Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/19/12
Thanksgiving is just a few days away, which is awesome, especially if you  like copious amounts of family, food, booze and football, and not necessarily in that order. The Turkey Day week is huge in those aspects, and it’s also huge in the NFL. Tom Brady and the Patriots, the best team in the second half of just about every season for the last decade or so, know that better than just about anyone. “Coach always says football season doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving,” Brady said recently, reaffirming the notion that the Pats — and the rest of the NFL — are about to enter the most important part of the season. This is where teams separate themselves from each other, and it’s also where players step up and lead their teams to the postseason. It’s where players prove how valuable. But who’s the most valuable? Funny you should ask. Maybe the first installment of the NFL MVP power rankings can help you with that. Here we go. 1. Aaron Rodgers — Green Bay Packers quarterback We’ll start by mentioning that this race, like just about every other race in the NFL right now, is wide open. The top three or so MVP contenders can really go in any order. But we’re going with the reigning MVP to open up the power rankings, and it’s because what Rodgers has done with a depleted offense that’s most impressive. He’s the league’s top-rated passer despite missing two of his best receivers for periods of time. Greg Jennings remains out following his sports hernia surgery, and Jordy Nelson returned Sunday from an ankle injury. Not only that, no one has been sacked more than Rodgers this season. Despite missing his top two targets and spending way too much time on the turf, Rodgers still has that league-leading 107.3 passer rating on the strength of 27 touchdowns and six interceptions. The Packers have won five straight, and Rodgers has tossed 17 touchdown passes (including a game-winner against the Lions on Sunday) and just two interceptions. 2. Peyton Manning — Denver Broncos quarterback The elder Manning has been very impressive this season. He’s been even more impressive when you consider he’s a year removed from surgery (fusion surgery on his neck) and he’s playing with a new team. Despite that, Manning looks like his old self, throwing touchdowns and selling Buicks to the tune of a 106.2 passer rating. Because of Manning’s play, the Broncos are among the best teams in football, having won five straight, just like the Packers. It’s really a toss-up between Rodgers and Manning here, and with a relatively easy schedule to go, Manning could inflate his numbers down the stretch and leapfrog Rodgers. 3. Tom Brady — New England Patriots quarterback This is No. 12′s time of the year. Brady has been virtually unbeatable as the weather gets colder, posting a combined career record of 69-16 in November and December for his career. He’s also thrown 155 touchdowns and just 56 interceptions in that time as well. He’ll get a chance to show off once again as fall turns to winter this season, with back-to-back primetime, marquee matchups — Houston and San Francisco — both left on the schedule. There’s also the injury to tight end Rob Gronkowski,which can mean one of two things to Brady’s MVP push. It either means his numbers dip a little bit or he steps up and carries the team into the playoffs with more stellar play down the stretch. A lot of the latter could earn Brady yet another MVP trophy. 4. Matt Ryan — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Two weeks ago, Ryan was the consensus No. 1 choice for MVP, and just about everyone had him as their halfway MVP. That makes sense, of course, considering Ryan was putting up damn good numbers for an undefeated Falcons team. He’s sliding hard now, at least in terms of MVP consideration, after a couple of rough weeks. Ryan surpassed the 3,000-yard mark on Sunday, but that was about the only good thing that came from his performance, aside from the win. The Boston College alum threw five interceptions (admittedly not all his fault), and the Falcons just barely got by the Cardinals in Atlanta. They weren’t as lucky last week, though, when the Falcons lost to the Saints in the Superdome. In Ryan’s defense, he played pretty well against an atrocious Saints pass defense in the losing effort. Of course, if the Falcons run the table the rest of the way and enter the playoffs as the NFC’s No. 1 seed, it could mean that Ryan jumps back up toward the top of this list. 5. Adrian Peterson — Minnesota Vikings running back Peterson is an absolute monster, and for that, he deserves some MVP consideration. He’s one year removed from surgery, and he has already returned to reclaim the title of the best running back in football. Percy Harvin had emerged in some people’s eyes as a darkhorse MVP candidate, but that has kind of slowed down some. What hasn’t slowed, however, is the production of Peterson, the league’s leading rusher — by 123 yards. The biggest thing working against Peterson, of course, is the fact that he gets paid to run the football, not throw it. This would be a good time to remind you that a running back hasn’t won the award since 2006 when LaDainian Tomlinson brought home the hardware. Most Valuable Notes: Houston’s J.J. Watt has been the best defensive player in the league, and he could make a case for the trophy as well. However, his numbers have slipped some since his freakish beginning to the season, which makes sense, as he becomes a focal point of the opposing offensive attack. … Speaking of Texans, Arian Foster is a touchdown machine, and he’s a couple of big games from entering the Top 5 …

This article first appeared on NESN.com and was syndicated with permission.

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