, the Redskins have faltered to a 3-6 record, but Robert Griffin III, the No. 2 overall pick from the 2012 draft, has somehow beaten lofty expectations, as one of the NFL's most electrifying players. The dual-threat quarterback has 14 touchdowns (eight passing, six rushing) and better than a 66-percent completion rate at the Week 10 bye. The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor will surely compete for the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award in trying to get things permanently turned around in Washington.
10 of 15John W. McDonough/SI
Third-year inside linebacker Daryl Washington is having a breakout season for the Cardinals. Though Arizona is in the midst of a five-game slide at 4-5, the 26-year-old out of TCU is a primary reason its highly ranked defense has hung tough. Through nine games, he is among the league's defensive statistical leaders, already accumulating eight sacks, 75 tackles -- 64 solo -- and two forced fumbles.
11 of 15Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
A subtle position change later -- moving from cornerback to free safety -- Ronde Barber, the longtime heart and soul of the Buccaneers' defense, is dangerous as ever. The 37-year-old Barber, in his 16th season, has already collected three picks to lead a suddenly surging Tampa Bay team that has won its last two games following a bye week to make a midseason push for a NFC playoff spot.
12 of 15Greg Nelson/SI
Helping to fill the void left when safety Charles Woodson broke his collarbone in Week 7, Casey Hayward, a 2012 second-round cornerback out of Vanderbilt, is among the league's best in interceptions. The Defensive Rookie of the Month for October has amassed four picks through nine weeks for a 6-3 Packers team that has now won four in a row heading into a Week 10 bye.
13 of 15Damian Strohmeyer/SI
The change of scenery, from Buffalo to Seattle in the middle of 2010, continues to do wonders for Lynch's career. After flaming out with the Bills following a 2008 Pro Bowl season, Beast Mode has returned in a big way, with a 1,200-yard, 12 touchdown 2011, and near the top of the league's runners in yards and yards-per-carry, while surrendering just one fumble, so far in 2012 for the 5-4 Seahawks.
14 of 15Robert Beck/SI
The ageless tight end is putting up some of the best numbers of his 16-year career for the still perfect (8-0), Super Bowl-contender Falcons. Despite common belief that the 12-time Pro Bowler's fourth year in Atlanta will be his last, he remains one of quarterback Matt Ryan's favorite targets and is near the pace to surpass his 102-reception 2004 season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
15 of 15Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
The fifth-year linebacker out of Tennessee is the linchpin of an improved New England defense that ranks in the league's upper-third of points allowed per game. The Patriots' defensive captain is second in the NFL with 79 tackles, while also totaling three forced fumbles, a sack and an interception -- well on his way to his second Pro Bowl and All-Pro season.
You May Like
Sign Up for our Newsletter
Don't get stuck on the sidelines! Sign up to get exclusives, daily highlights, analysis and more—delivered right to your inbox!