Narratives, even more than performance, drive awards voting in sports. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has arguably the greatest narrative in the NFL right now, so it would have to be a shocking upset if he didn't win the AP NFL MVP Award for the fifth time in his career (he already has the record with four).
Beyond the narrative, Manning has the numbers through nine games that warrant him being in the MVP conversation. He is completing 69.7 percent of his passes, second in the NFL.
Manning is also in the top five in passing yards (2,705), yards per attempt (8.20), touchdown passes (21), completions (230) and quarterback rating (108.0). By every statistical measure, Manning is having one of his best seasons.
Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News recently wrote that Manning's comeback season has been the best of his storied career:
How Manning affects every aspect of his team makes him special. He is as demanding of his teammates as he is commanding, and his preparation and work ethic have been ideal to rub off on a Broncos roster loaded with a lot of hungry, talented youth.
Peyton Manning couldn't have found a better place than Denver to write his next chapter, and it's quickly headed toward a storybook ending.
First, Manning had to miss all of last season due to multiple neck surgeries that left his future very much in doubt. He was one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But at age 36, could he endure a lost season, physical rehab and still be the quarterback we all remembered?
The answer to that question is, at least through nine games, a resounding yes.
Second, Manning is putting up numbers for a first-place team. While MVP voting based on team records is, to me, not the proper way to determine the award, it is easy to see why the voting populace falls in love with playoff teams.
After all, it is hard to sell a narrative for a player whose team wasn't playing in the postseason or even close to getting in. We have to think about these poor writers when voting, after all.
The Broncos started the season slowly, which can be attributed to a brutal schedule that included games against Pittsburgh, at Atlanta, against Houston, at New England and against New Orleans.
Since losing to the Patriots on Oct. 7, the Broncos have been on fire. They are 4-0 and have outscored their opponents 136-75, scoring more than 30 points in each game.
The closest competition to Manning in the MVP race right now appears to be Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. Certainly, you can make a compelling case for either player and not get much argument against them.
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But Manning separates himself because of the level of consistency that he plays with each week. Manning has had seven games this season in which he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes; Ryan has had four.
Manning and Ryan are tied with seven games of at least two touchdown passes, but Ryan has thrown at least one interception in five games. Manning has only turned the ball over in three games.
Peterson has the narrative and the performance to match Manning, as he came back seemingly way too early from a torn ACL at the end of last season. Now, he leads the league in rushing with 1,128 yards. His 5.8 yards per attempt are the most of any running back with at least 100 carries.
The problem Peterson will have is convincing people to vote for a player whose team may not make the playoffs. Although they are 6-4, they have five games against Green Bay, Chicago and Houston in the last six weeks of the season.
Manning's schedule is much easier, with only two games left against teams with winning records (Tampa Bay in Week 13 and Baltimore in Week 15). The story is set up for Manning to walk away from this, his comeback season, with a fifth MVP award.
All Manning has to do is not mess up, and the trophy is already in the bag.