One of the most hotly-contested MVP races in recent memory, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson have one more week to show the voters why they deserve the honor.
Peterson's pursuit of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record has been well documented, but Manning might have the tougher argument, simply because he is putting up numbers that, while great on their own, aren't very different from what Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is doing.
With the Broncos still in a fight for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, it would be a shock to see Manning rest much in Sunday's home game against Kansas City.
In his final showcase for the 2012 regular season, here is what Manning must do to lock up the fifth MVP award of his storied career.
Always Leave Them Wanting More
One of the things that Manning is so great at is making you think he could throw on a defense all game long, seemingly completing every pass he threw if the game just kept playing for consecutive days at a time.
What voters like to see, especially from a quarterback, is that sheer level of dominance and the knowledge that, even as the time runs out on the game, the story just keeps going on and on.
Manning doesn't need to have his best game of the season—against a weak Kansas City team, it probably won't enhance his argument that much—but he does need to finish well. A game like the one he had against Cleveland last week, with three touchdowns and 339 yards, would be the perfect sendoff.
Show The World Why You Are The World's Best QB
Who Will Win The NFL MVP Award?
Again, it is hard to make a statement like this in a single game. It is something that takes years to build. But there are certain throws that Manning makes, especially when it seems like he just floats over everyone else and places it into the waiting arms of a receiver, that no one else is capable of.
Of course, if you were to ask Manning, he would tell you that he isn't as good as he was prior to the neck surgeries. Some might say that is just him being humble; some might say it's true. Regardless, we all know he is still in the conversation for best quarterback in the game.
But just being one of the best isn't good enough in an MVP race. You have to be head and shoulders above everyone else. Making a handful of plays that illustrate that point in this matchup will go a long way towards locking up the award.
The Record Is The Key
One team factor that will help Manning's case is where the Broncos finish in the AFC. With one more win, they are guaranteed to be at least the No. 2 seed in the postseason, locking up a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game.
While I am not a believer in the idea that team record and playoff seeding should factor into an MVP discussion, I am not so naive to think that the voters don't look at it when making their determination.
Manning has the narrative of coming back after missing all of last season, picking up where he left off with the Colts, throwing for over 4,000 yards, completing over 68 percent of his passes and throwing 34 touchdowns entering Week 17.
If the Broncos are able to defeat Kansas City, which seems likely, and Houston loses to Indianapolis—less likely, but entirely possible—they will be the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The narrative of the Broncos being the best team in the AFC, combined with Manning's return, is a dramatic comeback story that not even Adrian Peterson's pursuit of history can compete with.
Manning leading the Broncos to a victory in this game, and doing so while posting strong numbers on his own, will be the final nail in the MVP race. He already has the advantage over everyone else. All that is left is putting the icing on the cake.