Midway through the season, the future Hall of Fame QB was on a tear, and it seemed likely he would pad his league record with a fifth MVP award. Since then, guys like Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson have stolen headlines with their explosive play and bullied their way into the conversation.
If you look at things empirically, there is still a strong case to be made that Manning has been the best player in the league this season. However, the NFL MVP race is nothing, if not subjective, and the 15-year vet is falling victim to some recent bias that has bumped his competition past him.
Just going by Manning's stats on the year, through Week 15, he looks like he should be the frontrunner, at least among quarterbacks.
Amongst starting QBs (excluding Alex Smith, when applicable), Manning is second in completion percentage, sixth in passing yards, third in yards per attempt, third in touchdown passes, third in passer rating and first in ESPN's QBR.
Brady is close in the counting stats. He is slightly ahead of Manning in yardage, while the TD race is essentially a deadlock; Manning has 31 and Brady has 30. Manning's competition has thrown fewer picks than he has, but he leads Brady in the two major, average stats, completion percentage and yards per attempt.
So why have Brady and Rodgers become the new hot names in the MVP conversation, pushing Manning out of the spotlight? It's less about a full body of work and more about what each QB has done lately.
It took Manning a couple of games to find his groove in his return to play this season, but then he caught fire. In six games between Week 4 and Week 10, Manning passed for at least 291 yards in each game, never had a completion percentage below 70.0 percent and threw for three TDs five times.
Since then, Manning has still been good but not otherworldly. That stretch captivated football fans around the nation, amazed that he could return so effectively from his career-threatening neck injury. In the five games since, he's only had one 300-yard week and two weeks with 70.0 percent completion. His Week 15 mark of 204 passing yards was his worst on the year.
In running back news, excitement over Adrian Peterson's quest for Eric Dickerson's rushing record has reached fever pitch, establishing AD as a legitimate contender for the QB-dominated MVP award.
When the regular season comes to a close, Manning might be the league's best player on paper. But unless he's able to make some more noise with his performances, that production will not earn him a fifth MVP.