One of the pre-Super Bowl topics that won't involve the Harbaugh brothers is who will win the league's MVP award. As things currently stand, the race would appear to be between Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning. They've been the frontrunners for the last couple months and nothing has changed despite both of them exiting the playoffs in their first game. But, despite votes being taken before the playoffs began, as the clock ticks down to the announcement, the debate continues to heat up.
Perhaps the bigger question in the MVP debate should be how does one define Most Valuable Player? If the criteria are based on where would that player's team be without them, it would appear to be lopsided in Peterson's favor. The Broncos were a playoff team before Manning arrived. The Vikings were 3-13. Denver showed marked offensive improvement, but the seven-game improvement the Vikings showed despite posting similar offensive numbers is a testament to Peterson's ability to elevate his team.
However, the unasked question is this: Where would another team be if they had either Peterson or Manning? There's no doubting that Manning is an elite quarterback, but, when he became available last spring after being released by the Indianapolis Colts, the market for Manning was almost immediately reduced to a handful of teams. Coming into the season, many more teams were comfortable with their QB spot and, given the choice between an over-aged Manning against what they have moving forward, a case could be made that 20 or more teams wouldn't take Manning over what they already have. When it comes to Peterson, it's a much different story.
When one looks at the playoff teams, where would Atlanta be if the Falcons had A.P. in the backfield? Or Green Bay? Or New England? Or Denver? The matchup in the Super Bowl would likely be much different if any of those teams had Peterson on their roster. In a quarterback-driven league, elite running backs have been few and far between. Eight of the top 12 rushers played for teams that made the playoffs. Eight of the top 12 quarterbacks in terms of passer rating also made the playoffs, but six of those QBs were teams that also had a running back in the top 12 in rushing.
In the end, Manning is just as likely to win the award as Peterson – despite not leading the league in any individual statistical category. He had a great season without a doubt, but he wasn't dominant in comparison to his peers. He was sixth in yards, third in TD passes and second in passer rating. Not only did Peterson lead the league in rushing, he had more than 450 yards more than his closest competitor and averaged a full yard or more per carry than every running back other than Jamaal Charles among league qualifiers.
When the NFL conducts its NFL Honors awards the night before the Super Bowl, Peterson and Manning will take center stage. While many will point to the level of success the two players had and where their respective teams would have finished without them, what should be discussed is where would other elite teams have finished if they had Peterson or Manning in their own offensive backfield? More than half the league wouldn't have considered making a change and, even in hindsight, wouldn't make the switch if it was offered. Can the same be said for Peterson? Not a chance, which is why, if you need an argument to support the case for A.P. as MVP, Peterson should hear his name announced Feb. 2 as the league's 2012 Most Valuable Player.
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.