With only five games remaining in the NFL's regular season, fans and analysts alike begin to wonder which player will be named the 2012 League MVP. This year, there are a number of players having tremendous, award-worthy seasons.
There are the "usuals," such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, each with a trophy (or trophies) already to their names. There are the leaders of the next generation, such as Matt Ryan and JJ Watt, who have proved to be a vital part of their teams' success. There are even running backs who, despite the position's recent devaluing, have made an indelible mark on their 2012 squads.
Most interestingly are the rookies who have taken their individual teams to heights few could have expected. They are the future of the sport but may be even more important to the current state of the NFL than the pre-Draft analysts and imagined.
These are the top 10 candidates for the NFL's Most Valuable Player award.
Laugh now, but there may be no one player more important to the success (or failure) of his team than Jay Cutler. He missed time in two games, and, in those games, the Bears were held to a grand total of 13 points and the passing game was nearly non-existent, racking up only 201 total yards through the air.
In his first game back, Jay lead the Bears to a 18-point victory over division rival Minnesota. His numbers are not indicative of a traditional NFL MVP but the spark he provides to the team has fueled it to a 13-2 record with him as quarterback over the last two seasons.
And while the offensive line continues to be an issue, and Cutler’s tendency to have interception-heavy games could still haunt the team as it nears the playoffs, there is no denying that the entire Chicago squad looks different with No. 6 under center.
Since entering the league just one year ago, Watt has proven himself to be an unstoppable force for the Texans’ imposing front seven. He has 20 sacks in two seasons, 14.5 of which have come in only 11 games this season.
Perhaps more impressively is the fact that Watt has made a tremendous impact in pass defense as well. He has 17 passes defended and has been a terror at the line of scrimmage for opposing quarterbacks.
Watt re-injected himself in the MVP picture with an impressive performance against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, securing five tackles and three sacks of quarterback Matt Stafford.
With only five games remaining and a defensive unit that has shown some weaknesses over the last two weeks against Detroit and Jacksonville, Watt will be a vital part of Houston’s attempt to reach the Super Bowl, a game most thought they should have played in last year.
The rookie phenom formerly known as “Muscle Hamster” has shredded opposing defenses for 1050 rushing yards and another 332 through the air.
The first-year player out of Boise State has rejuvenated the Buccaneers' offense and helped take a team most expected to be slightly better than last year and turned them into a playoff contender.
In the day where the running back position is constantly being devalued because of the pass-happy nature of the League, the fact that Martin has had as much sustained success is surprising.
With that said, if the Bucs hope to make it past the tough challenges of division foes, Atlanta and New Orleans, they will have to rely heavily on their rookie tailback, and the spark he brings to both the running game and the passing game.
In only a few short seasons, the undrafted Arian Foster has become the centerpiece of a very good Houston Texans offense.
In his fourth season, Foster has never averaged less-than four yards a carry, and, since 2010, he has yet to score less-than 10 touchdowns on the ground. He has also shown a knack for catching the ball out of the backfield, amassing 1436 yards through the air since 2009.
Through 11 games this season, Foster has piled up 1064 rushing yards, 122 receiving yards, 12 rushing touchdowns and two receiving scores.
Matt Schaub’s play may be equally as important but the Texans are a ground-and-pound football team, and Foster is key to that formula succeeding.
The return of Peterson to the field earlier this fall was considered improbable, but his level of play has been downright magical.
Powering a Minnesota offense that struggles to move the ball down the field through the air, he has put the team on his shoulders and carried it for 1236 yards and 7 TDs. He is averaging a stunning 5.8 yards a carry and is, far and away, the best running back in the NFL.
With Green Bay and Chicago ahead of them in the NFC North, the Vikings’ chances of making the playoffs appear slim as we enter Week 13.
For the team to remain in the hunt, Peterson must continue to be the focal point of the offense and, if by some chance Minnesota does secure a spot in the postseason, Peterson’s play will be a large reason why.
Prior to the game against Arizona in Week 11, Ryan was one of the two top contenders for this season’s Most Valuable Player award. Since stepping on the field against a Cardinals’ defense that is tougher than most realize, Ryan has thrown 6 INTs to only 1 TD.
Ryan ranks second in the League with 3425 yards, and is in the top ten in terms of passing TDs with 21. Those stats are spectacular but for “Matty Ice” to truly be considered one of the League’s elite players, he cannot have a sudden drop-off in numbers and his play, as we approach the postseason.
One of the most common knocks against the Falcons’ franchise QB has been his inability to perform at a high level in the playoffs. A 10-1 record through 11 games, and a second-ranked passing attack will not mean a thing, if he and the team, once again, stumble when the games mean most.
There were those who had questions about RGIII coming out of Baylor.
They questioned whether or not he could be an effective quarterback in the National Football League, especially since so many of the dual-threat quarterbacks to come out of the NCAA had proven to be busts.
Others questioned whether one year’s worth of work at Baylor was worth a second overall pick, and the faith a franchise would have to have in him to make him their franchise quarterback.
A 67.5 completion percentage, 2,504 passing yards, 642 rushing yards, 16 passing TDs, and 6 rushing TDs later, as well as the complete domination of division rivals, Dallas and Philadelphia, and you have the making of a true superstar in the nation’s capitol.
Griffin has lived for the big play and has become a fixture in the highlight reel shows on ESPN and the NFL Network. The energy he has brought to a once-lethargic Washington Redskins offense has rejuvenated the organization, and has it thinking playoffs for the first time in years.
Of course, for that to happen, RGIII will have to do the one thing he has yet to do this season: beat the Giants.
Many believe Manning should be the League MVP because of the way he has the Denver Broncos surging as the playoffs approach. They are completely justified in their belief, especially when taking into account the fact that he has a QB rating of 104.8, 3,260 passing yards, and 26 TDs.
Tim Tebow’s ugly offensive output a year ago may not have looked as pretty as Manning’s but the fact remains that the squad defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs before advancing to the Divisional round and running into the buzz saw of the New England offense.
Manning is an otherworldly improvement at the QB position for Denver but his play and the position he has the team in, atop their division, is a position a much lesser player had them in last year.
Peyton’s return and phenomenal play, as well as his likability, may make for a great story but that should not make him the top candidate for what would be his fifth MVP award.
There are times when fans and writers alike forget what the words “Most Valuable Player” truly mean. They do not mean “player that puts up the most stats” or “player that is most likable” or “player that is incredibly nice to media."
Those words reflect a player who means more to his team, and the NFL as a whole, than any other player in the league. Andrew Luck is the very definition of what the MVP award should stand for.
Coming out of college, fans of the NFL expressed a certain amount of backlash toward the player who analysts and League insiders had dubbed “the surest thing since Peyton Manning.”
Others questioned whether he was even as good as Robert Griffin III, the winner of the 2011 Heisman Trophy. To answer, all Luck has done is take a team that won two games last year, and turn them into a legitimate playoff contending team.
Luck’s stats (3,205, 13 TDs, 13 INTs) do not compare fairly to other QBs on this list. Brady, Manning, the aforementioned Griffin, Cutler, and even Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have far better statistics than the rookie out of Stanford.
Luck deserves legitimate consideration for the MVP award because of what he has brought to an organization that appeared to be left for dead following the departure of Manning and the gutting of the roster.
The players on the squad are essentially the same, if not worse, than last year’s 2-14 team. Luck has brought energy and young leadership to the team, and with the help of offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians, veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne and rookie wide-out T.Y. Hilton, has passed the Colts to a 7-4 record and the first Wild Card position.
Add to that the fact that he is the face of an organization, which lost its coach to leukemia, and you have a young man, who will not only win multiple MVPs for his team in the years to come, but will also lift a few Lombardi trophies before his time in the League reaches its conclusion.
Amongst all of the talk of Manning and Ryan winning the award, there is one consistently great player that manages to be left out of the discussion.
Perhaps it is because of a rediscovered running game in New England, led by Stevan Ridley, but the player dubbed the “golden boy” by detractors has once again found his play going unrecognized.
He has amassed 3,299 yards passing, scored 24 TDs through the air, and with 11 games down and only five to go in the regular season, has only three INTs. That is astonishing when one factors in a defense that can be leaky at times, leaving the Patriots QB to lead his team to victory.
It may be the case of a player being so good for so long that he becomes an afterthought, but Brady, once again, has his team positioned to secure one of the two top spots in the AFC playoffs and seems poised to, at the very least, play in a second-straight AFC Championship game.
I want to hear from you! Who do you think is the top contender to the MVP award? Do you agree with my picks or do you think I am crazy? Let your voice be heard in the comments section below.