While most fans are busy thinking about the postseason chase, which is shaping up to be one for the ages, the debate over who should win the 2012 NFL MVP award is picking up a lot of steam.
Unlike previous years, where you could easily predict who would take home the honor with a month left to go in the regular season, there is a lot of uncertainty at the top of the rankings right now. The next two weeks are going to decide everything.
Of course, given the way that voters love to see the MVP on a playoff team, if one player's team finishes on the outside looking in, their chances could dwindle. (Of the three "finalists," two of them have already clinched a playoff spot.)
Here is my own personal ranking of the top three candidates for the 2012 NFL MVP award heading into Week 16.
No. 3: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Stats: 347-of-511 (67.9%), 4,016 yards, 31 TD, 10 INT
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In breaking down the top two quarterbacks on the list, it struck me at just how mediocre the competition the Broncos faced has helped Manning. That isn't to say he still isn't one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but the only team he has faced with a pass defense ranked in the top 10 is Pittsburgh all the way back in Week 1.
If we are judging everything equally, you have to ding Manning some for the lack of competition faced.
The overall results are hard to argue with. He currently ranks third in completion percentage and touchdowns, fourth in yards per attempt and quarterback rating, and sixth in completions and yards.
Manning is probably the odds-on favorite to win the MVP award right now, but I would have a hard time putting him above the next two players because of a soft schedule.
No. 2: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Stats: 355-of-560 (63.3%), 4,276 yards, 30 TD, 6 INT
In the classic battles between Brady and Manning, Brady gets a slight edge here due to competition faced and results produced. To date, the Patriots have played seven games against teams with a pass defense that currently ranks in the top 10. (The teams are Arizona, Denver, Seattle, New York Jets twice, St. Louis and San Francisco.)
In those seven games, Brady has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,263 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Looking beyond that small sample size, Brady also ranks second in yards, fourth in touchdowns, fifth in completions. His six interceptions are the fewest for any quarterback with at least 400 pass attempts.
Brady's candidacy did take a hit, at least to some voters, I'm sure, because of his less-than-incredible performance against San Francisco. He has two weeks to show them what he can do against Jacksonville and Miami.
No. 1: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Stats: 289 carries, 1,812 yards, 11 TD; 38 receptions, 211 yards
In such a quarterback-driven league, to see a running back single-handedly carrying an offense into playoff contention and so close to setting a new record for rushing yards in a season in one of the most remarkable feats we have seen in recent memory.
Peterson's competition has not been among the most difficult in the league, just four games against top-10 run defenses, but in those games he has averaged 117.5 yards per game with three touchdowns.
The last eight games have been especially kind to Peterson, as he has run for at least 108 yards in that span and more than 150 in the last three.
Considering the Vikings' passing game is non-existent—it ranks last in the league—everyone knows that Peterson is going to be getting the ball 25-to-30 times per game and they still can't stop him.
On the season, the Vikings' entire offense has 4,596 yards. Peterson is responsible for 2,093 of those yards when you add his rushing and receiving yards. In other words, 45.5 percent of all the yards the Vikings have gained as an offense this season are the direct result of Peterson.
Running backs have largely become a disposable group because of the beating they take, but Peterson is a true workhorse in an era where the multiple-back system has become common. He has added more value on the field than any other player in 2012 and deserves to be recognized as the NFL MVP.