The Vikings' second-year running back now leads the league with 1,015 yards rushing and could extend that lead this weekend if Washington's Clinton Portis doesn't play because of an injury. And with four consecutive 100-yard games – and six this season – Peterson being a MVP candidate is not only viable, he has to be considered one of the leaders.
In the history of the Associated Press MVPs, which started with Jim Brown being named in 1957, the award has been shared three times. That left 33 quarterbacks getting the award, 16 running backs, two linebackers, one defensive end, one defensive tackle and one kicker.
"Peterson, very quietly, is having an outstanding season. In fact, you can make a case for him showing improvement over his fantastic rookie campaign," said Scout.com NFL analyst Adam Caplan. "He seems to be showing a little more patience and he's doing a better job of setting up his blockers."
After setting the NFL single-game rushing mark as a rookie with 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers and being named MVP of the Pro Bowl, Peterson's accomplishments aren't quiet anymore. He nearly hit the 200-yard mark for the third time in his career with a 196-yard performance against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and people around the league are well aware of him, according to former Vikings running backs coach Dean Dalton, who still follows the league closely.
"He's already opened up National Football League eyes among peers and coaches with his production. … There's no question," Dalton said. "If he puts this franchise on his back like he did (against the Packers) and singlehandedly finishes like he did in the Green Bay game to secure that win, without question he won the game. If they make playoffs, then he will (win the MVP award). If they don't make the playoffs, even if he posts great numbers, I don't think he'll become the MVP. He'll be a great player on an underachieving team."
Peterson admitted that he had a little more motivation against Green Bay. The Vikings needed a win to stay in solid contention for the NFC North division title and they were playing against their most intense rival.
"It was an intense game. My competitiveness is off the charts, so when I'm out there I'm definitely trying to do whatever I can to keep the guys motivated and keep myself motivated," Peterson said. "I just try to keep guys pumped up during the game. What better game to do it than against Green Bay – a big rivalry game and a game we needed, a big divisional game?"
Since Peterson was drafted No. 7 overall in 2007, he has found a fan in former Vikings running back Chuck Foreman. During Peterson's rookie training camp, Foreman liked what he saw in Peterson's skills, but his admiration seems to be growing with each passing performance.
"I think he's got an excellent shot at being MVP," Foreman said this week. "I don't want to put a jinx on the kid, but he's having a great year. He's getting stronger and stronger as the year goes on and everybody's getting worn down.
"Did you notice when he goes to the sideline he's not even breathing hard? He's ‘All Day.' If he continues to do that and stays healthy, with Chester (Taylor) in there giving him a break, they've got a perfect tandem."
No doubt Peterson – by all accounts an excellent teammate, a hard worker and humble person – has his teammates pulling for him.
"I hope he wins it. We still have a lot of football left to play, but if he keeps playing like he's playing and the offensive line keeps paving the way for him – and a lot of stuff he's just doing on his own – if he continues that, he has a strong case for being the MVP," said offensive lineman Artis Hicks. "Just one on one, man on man – if you look at what he's done and you look at what everybody else has done as far as statistics, I don't know of anybody standing up to him right now."
Several of the experts weighed in on that topic, as well.
Dalton took a team-by-team approach among the NFL playoff contenders at this point in the season. The conclusion was that Peterson has a great chance to win the award if he stays healthy and productive – and if the Vikings can get into the playoffs
"With the MVP, you need to look at who's helping their team succeed, who is doing what Peterson did last week over the course of the season?" Dalton said.
The NFC East could produce several playoff teams, but the issue with many of the top teams is that it's difficult to decide who is even the most valuable player on that team. With the Eagles, it is Donovan McNabb or Brian Westbrook – and is either of them up to being the MVP of the league? With the Giants, it's the same issue. Eli Manning or Brandon Jacobs, especially with Jacobs having two other running backs to help him? The Redskins could make a strong case for Clinton Portis, who trails Peterson in rushing yardage but led the league before Washington's bye week and Peterson's big game against the Packers. In the NFC South, Atlanta's Matt Ryan will probably the be the rookie of the year, but it would difficult to name him the league MVP in his rookie season, especially with a new coaching staff and a running back that are helping orchestrate an impressive reversal of fortunes in Atlanta.
In Tampa Bay, Jeff Garcia has had his moments but isn't MVP caliber. With Carolina, is it Jake Delhomme or one of his two running backs sparking their success?
In fact, the MVP favorite in the NFC South seems to be New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has already thrown for 2,985 yards, but his team is at the bottom of the division with a 4-5 record.
"He would have a shot from a numbers standpoint," said former Vikings linebackers coach Pete Bercich, who is the Vikings radio color analyst. "If Brees goes out and breaks the passing record for the season, does he by default get it? That's why I say, ‘How do you define an MVP?' If it goes to the player who just had the best season, then, yeah, Brees would be a guy. But if you take it for what its surface is – the most valuable player – then I think A.P. has got a shot. I do really believe that a lot is going to be on how we end the season."
Dalton named his top contender for Peterson.
"I'm very impressed with Kurt Warner in Arizona. They're 6-3 and his leadership and his performances and production have been great and they're winning. That's the difference. If you look at all the stats with Drew Brees, they're not winning," Dalton said.
With quarterbacks winning the award more than 61 percent of the time, it would seem that if it's not Portis or Peterson, it would be a quarterback.
"We know that position is usually given a lot of credit for the improvement of a team," Caplan said. "In Warner's case, it can be argued that without him behind center, Arizona had no chance to make the playoffs or win their division."
And Thursday night's game with Brett Favre bringing the Jets into first place in the competitive AFC East, the three-time winner of the award (1995-1997) might just enter the conversation again, more than 10 years after he last won it with the Green Bay Packers.
"If the Jets take over that division, then look at Favre. Wouldn't that be something?" said Dalton.
But for many teams around the league – including the undefeated Tennessee Titans, and other AFC contenders like the Patriots, Steelers and Ravens – there isn't one clear-cut MVP on the team. For the Vikings, it seems certain that Peterson is the most valuable.
With 49 of the 54 past MVPs being a quarterback or running back, it seem highly likely this year's MVP will come from one of those two positions. So why not Peterson, who is becoming more of a leader for the Vikings?
"You lead when your actions are visible by others," said Vikings coach Brad Childress, who added that Peterson's abilities have allowed him to remain at the top of his position despite defenses concentrating on him. "There is not any Xs or O that allows him to outrun somebody or outjuke somebody or run somebody over. That's Adrian being Adrian."
Sounds like a serious MVP candidate.
"He has a good frame of mind. Is he happy about it? No. Is he a woe-is-me guy? No. Does he want to play? Yeah," Childress said. "So he will do everything in his power to put himself in a position (to play)."