Too bad for Peyton Manning. He's having a heck of a year after missing last season with a neck injury that required numerous surgeries and a long rehab. That's impressive.
Just not as impressive as what Adrian Peterson has done, which makes Peterson a no-brainer Comeback Player of the Year front-runner and, in my mind, front-runner for the NFL MVP award.
I'm not the only one to think so by a long shot, and I'm also not just talking about Viking fans or NFC North fans.
The folks at ESPN's Stats & Info department have done a little comparison shopping between Peterson and Manning as well, and at least one of them is fully in Peterson's corner.
John McTigue cites AP's 112.8 yards rushing per game and a career-high average of 5.8 yards per carry. McTigue also points out that only three players in the history of the NFL—some little-known guys named Barry Sanders, O.J. Simpson and Jim Brown—have maintained those averages for a season.
Here's the real impressive part though, in McTigue's own words:
The fact that Peterson is flirting with history less than a year after tearing his ACL and MCL should be enough to make him the top comeback story this season.....
What Peterson has done is unprecedented. That's not hyperbole, considering the speed of his rehab, the return of his game at the highest level, and the ability to beat eight men in a box (which ESPN points out he has faced 57 times this year, or 29 percent of his carries) and yet still average 2.8 yards after contact, the second best in the NFL thus year (again, according to the ESPN article).
By the way, that 57 times he's seen eight men? That's the most in the league.
That simply doesn't happen when you tear both an ACL and MCL. You don't come back nine months later with the same spring in your step as arguably the best running back in the NFL. You lose speed (he didn't), strength (clearly he didn't) and the ability to cut (still has it).
You don't regularly beat eight-man boxes, and you don't outrun folks on a regular basis.
From a physical standpoint, Peterson is much better off than Manning, and it's not even a contest. Manning's arm strength has slipped a little (though is still outstanding), and he has lost a step or two.
The surgery Manning has had is supposed to have made his neck (and body) stronger, whereas Peterson's surgery is the type that ends careers on a regular basis, or at least severely limits them.
Peterson is having a career-best season less than a year after surgery, during what is already arguably a Hall of Fame career.
Now, some will say, "Andrew, without Manning the Broncos aren't in front of the AFC West. He's the reason they look so good! Peterson doesn't carry his team like Manning does!"
Let's put these arguments to rest, shall we?
All the Broncos need to be is competent and they should destroy that division. Now, would Tebow or another quarterback be able to help raise the Broncos above that mess? I think it's safe to say it's likely, especially with a defense ranked sixth in the league overall, 11th versus the pass and 10th against the run.
This is not to dismiss the impact of Manning. As ESPN's article points out, Manning is playing very well. He's in the top five of multiple passing categories and, with the exception of the Atlanta game hiccup, has been very accurate. It can also be argued that he has elevated both Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas' games, though I might point out that many people expected former first-rounder Thomas to blow up at some point with a proper quarterback.
He has, without a doubt, been important to the Broncos, clearly the best free agency acquisition this year.
I would argue, though, that without Adrian Peterson's steady presence in the backfield, the Vikings don't have the wins they have right now and an outside shot at a playoff spot.
Don't agree? Will you point to the losses that have happened despite Peterson's big games?
What about the losses for the Broncos then? Against New England, Manning threw for 345 yards and a trio of touchdowns, but the Broncos lost 31-21. When they lost to Houston, he threw for 330 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
So, in those cases, what? He was a waste?
No, like Peterson, he played well but ultimately couldn't win the game on his own because the NFL is a team league. No one man wins or loses a game on a wide level. Defenses, other offensive players, officials—all of them let both Manning and Peterson down more than once this season.
In the end though, the Vikings would just miss Peterson more.
You only need to look at Christian Ponder's struggles to get a sense of how vital the ability to hand it off to a back of Peterson's caliber is.
Ponder has struggled tremendously over the last month or so, but one thing the offense can always count on despite teams knowing it is coming on most downs is Peterson gaining positive yards.
Like Manning, Peterson cannot win games on his own. Oh, they can both win a series, a down, a span of 10 or eight or two minutes, but not an entire game.
However, when things go crazy and everything is a mess, Peterson is just as valuable as Manning, and arguably more, because he can be counted on to keep things moving, to break tackles, make people miss and generally advance the chains.
Lose or win, Peterson makes a huge difference, and there is no way the Vikings are where they are with Toby Gerhart, as much as I like him. I'd wager that without Peterson, the Vikings drop games to several of the teams they beat, more than likely San Francisco at the top of the list.
The Niners game is a great example of what Peterson means even without huge stats. That game, the Vikings ran Peterson straight at the teeth of the San Francisco defense over, and over, and over again until the defense was gassed and beaten.
You can impose your will on a team via the ground game, and that is exactly what Peterson allows you to do—and what the Vikings did to one of the best defenses in the league.
Speaking of the idea that Manning has made more of a difference in the win/loss column than Peterson, I think we need to take a short look at those numbers.
The Broncos are 6-3 while the Vikings are 6-4, and the AFC in general, and AFC West in particular, are far weaker than the NFC and NFC North. It's not even close.
Which is the NFL MVP?
So it's not as if the Broncos are 8-1 here in a tough division or pounding out wins against top teams compared to the Vikings.
In fact, if we compare wins, I'll take the Vikings' victory over the Niners over any of the Broncos' wins, and yes, that includes Pittsburgh.
At the end of the day, it is a pleasure to watch both Manning and Peterson play football, and both have come back from injuries we weren't sure they could.
Manning is clearly a vital player for the Broncos—just not more vital than Peterson is to the Vikings. In the world of NFL MVP voting, the quarterback usually gets the edge because the perception is he means more.
If things remain the same for both teams for the rest of the season and the voters hand the award to Manning, it will be a huge injustice.
Manning is having a tremendous season.
Just not as tremendous as Peterson's, given what each has had to overcome and each has to work with.
Manning deserves an award.
It should just be the Comeback Player of the Year, not the MVP.
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