Believe it or not, there's an actual race going on for the NFL MVP award.
Unlike past seasons, which have seen one or two players separate themselves from the rest of the pack, 2012 has brought us outstanding performances from players on both sides of the ball.
Some are established veterans, while others are newcomers to the national scene, but all are equally deserving of the highest individual honor in the game.
This race won't be decided in Week 16; it's going to come down to the wire. Every snap up until the final whistle blows in Week 17 matters.
Let's take a look at the candidacy of each of the five players we can make the strongest case for.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos
Aldon Smith, LB, San Francisco 49ers
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
It's been 26 years since a defensive player won the NFL MVP award—the New York Giants' Lawrence Taylor took home the honors in 1986—but J.J. Watt could break that drought.
His stats on the season are impressive: 74 tackles, 19.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 15 passes defended.
But those numbers only tell part of the story.
No defensive player in recent memory has been as utterly disruptive in all aspects of the game as Watt has been for the Texans in 2012.
Watt is the first defensive player in NFL history to record 14 sacks and 14 passes defended in the same season, and he has not only set a new record for most sacks in a season for the Texans, but he is only three behind tying former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan for the NFL single-season record.
But Taylor and Strahan aren't the only all-time greats that Watt has taken aim at in 2012. His 15 passes defended broke the legendary Reggie White's 21-year-old record for defensive linemen, as it was White who set the old gold standard back in 1991 when he defended 13 passes.
What Watt has been able to accomplish thus far in 2012 has been nothing short of extraordinary, and when you are passing guys like White in the record books, people should stand up and take notice.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The reigning NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers has led the Green Bay Packers to the NFC North crown despite his team having absolutely no running game and a porous offensive line.
Oh, and he's been without two of his primary receivers—Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson—for long stretches of the season.
Yet that hasn't stopped Rodgers from discount double-checking the opposition.
Rodgers ranks first in the league in passer rating (104.7), second in touchdown passes (32) and is tied for fourth in completion percentage (66.7 percent).
Of the quarterbacks who have been their teams' starter since opening day (not counting games missed due to injury), Rodgers ranks fourth with eight interceptions, behind Robert Griffin III (four) and Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, who have thrown six each.
Did I mention that he's accomplished all of that while being the most sacked quarterback in the NFL, getting dropped 45 times?
That makes his accomplishments all the more impressive.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Remember when you doubted Peyton Manning?
I wouldn't admit to that either.
Despite missing the entire 2011 season as he underwent and recovered from multiple neck surgeries (h/t Fox Sports), Manning picked up his Hall of Fame career where he left off in 2010—picking apart opposing defenses and leading his team to victory on a weekly basis.
His numbers on the season are impressive: He has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 4,016 passing yards and 31 touchdowns, throwing only 10 interceptions.
He has led the Denver Broncos to the top of the AFC West, and the team is on a remarkable nine-game winning streak, last losing to New England back in Week 5.
Manning, who has won four NFL MVP awards previously, is certainly worthy of a fifth based on his remarkable season.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Call him a product of the system that Bill Belichick has in place if you must, but Tom Brady is as good a quarterback as there is in the NFL.
Any doubts about his ability should have been erased when he nearly led the Patriots to victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15, overcoming a 28-point deficit to give the Patriots a shot at victory with less than a minute remaining.
As with every other player in the race, Brady's stats are impressive: 4,276 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, only six interceptions and a 63.4 percent completion percentage.
A two-time MVP recipient, it's hard to argue against handing him a third.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Less than a year after needing major surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his shattered knee (h/t USA Today), Adrian Peterson is on a collision course with history, via the Twitter account of ESPN's Numbers Never Lie:
At 1,812 rush yds, Adrian Peterson is now only 294 yds away from breaking Eric Dickerson's single season record. twitter.com/ESPN_Numbers/s…— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) December 16, 2012
He leads the NFL in rushing with 1,812 yards on 289 carries, an average of 6.3 yards per carry, and has scored 11 touchdowns.
Peterson has two 200-yard rushing games on the season, nine 100-yard rushing games and has hit triple digits in eight consecutive games.
During that streak, Peterson has picked up 1,313 yards and nine touchdowns on an average of 7.5 yards per carry and 164 rushing yards per game.
If that's not impressive, consider this.
Adrian Peterson has done all of that with Christian Ponder as his starting quarterback.
He has put the Vikings on his back and kept them in the thick of the playoff race.
If Peterson isn't worthy of the NFL MVP award, nobody is.
Rick Weiner is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team.
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