If the NFL MVP race were an actual footrace, Adrian Peterson would be doing what he does on the field: running away from everyone else.
A couple weeks ago the 2012 MVP debate was the most wide open in recent memory. Over the past few weeks that open debate has turned into Peterson and everyone else.
You can take your pick of what statistics you want to use to make this case.
In 14 games, Peterson has rushed for 1,812 yards on 289 attempts—a 6.3 yards per attempt average. Seattle's Marshawn Lynch is the second leading rusher in the NFL with 1,379 yards—a 433-yard difference in the same number of games.
Peterson is second in the league in rushing touchdowns with 11. He trails only Houston's Arian Foster, who also has 36 more carries on the season, with 14 touchdowns.
Buffalo Bills running back CJ Spiller has 11 runs of over 20 yards—good enough for second in the league. Peterson has 20, or nine more, such runs of 20 yards or more. Those nine runs alone would tie him with Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin for third place.
There have only been two games this season in which Peterson has not had at least a 20-yard run—in one of them, his long was 18.
Peterson is averaging 129.4 yards per game. The closest running back to hold that average for an entire season in the past 10 years was Jamal Lewis in 2003. Lewis averaged 129.1, which accounted for 2,066 yards on the season.
In 1984, Eric Dickerson ran for an NFL record 2,105 rushing yards in a season—a 131.6 yards per game average. Peterson is 293 yards away from that record.
He needs to average 146.5 yards per game in the next two games to achieve 2,105 yards. In the past eight games, Peterson has averaged 164.12.
For the new-school advanced metrics fans, Peterson ranks first for running backs in Football Outsiders' DYAR (a stat, like baseball's WAR, accounting for total value over replacement level for a season—further explained here) and second to CJ Spiller in DVOA (value per play), but Spiller has seen his lead shrink in that category as he has taken a bigger role in the Buffalo offense.
For the old-school "The MVP has to be on a playoff team" argument, Peterson fits that mold too—at the moment.
The Minnesota Vikings are 8-6 and currently sit as the No. 6 seed in the NFC despite having no semblance of a passing game since Percy Harvin's injury.
Quarterback Christian Ponder has thrown for under 100 yards in three games this season. In those three games, the Vikings are 2-1 thanks to Peterson's productivity running the ball. In the three games Ponder has thrown for under 100 yards, Peterson has rushed for 153, 182 and 154 yards with five combined touchdowns. Ponder has thrown for one total touchdown in those three games combined.
The lack of a passing game regularly puts the Vikings offense facing more defensive players crowding the line of scrimmage, making it harder for Peterson to gain yards on the ground—at least it's supposed to be harder.
Even if the Vikings don't make the playoffs, the fact Minnesota is in the hunt for a spot at this point in the season is because of Peterson.
We gotten this far into Peterson's MVP case without bringing up how he's not even a year removed from completely tearing his ACL.
Let's bring it up now.
Peterson tore his ACL during Week 16 last season on December 24. Less than nine months later he was active for Minneosta's Week 1 game against Jacksonville.
Let's go over that again. Less than a year ago Peterson's ACL was torn (note: the title of that video was slightly less ridiculous at the time than it is now) from a hit in a game against the Washington Redskins.
He has not missed a game this season and has yet to carry the ball fewer than 15 times in a game. In Baltimore, Ray Rice has carried the ball fewer than 15 times in a game five times (sorry to bring up a touchy subject, Ravens fans). Marshawn Lynch has three games with under 15 carries. Even Arian Foster has a 14-carry game this season.
There is no Mike Trout to Peterson's Miguel Cabrera in the MVP argument. Though I would say there's no Cabrera to Peterson's Trout, since Peterson should win the award, but that's a completely different argument.
Peterson has the chance to do the football equivalent of hitting for the Triple Crown while also leading the league in WAR.
What Peterson has done this season is more outstanding than what any of the top-tier quarterbacks have done, better than what Calvin Johnson has done as the one dimension of a one-dimensional offense—even if he does break the single-season receiving yards record—and far and away more impressive than what any other running back has done this season.
He's making what should be, in any other year, the best case in years for a defensive MVP—with JJ Watt and Aldon Smith having a shot at the single-season sack record—seem uninteresting.
If Peterson is overlooked for the award, we might as well just automatically give the MVP to the quarterback on the team with the best record. So congratulations, Matt Ryan. Or maybe the quarterback with the most yards and touchdowns. In that case good job, Drew Brees.
But if this award is done right, Adrian Peterson should being running all over the rest of the competition, but that wouldn't be anything new.
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