Who is the NFL’s midseason MVP?

There are probably two tiers of players I hear mentioned the most. First, it’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and DeMarco Murray. Then, it’s Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and JJ Watt. Check out the ESPN.com post where all the division writers pick their midseason MVP, and you’ll see they have Tom Brady getting the honors, with 16 or 32 votes.

But they’re all wrong.

Well, almost all of them – one writer got it right. The correct answer, the man you should be picking as the hypothetical (but still very important!) NFL midseason MVP is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If you were wondering, Lions writer Michael Rothstein got it right. I suppose, being a Lions reporter, you become pretty adept at looking outside your team for the league MVP, but hey, that’s neither here nor there.

Rothstein picked up on what so many other NFL writers, fans and pundits seem to have missed, what should be staring them right in the face: Big Ben is playing the best football of his career and producing the best numbers of his career, and he’s doing it in the toughest division in football.

Manning? He could go weapon-for-weapon with the U.S. military. And Brady was almost sent packing after Kansas City’s 41-14 beat down of the Patriots at Gillete. Fine, give him Offensive MVP if you want, but this is not the MVP Brady of old. Everyone’s in love with his 18 touchdowns and one interception over the past five games, but everyone’s forgetting that he also has that guy on the sideline coaching who’s one of the best ever. Brady played well against the Broncos on Sunday, but it was Belichick’s defense that got two interceptions out of Manning – as his defenses so often do – not Brady.

Roethlisberger has a young (some would say infantile) receiving core. Besides Antonio Brown – don’t you worry, I’m coming back to him – Big Ben had a bunch of question marks entering the season. To add insult to injury, Emmanuel Sanders left for Denver in the offseason, where he’s become a Pro Bowler. And remember, this isn’t your dad’s ground-and-pound, Steel Curtain Steelers; the 2014 Steelers rely on Big Ben’s right arm. The rushing attack is 13th, and the defense is 15th overall. But Roethlisberger has carried them to a tie for first place in the AFC North. At 32, he’s thrown for 22 touchdowns against just three interceptions, he’s thrown one interception since Week 3 and his completion percentage – 68.3 percent – is both the highest it’s ever been and higher than Brady and Manning’s this season. That’s while increasing his average throw from 7.86 to 8.05 yards. Oh, and he’s done all that while being sacked 23 times, more than either Brady or Manning.

And you want to talk about Brady’s impressive five-game streak? How about Big Ben’s NFL record: Roethlisberger threw six touchdowns in back to back games, the first time that’s ever been done. He also became the only NFL quarterback to throw for two 500-yard games. Now is when we bring Antonio Brown back into the conversation, because he’s certainly important to this discussion. Together, Roethlisberger and Brown are channeling 2007’s Brady to Moss connection, pushing each other to new heights. While Roethlisberger has had his record setting days in 2014, Brown is leading the league in catches (71) and receiving yards (996). There’s no question they’re helping each other, but before you attribute Roethlisberger’s season to Brown, remember that Big Ben has also hooked up with rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant for five touchdowns, just three fewer than Brown. The Steelers QB knows how to share the wealth.

Big Ben won’t get the recognition he deserves because he’s not one of America’s favorite players. None of the Steelers are. All the other MVP candidates rank in the top 20 in jersey sales, but not Roethlisberger. Turns out the MVP may be more of a popularity contest than anyone’s willing to admit. Too bad.