NFL MVP 2012: Power Ranking Top Candidates for League's Most Prestigious Award

Stephen Sheehan@@StephenPSheehanCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2012

NFL MVP 2012: Power Ranking Top Candidates for League's Most Prestigious Award

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    A few weeks ago, the NFL MVP race seemed like a two-way battle between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady

    Not so fast, said Adrian Peterson

    The league's most explosive running back has single-handedly kept the Minnesota Vikings in the playoff hunt while running roughshod through some of the league's best defenses. 

    As good as Peterson has been in his miraculous return from a torn ACL and MCL suffered last season, Manning has been equally as impressive for the NFC West champion Denver Broncos. 

    Let's not forget Brady or Aaron Rodgers—two former MVPs who once again have their teams heading to the playoffs. 

    With just two weeks left of the regular season, let's power rank the top five candidates for the 2012 NFL MVP Award. 

5. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

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    Humans who are 6'5" and 295 pounds shouldn't be able to move the way J.J. Watt does. 

    The second-year defensive end flashed big-time ability as a rookie before taking his game to a new stratosphere in 2012. 

    Blessed with incredible strength, 4.81 speed and a 37" vertical jump, the guy is a physical freak

    In just his second year in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, Watt is already the best overall 3-4 defensive end in football. 

    Traditionally 3-4 defensive ends act as run-stoppers—think Richard Seymour—but Watt is the complete package. 

    With 74 total tackles, 19.5 sacks and an unfathomable 15 passes defended, Watt has a real case to be considered an MVP candidate. 

    Unfortunately for the former Wisconsin Badger, the last time a defensive player won the MVP award was in 1986, when Lawrence Taylor recorded 20.5 sacks and led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl victory. 

    Ultimately, Watt will probably come up short of breaking the 16-year streak. 

4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

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    Considering his two best receivers have been banged up all year, Aaron Rodgers' stats are even more impressive. 

    With Jordy Nelson battling a hamstring injury all year and Greg Jennings working his way back from a groin and surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle, the defending MVP has been forced to make the most of a depleted receiving corps.

    The league's best player in 2011 has managed to lead the Packers to their second consecutive NFC North title and turned Randall Cobb into a household name while operating with one of the league's least effective ground games. 

    Though Rodgers is off magical pace from last season when he threw for 45 touchdowns and over 4,600 yards, Green Bay's unquestioned leader has still posted an excellent 32:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio while throwing for 3,588 yards. 

    Rodgers has been very good this season, but not the clear-cut best like he was last season. 

3. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

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    Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and New York Jets must be kicking themselves for swinging and missing on Peyton Manning in the offseason. 

    The former Indianapolis Colt appeared done and buried after undergoing four neck surgeries and missing the entire 2011 season. 

    It's safe to say we were dead wrong. 

    Peyton has been resurrected in Denver and is playing some of the best football of his career. 

    Paired with weapons like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, No. 18 has thrown for 4,016 yards and 31 touchdowns and is on pace to post the third-highest passer rating of his career. 

    While he and the Broncos benefit from playing in one of the NFL's weakest divisions, it's tough to find any holes in Peyton's resume. 

    Two bad games earlier in the season against the top teams from both conferences (Atlanta and Houston) are the only games in which Manning posted a QB rating under 90.5.

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

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    Based on his first-half performance against the 49ers on Sunday Night Football, it appeared Tom Brady had taken a steep fall in the MVP race. 

    Although the two-time MVP ultimately came up short in beating San Francisco, his second-half aerial assault on the league's best defense affirmed that Tom is still as terrific as ever. 

    With the Patriots on the ropes and nearing an embarrassing defeat, Brady engineered four straight touchdown drives in the second half, bringing the Patriots all the way back from a 31-3 deficit. 

    New England ended up losing by a touchdown, but that blame falls on the special teams and defense for failing to stop San Fran. 

    Brady's excellent play, especially his decision-making and ball security, has made up for the absences of star tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, a wildly inconsistent defense and an offensive line ravaged by injuries. 

    His numbers may be slightly less impressive than Manning's, but Brady's ability to overcome some limiting factors earns him the No. 2 spot in the MVP race. 

1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Some people have problems with a running back winning the MVP. 

    Some people won't vote for a guy if his team doesn't make the playoffs. 

    Others think he should just win the Comeback Player of the Year Award. 

    No matter what the argument is, there's one thing for certain: Adrian Peterson isn't human. 

    Less than a year after shredding his knee, AP has literally carried the Vikings on his back, torching NFL defenses that are still stacking the box with eight or nine defenders. 

    In his last eight games, "All Day" has lit up playoff-bound Seattle for 182 yards and two scores and NFC North Champion Green Bay for 210 yards on 21 carries. 

    Then came Week 14. 

    In one of the most awe-inspiring performances of the year, Peterson carried the ball 24 times for 212 yards, including this amazing 82-yard touchdown run

    Just 294 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, you can bet the Vikings will continue to feed the beast that is AP. 

    As long as he breaks the record, there's no way AP doesn't deserve to be named the 2012 NFL MVP.