NFL Awards Watch: Brady leads MVP race

When he looks around his huddle these days and barks out the play call, could you blame Tom Brady for wondering, “Who are these guys?” Here’s a quick check of who the Patriots’ franchise quarterback sees staring back at him in New England as Week 7 of the NFL’s regular season looms:

• His running backs at the moment are the little-known or relatively unheralded Danny Woodhead (undrafted free agent), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (undrafted free agent) and Sammy Morris, an 11th-year veteran and former fifth-round pick who has made a fine career out of being a role player. Kevin Faulk is rehabbing a season-ending knee injury, and Fred Taylor can’t seem to stay healthy and in the lineup.

• His receiving corps, now minus future Hall of Famer Randy Moss, is led by slot man Wes Welker (undrafted and coming off ACL surgery), and includes other smallish pass-catchers like converted collegiate quarterback Julian Edelman (7th rounder), the unproven Brandon Tate (who played just two games last year as a rookie), and the recently reacquired Deion Branch (who is 31 and hasn’t logged a 750-yard receiving season since 2005). Promising rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski round out his collection of target.

• His offensive line isn’t exactly a fortress, either. Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins continues to hold out, and his expected replacement, former starting right tackle Nick Kaczur, underwent back surgery in August and won’t play this season. Left guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer entered this season with a combined 13 starts worth of experience in the NFL, and left tackle Matt Light is now in his 10th year of service as a Patriot. 

 And still, Brady and the Patriots are enduring and prospering, sitting 4-1 and in second place in the AFC East after grinding out that tough, 23-20 overtime defeat of visiting Baltimore on Sunday. Is there any other elite quarterback in the league doing more with less at his disposal this season? And don’t try comparing the weapons Peyton Manning gets to use in Indy, where Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai would all instantly upgrade the Patriots roster. Let Brady and Manning switch rosters and see whose numbers rise and whose fall. As his work with the just-arrived Branch on Sunday showed, Brady makes his receivers relevant.

Yep, we’re starting the MVP debate as October winds down, and my vote at the moment belongs to Brady. He may not be at the statistical head of the pack among NFL quarterbacks, but when it comes to deciding his team’s fortunes, he’s the biggest difference-maker there is. Take him out of the lineup, and New England is a third-place team in its division, miles behind both the Jets and Dolphins.

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