It is the great debate of the early portion of 2013 – who is going to be named NFL Most Valuable Player?
If the All-Pro team means anything, it's a two-man race between Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning. Had votes not been cast after the final week of the regular season, given Manning's mess Saturday night in an overtime loss to the Ravens, perhaps the result would be different. But the votes are sealed and won't be revealed until the night before the Super Bowl. The only certainty is that neither Peterson nor Manning will have a playing conflict to accept the award when he wins it.
But the debate will rage in the coming weeks as to who is more deserving. A case can be made for both, especially when you consider that quarterbacks are typically the dominant factor in MVP selection. When it's Peyton Manning, that bar is raised even higher.
If forced to file a legal brief on behalf of Manning, a case can be made that even purple and gold face painters would have to give due diligence in consideration. He had multiple neck surgeries. Like Brett Favre in 2009, he felt he still had some good football left in him and, boy howdy, was he right after he was abandoned by his former team. He led his new team to the best record in the NFL at 13-3 (tied with Atlanta) and what he accomplished with new teammates and a new coaching staff can't be disregarded.
Manning didn't finish first in any statistical category, but he finished high in all – seventh in attempts (583), sixth in completions (400), second in completion percentage (68.6), sixth in yards (4,659), second in average gain per pass (7.99 yards), third in touchdowns (37), fourth in touchdown percentage (6.3), tied for 10th in interceptions (11), tied for sixth in interception percentage (1.9) and second in passer rating (105.8).
It may be that last stat (nobody outside of Bristol accepts the QBR as a standard of measure) that gets Manning the award. Manning's passer rating was second to Aaron Rodgers' 108.0 – although all that got him Saturday was a seat at the Super Bowl party table next to Manning. If compared to the elements that make up a passer rating, Manning finished higher than Rodgers in five of those categories. Considering he missed all of the 2011 season, the Colts gave up on him and he came back to be the only QB other than the reigning league MVP to finish in the top 10 in every statistical category at his position is not only admirable, it's almost unprecedented. Given his position and a year's worth of rust that not only needed to be shaken off, but shaken off with a new collection of receivers, what Manning accomplished was MVP-worthy.
Peterson's defense attorneys would argue that the reason Manning opted to play with the Broncos, a team that made the playoffs in 2011, was because he knew his offensive line was going to be good enough that he wouldn't take a beating. In 16 starts, he was sacked just 21 times. He left several games this season with a clean jersey. Peterson was the object of defensive players with bad intentions every time he got his hands on the ball, which, for the record, was 388 times.
With a chance to lay out their case, A.P's legal team can make an argument that even if Peterson hadn't undergone career-threatening surgery seven months before he made his return, his dominance would have garnered MVP chatter. Factoring his surgery into the equation, what he accomplished is epic.
He came just nine yards short of the all-time single-season rushing record. It should be mentioned that Eric Dickerson's 2,105-yard season came on 31 more carries. Seeing as lawyers are involved, it should also be noted that O.J. Simpson hit two-grand in 14 games.
Obviously, Peterson won the 2012 rushing title, but it was how he did it that made his feat more impressive. He distanced himself from his closest competition by a whopping 484 yards – a numbing 23 percent more than any other running back in the league. He led the league in yards per carry at 6.0 – a number typically reserved for speed backs that break off their runs when eight snarling defenders with untoward thoughts are perched in the proverbial box.
If the NFL has a covert side (No! Not the NFL?), it will find a way to rig the balloting so that Peterson and Manning can share the MVP award – the league already did that once with Manning when he shared the award with Steve McNair under highly suspicious accounting practices.
If the Broncos hadn't signed Manning, they probably would have still made the playoffs – even with Saint Timothy. They exceeded expectations (in the regular season anyway). Just as the Broncos would have likely replicated their 2011 season without Manning, the Vikings could have easily replicated their 2011 season without A.P. Let's do the math. A 10-6 team improved by three games with a new quarterback. A 3-13 team improved by seven games with a franchise player deemed dead and done in running back terms. Who wins?
We'll find out Super Bowl eve.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.