When a 15-year veteran like Peyton Manning is having a career year, it has to be a special season, and it has been for Manning. With perhaps his best season as a pro, Manning has asserted himself as the front-runner for the Most Valuable Player award.
A few players, though, still have a chance to challenge that crown. These players have the best chance to overtake Manning for the prestigious award.
Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings
Also Manning's top challenger for the Comeback Player of the Year award, Adrian Peterson is having a career season in Minnesota.
With 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns through just 13 games, Peterson has a very real chance to break the 2,000-yard plateau for the first time in his career. If Peterson manages to break that plateau, it would firmly cement his status as one of the best backs of all-time.
Most impressive is how efficiently Peterson is racking up yardage: Those 1,600 yards have come on just 265 carries. That's an eye-popping average of over six yards per carry, with an average of 3.9 yards after first contact.
Peterson has been the star for a resurgent Minnesota Vikings squad. If they make the playoffs, it will be by riding Peterson. That puts Peterson firmly in the discussion for MVP.
J.J. Watt, DE Houston Texans
What J.J. Watt is doing in Houston is absolutely remarkable. Drafted to be a run-stuffer first, Watt has proven to be one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL with 16.5 sacks and 15 batted balls.
That doesn't mean that Watt has been a slouch in stuffing the run. On the contrary, Watt has racked up 60 tackles this season, an incredible number for a 3-4 defensive lineman. Even more incredible: Watt has racked up 27 tackles for a loss this season.
Watt has completely asserted himself as the best defensive lineman in the NFL. He is deserving of the Defensive Player of the Year award, but he is also worthy of MVP consideration. Watt is dominating in a way rarely seen in the NFL, and he deserves national recognition for his high level of play.
Aaron Rodgers, QB Green Bay Packers
If there is any quarterback that can claim to be better than Manning this season, it's Aaron Rodgers.
While Rodgers is behind Manning in touchdowns and passing yards, Rodgers has more working against him than almost any quarterback in the NFL.
First of all, no quarterback is cursed with a more inept running game than Rodgers. The Packers' top three running backs have combined to average just 3.4 yards per carry this season. The Packers only rank 21st in rushing this season, but they are helped tremendously by Rodgers' 202 yards and receiver Randall Cobb's contributions.
Speaking of receivers, Rodgers has seen both of his top two targets go down at different points in the season. The Packers have nearly unequaled depth at receiver, but losing talented receivers like Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings is still difficult for any team.
Finally, the Packers' offensive line woes have continued this year. Rodgers has been sacked 39 times this season, and he often has to work under pressure.
With all these things working against him, Rodgers' season is all the more miraculous. He leads the NFL in passer rating with a rating of 105.0, and he continues to prove that he is the most efficient quarterback in the NFL.
These things might not be enough to give Rodgers his second consecutive MVP trophy, but he certainly deserves to remain in the conversation.