The final MVP ranking of the regular season is marked by an intense battle between two comeback players. They are joined at the top of the list by last year's MVP winner.
Providing close competition are a pair of efficient quarterbacks who could meet in the Super Bowl. Speaking of quarterbacks, three first-year passers have merited inclusion after leading their teams to the playoffs.
There is also room for the most dominant defensive player from the 2012 season. Here is how the top MVP candidates rank at the end of the regular season.
Russell Wilson enjoyed a superb 2012 season. The rookie quarterback looked like a steal as a third-round pick and shattered debates about suitable size for the position.
Equally effective throwing the ball and running with it, Wilson accounted for 30 touchdowns. He threw for 3,118 yards and rushed for 489.
Wilson was the spark who turned a capable Seattle Seahawks squad into a playoff team and a dangerous NFC contender.
Being a rookie and the strong supporting cast he benefited from mean Wilson props up this ranking. However, that doesn't detract from his magnificent debut campaign.
Andrew Luck justified his status as 2012's No. 1 pick by leading the Indianapolis Colts to an 11-5 finish. Luck returned the Colts to the playoffs one year removed from the team going 2-14.
He did it with a young supporting cast and little help from a struggling defense. Luck finished 2012 with 23 touchdown passes and 4,374 yards. He ran for 255 yards and posted five rushing touchdowns.
However, a 76.5 overall rating and 18 interceptions mar his stat line and keep Luck near the bottom of this ranking.
He went three games without a turnover to finish the season, which is an ominous sign of how good Luck can be in 2013.
Robert Griffin III transformed an offense and revived a dormant franchise in 2012. He did it with an exciting brand of dual-threat play that is helping redefine expectations for the quarterback position.
By propelling the Washington Redskins to their first NFC East title since 1999, Griffin has assured his MVP contention. He threw for 3,200 yards and rushed for a NFL rookie quarterback record 815 yards.
Not only did he account for 27 touchdowns, Griffin was also a model of efficiency. He threw only five interceptions and inspired a team effort that surrendered the fewest turnovers in the league.
The ex-Baylor star was also the key to the NFL's most dominant rushing attack in 2012. The Redskins will certainly feel vindicated after giving away so many draft picks to land their franchise player.
Only a few modest passing days to finish his rookie year keep Griffin this low.
As the most destructive force in the NFL in 2012, J.J. Watt deserves his place in the MVP ranking. The high-effort, powerful defensive lineman dominated every offense the Houston Texans faced.
Watt posed a threat when lined up as a defensive end and was a consistent danger when sliding inside to tackle. He registered 20.5 sacks and posted 81 tackles.
The hulking 23-year-old also added four forced fumbles and an astonishing 16 batted passes. He was a true playmaker who commanded the primary attention of offensive coordinators.
Watt demanded double and sometimes even triple-teams just to try to keep him at bay. Even combination blocking only rarely worked.
It is very hard for a defensive player to win the league-wide award. However, Watt could hardly have done more in 2012 to earn it.
A mid-season dip all but ended Matt Ryan's hopes of securing NFL MVP. However, either side of that slump in form, the Atlanta Falcons ace was spectacular.
Ryan showcased his now familiar brand of strong-armed accuracy and helped transform the Falcons offense. With Ryan firing precision passes to a trio of talented receivers, the Falcons became a dynamic, downfield attack.
The fifth-year pro ended 2012 with 32 touchdown passes and 4,719 yards to his credit. He is outranked by others at his position, but Ryan has definitely earned elite status this season.
At times Tom Brady has been near-flawless in 2012. He is playing with an almost rabid determination to make up for last season's Super Bowl defeat.
Brady has directed the league's best offense with his usual ruthless intelligence. He has mixed the run and the pass well and in typical Brady fashion, has not wasted any of his receivers.
That has resulted in 34 touchdown passes and 4,827 yards. Brady has also been guilty of only eight interceptions, although four of those came in the final three weeks.
That slight, late-season swoon is enough to see Brady finish fourth in this ranking. However, don't rule out the brilliant 35-year-old being back to his awesome best once the playoffs begin.
Aaron Rodgers could top this ranking in any other year. That's how well he has performed in 2012. Playing without a stout offensive line, or a credible running game, Rodgers has still dissected defenses in dynamic fashion.
He has hurled 39 touchdowns passes and posted a 108.0 rating. That's despite injuries and inconsistency among his receivers.
Rodgers took a little while to get going against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17. However, once he did, the 2011 MVP tore apart the Vikings defense.
Even with Adrian Peterson, the Vikings should be very nervous about having to face Rodgers again in the playoffs.
It is the only performances of Peterson and the final quarterback on this list that have kept Rodgers third.
There probably aren't enough superlatives to do Adrian Peterson justice after the 2012 regular season. Coming back from major knee surgery in less than a year is one thing.
However, Peterson somehow managed to return even more prolific than he was before. He dominated almost every defense he faced, despite being each unit's main focus.
That led Peterson to a 2,097-yard season that earned the Vikings a trip to the playoffs. Sadly, time ran out for Peterson, leaving him nine yards shy of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark.
That would have been a fitting reward for one of the greatest efforts in NFL history. Peterson would certainly be a deserving MVP winner.
However, he may be usurped by the excellence of a man who plays in a more award-friendly position.
Like Peterson, Peyton Manning had to rebound from his own surgeries. Four to be exact. Manning was out for the entire 2011 season, attempting to fix nerve damage that blighted his throwing arm.
His return prompted an inevitable media frenzy, culminating in the Denver Broncos winning the race for his signature. They are certainly glad they did, as Manning has engineered a remarkable transformation.
In 2011, the Broncos ran a Tim Tebow-led offense. It was a ground-based attack, featuring a heavy dose of option runs.
In other words, it was the complete opposite of the timing-based, downfield passing offense Manning conducts. Yet in no time at all, he had the run-heavy Broncos looking like the Indianapolis Colts during his prime years.
Throwing to a receiving group lacking a true, standout No. 1 hasn't stopped Manning from dominating. He has thrown for 37 touchdowns and 4,659 yards, making everyone around him better.
His 105.8 rating proves Manning is still as accurate as ever, and he still has the arm to expose defenses deep. That's taken the Broncos from an 8-8 Wild Card team to a 13-3 powerhouse and AFC favourites.
Sadly, it seems to have become fashionable for some to hate on the idea of Manning as MVP. Whether this is because the 36-year-old has claimed the award four times previously is irrelevant.
Nothing should detract from a remarkable season from a player who has defied the limits of his body and the sands of time to return better than ever.