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Peyton Manning has made a spectacular return to the NFL after missing all of 2011 with a neck injury.
By the beginning of September, Trout and Cabrera had turned the American League MVP discussion into a two-man race. This year’s NFL MVP discussion, however, is not nearly as clear-cut.
If the voting were held today, Griffin III would have a hard time cracking the top five in a list that includes Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning. While each of those players has a worthy claim to the title, they all have flaws as well.
Peterson has been simply spectacular, leading the NFL in rushing after returning from ACL surgery less than eight months after his injury. But the MVP award tends to favor quarterbacks—the past five winners have been QBs—and his Vikings will have a hard time staying in the playoff race.
Brees is having another wonderful season, leading the NFL in passing touchdowns while bringing the New Orleans Saints back from the abyss following a 0-4 start. Like Peterson, though, Brees’ candidacy will likely be hurt by his team’s inability to make the playoffs with a very challenging closing schedule.
In fact, RGIII could find himself in a situation similar to Miguel Cabrera's, playing on a division winner whose team has a worse record than one or more of his primary competitors for the MVP award.
Ryan appeared to be the front-runner for the NFL’s highest individual honor while leading the Atlanta Falcons to an 8-0 start. But the team has looked shaky at best over the past few weeks, barely pulling out close home games over subpar teams like the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals.
Ryan’s play has been directly responsible for Atlanta’s poor play in those games, with Ryan throwing a combined eight interceptions in those two narrow victories. That’s not the type of play worthy of an MVP.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a strong case for becoming the first back-to-back NFL MVP since Manning achieved the feat following the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He's led the Packers to the top of the NFC North despite major injuries on both sides of the ball.
Like RGIII, Brees and Peterson, Rodger's candidacy will also likely come down to where his team falls in the playoff picture. Nothing is guaranteed for Green Bay competing in a tough NFC North with the Vikings and Chicago Bears.
Brady and Manning are probably the two favorites at this point in the season. While neither of the two previous award winners (four for Manning and two for Brady) has an obvious case against him, RGIII has a clear edge in exceeding expectations.
Brady’s Patriots are coming off a season in which they fell just short of winning the Super Bowl. He’s been impressive in leading New England to an 8-3 start, despite major injuries to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
Brady, however, has the benefit of a much-improved running game, and statistically this is his worst season in the last three years. The Patriots also entered the season with the NFL’s easiest schedule based on the 2011 records of their opponents.
Manning will likely receive all of the sympathetic votes after his miraculous return from a neck injury that kept him sidelined for the entire 2011 season and precipitated his exit out of Indianapolis. His 106.2 passer rating—second only to Rodgers at 107.3—and 24 touchdown passes, and Denver’s 7-3 record are all clear signs that Manning’s days as an elite NFL QB are nowhere near finished.
But if we’re looking at Manning’s value to the Broncos objectively, one can’t help but remember that Denver was a playoff team last year with the considerably less talented Tim Tebow under center. That has to factor into the equation.
Meanwhile, Griffin III played the role of Trout to Andrew Luck’s Bryce Harper in the 2012 NFL. Luck may have entered the league as the more highly touted prospect, but RGIII arguably came in with more pressure to perform immediately.
After the Redskins mortgaged their future in a pre-draft trade with the St. Louis Rams to acquire the No. 3 overall pick, Griffin III was burdened with saving football in the nation’s capital. Luck had the luxury of time on his side, as no one expected the Colts to win many games this season, let alone contend for an AFC playoff spot.
Some may point to Indianapolis’ 6-4 record as a reason why Luck, not RGIII, should be the rookie QB garnering MVP consideration. While the Colts have been a surprising and inspiring story, Luck is still 28th in the NFL in traditional passer rating, even if his 75.3 Total QBR exceeds Griffin III’s 72.1 mark.
The win-loss records will ultimately play a huge role in the MVP race. I’m betting that RGIII and the Redskins will end up ahead of Luck and the Colts when the regular season has ended.