The simple fact that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is in the NFL Most Valuable Player conversation through Week 12 of the regular season is an accomplishment, considering where he stood last offseason.
No NFL player has taken the league by storm this season more so than Manning, which makes him the odds-on favorite to win the award right now. Though, we've seen what one awful week can do to your MVP argument (looking at you, Matt Ryan).
The ball is certainly in Peyton's court and a strong finish to the season would lock up his unprecedented fifth MVP award. But it wouldn't hurt to have some of his elite contenders struggle down the stretch.
Let's take a look at what Manning can do through the rest of the season that would lock up the 2012 MVP award.
Finish With 8-plus Yards Per Catch and 68-plus Percent Completion
Manning has been known to tear up the stat sheet with unheralded efficiency, and this year's indication of that is as strong as ever.
Right now, the Broncos gunslinger has completed 68.5 percent of his passes for an average of exactly eight yards per completion. Those numbers are absurd for any quarterback, much less one who is also in the top 10 in pass attempts (372).
As if Manning doesn't have enough of a "wow" factor to influence voters with his recent neck injuries and long road back to the playing field, these jaw-dropping numbers will do even more for his case as the NFL's best player. But he has to keep it up, as one poor game would likely sink his numbers down below competitors such as Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Also, with the recent loss of top running back Willis McGahee (h/t CBS Sports), Manning's influence on the Denver offense will be as critical as ever. That brings us to the next point.
Take Willis McGahee Replacement Project Into Own Hands
As stated earlier, the Broncos lost their obvious starter at running back when McGahee was placed on injured reserve this week. This makes the road ahead even tougher for Manning and company, as McGahee gave this offense balance and allowed them to sustain drives.
As if he didn't have enough weight on his surgically-repaired neck to begin with, he now has to hold the running game together or put the priority into his own hands.
Obviously, Peyton isn't just going to start pounding the rock himself. By "taking it into his own hands," I mean setting up more opportunities for short passes and getting his backfield involved in the short passing game. With former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno likely gaining more playing time from this recent news, he could help pick up production in that department.
Moreno has lost the trust of a lot of people in Denver, so he'll have to earn his way back to 10-plus carries per contest. But if he can show elusiveness and pick up short yards on dump passes and check downs, it could go a long way toward replacing McGahee.
Have Statement Game Against Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 16
As the Broncos sit at 7-3 and their AFC West counterpart San Diego is staring at a 4-6 record, it's safe to say that Denver has the division all but wrapped up. Add that to upcoming games against Oakland, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and two against Kansas City and it makes it tough to formulate a scenario where the Broncos don't notch a first-round bye in the AFC.
But Manning has already proved this season that he can dominate against middle-tier and bottom feeding teams. Where he's struggled this season? Against the elite teams, such as the Houston Texans, New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.
These are exactly the types of teams Peyton's Broncos will be forced to scrap with come January, and if they don't prepare themselves for that accordingly, they might as well give up now.
Fortunately, there's one elite team still on their schedule: the Baltimore Ravens on the road. John Harbaugh's squad is, along with Denver, in the class of the AFC and part of a small portion of teams with a real chance of getting to the Super Bowl.
Plus, we all know the perils of playing that suffocating defense. And it wasn't too long ago that Manning threw three first-half interceptions against Atlanta.
Stats are great, and a player's impact on his team is even better, but if he can't be counted on to win big games like this then it puts a major dent in his value. If Manning continues to look strong this season and comes up with a big road win against the class of the AFC, his fifth MVP is on the way.
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