Andrew Luck Pushing Peyton Manning’s Shadow Aside, Making Major Headway in Pursuit of MVP

Peyton Manning, Andrew LuckAndrew Luck put on quite a show in Indy on Sunday night, overshadowing Peyton Manning‘s much-anticipated homecoming with a performance for the ages.

Luck and the Colts played David to the Broncos’ Goliath, slaying the seemingly invincible giant with a combination of youth and swagger. The Colts now have a strong hold on the AFC South entering their off week, and they’re likely staring up at a potential first-round bye come playoff time. Those tasks become much harder in Reggie Wayne‘s absence, but Luck’s confidence and knack for late-game heroics should be enough to see them welcome the challenge.

Outside of Indy, both past and present, a number of other players are taking the league by storm and vying for some end-of-year hardware with their stellar play on the field. Jamaal Charles continues to be a problem for opposing defense to contain both on the ground and through the air, while Marshawn Lynch has shifted down into Beast Mode even earlier than normal this season. Heck, even Colts pass rusher Robert Mathis is stirring the pot, showing why he deserves to be in the MVP conversation.

With Manning continually losing ground and so many guys climbing the most valuable ladder, this is starting to make for an extremely interesting MVP race. So, let’s jump in and see where the best and brightest around the league rank.

1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (Last Week: –)

Stats: 71.6 percent completion percentage, 2,565 yards, 25 total touchdowns (25 passing, one rushing) and three interceptions

Manning wasn’t exactly flawless on Sunday night, but even two weeks of just very good play won’t see him drop from the top spot. He still has a firm hold on the award through seven weeks, although the likes of Charles and Luck are slowly creeping up on him. Manning is still on pace to break Tom Brady‘s single-season touchdown record, and the Broncos are also in position to claim a top spot in the AFC. So, barring a major letdown, he’ll at least be hanging around the top of this list until the very end.

2. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (Last Week: –)

Stats: 135 carries, 561 rushing yards; 36 catches, 337 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns (six rushing, two receiving)

Charles continues to be the quiet cultivator behind the Chiefs’ offensive success. They’re not putting up crazy points like the Broncos or churning out yards like the Eagles, but they have a well-balanced attack and Charles is at the head of it all. He and Lynch are just about neck and neck in terms of production on the ground, but Charles’ impact on the passing game — he’s second among backs in receptions — sets him ahead of Lynch and other contenders.

3. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks (Last Week: 4)

Stats: 138 carries, 578 yards; 14 catches, 177 yards and seven touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving)

The Seahawks improved to 6-1 on the season with Thursday’s win over the Cardinals, and Lynch has been a major reason for their success. He ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards and is tied for second in touchdowns. He’s also been a workhorse for the Hawks this season, receiving the second-most carries in the NFL — behind only LeSean McCoy — this season.

4. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (Last Week: 7)

Stats: 60.7 percent completion percentage, 1,574 yards, 13 total touchdowns (10 passing, three rushing) and three interceptions

Luck did the unthinkable on Sunday night, not only downing the seemingly invincible Broncos but also outplaying his predecessor. In just his second year, Luck is quickly becoming of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and doing one hell of a job pushing Peyton’s shadow aside and creating his own legacy in Indy. He just continues to make plays, especially in big moments, and has the Colts in prime position to reclaim the AFC North title.

5. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (Last Week: 3)

Stats: 66.2 percent completion percentage, 1,958 yards, 15 total touchdowns (14 passing, one rushing) and five interceptions

Brees had a week to recover from the Saints’ crushing loss in New England, which just so happened to be his worst outing in over a year. Now, he should return fully rejuvenated and ready to throw up more big numbers on the scoreboard. A visit from the Bills should help him get right back on track this week.

6. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers (Last Week: Unranked)

Stats: 73.9 percent completion percentage, 2,132 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions

Aside from a turnover-filled effort in Oakland a few weeks ago, Rivers has been accurate, efficient and careful with the football this season. He leads the NFL completing a career-best 74 percent of his passes and ranks second to only Manning in yards, touchdowns and quarterback rating (111.1). If the Chargers continue to rip off victories, and he keeps making magic with a depleted roster of receivers, he’ll be right up alongside Manning in no time.

7. Robert Mathis, DE, Indianapolis Colts (Last Week: Unranked)

Stats: 11.5 sacks, 31 tackles, three forced fumbles

Two Colts players in the top seven might seem like overkill, but there’s just no avoiding Mathis at this point. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of including him for weeks now, and Sunday’s two-sack effort against old friend Peyton was enough to boost him up into the top 10. Mathis has been a menace to opposing quarterbacks all season, wrangling together 11 1/2 sacks in just seven games, and he is in prime position to contend for Michael Strahan‘s single-season sack record. Let’s just hope the bye week doesn’t slow his roll.

8. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys (Last Week: 8)

Stats: 68.3 percent completion percentage, 2,010 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions

Romo is quietly having himself quite the season, even if the Cowboys aren’t exactly among the cream of the crop in the standings through seven games. The Texas gunslinger — sorry, inner-Gruden protruding — has been chucking the ball up with incredible accuracy while running an exciting and efficient Cowboys offense this season. As the running back carousel continues to turn, Dallas knows it can count on Romo to keep the train moving.

9. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers (Last Week: Unranked)

Stats: 127 carries, 547 yards; seven catches, 90 yards, six total touchdowns (five rushing, one receiving)

Another newcomer to the MVP ranks this week, Gore has been hanging just outside for a few weeks but finally broke through after another solid outing against the Titans. Gore’s sustainability as one of the league’s top backs is incredible, especially as he’s doing it at 30 years old. Colin Kaepernick has been up and down all season, but Gore has been the mainstay that’s kept the Niners’ offense together through it all.

10. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints (Last Week: 5)

Stats: 37 catches, 593 yards and six touchdowns

It’s been a hard fall for Graham over the last couple weeks, but there just hasn’t been much to gawk at after a goose egg in New England followed by an off week. He’s still near the top of every relevant receiving category, which keeps him on this list for at least one more week. He could drop off altogether, though, if this foot injury keeps him out for any period of time.

*Just Missed Out: Justin Houston, LB, Chiefs;

**New Additions: Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers; Robert Mathis, DE, Colts;  Frank Gore, RB, 49ers

***Dropped out: Alterraun Verner, CB, Titans (Last Week: 8); Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (Last Week: No. 9); LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (Last Week: 10)

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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