Now that the team is viewed as one of the best in the NFL, the Broncos late-season dominance has dulled Manning's buzz.
He may have been supplanted by the Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson (ESPN) and even Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins as the hottest names in the MVP race (NBC Sports). Some say Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons has rekindled the MVP talk surrounding him as well (ESPN).
Brady and Manning's numbers are very similar, but Manning's team seems destined to earn the first-round bye with a better regular season record. The old team-success edge belongs to Peyton in this situation.
Rodgers has been great behind a suspect offensive line, but quite honestly, he won it last year. While that may seem like a silly reason to rain on a back-to-back MVP parade, it is a reality.
These types of campaigns are about stories and play; Rodgers' greatness is old hat—or at least a recently worn one. Dramatic returns from injuries, record-setting seasons and dynamic rookies make for better MVP discussions.
Manning's stiffest competition brings those very elements to the conversation, as does the intrigue of seeing these MVP contenders competing in must-see TV late in the year.
Peterson and RGIII are playing in more memorable games than Manning, and they are also playing against better competition. We'll see further examples of this in Week 17.
Both the Vikings and Redskins need wins to get into the playoffs. Minnesota takes on the Green Bay Packers and Washington will battle the Dallas Cowboys. This puts Peterson and RGIII in high-profile games against division rivals.
Manning and the Broncos are still playing for a first-round bye, but they play the lowly Kansas City Chiefs. As impressive as the Broncos 12-3 record is, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the team has defeated only two teams with a winning record.
That fact certainly raises the question as to just how dominant a team the Broncos really are.
In any other year, an all-time great returning from a career-threatening neck injury, leading a team to at least four more wins than the previous season, would be an easy MVP script.
In 2012, that story is taking a back seat to an all-time great returning from a serious knee injury.
Peterson hasn't just returned, he has carried the Vikings with his 1,898 rushing yards. He sits 208 yards away from the single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984 and one win from clinching an unlikely playoff berth.
RGIII would likely need a huge and dramatic performance to win the award, but the stage is certainly set. If he is instrumental in a win over the Cowboys, he will deliver the Redskins a division title.
Both scenarios are potentially a much sexier finish than Manning can create. A month ago, I said Manning was the clear choice for MVP, but now I'm not so sure.
He would still get my vote, but I can't deny the compelling storylines of his competition.
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