Adrian Peterson came nine yards away from setting the record for rushing yards in a season. He made everything look easy this year, as he transformed the Minnesota Vikings from a 3-13 team last season into a playoff participant in 2012.
However, there has been one player more valuable than Peterson, and his name is Peyton Manning.
Manning took a Broncos team that could not expect playoff success under Tim Tebow to a team that would be shocked not to come home with a Super Bowl ring. Denver hasn't lost since October 7, and their last 11 wins have been by at least seven points.
It truly takes an MVP quarterback for that to happen.
Manning has 37 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions, while reviving a franchise that was going nowhere with Tebow. Denver went 8-8 in 2011, but it took some dumb plays by Marion Barber, pick-sixes by Mario Haggan and Andre Goodman (all in different games), great overall defense and much more to get Denver into the playoffs. It's safe to say that wasn't going to happen again.
Knowshon Moreno has been great, but he returned to the team in Week 12. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are breaking onto the scene but only because Manning has made them so much better. During Denver's 11-game winning streak, they have topped 30 points nine times with an average of 31.5 PPG.
It takes an MVP for that to happen.
Manning finished second in passing, with a stellar rating of 105.8, which is even more impressive considering he made a remarkable 583 throws (an average of 36.44 throws per game). He finished tied for first with Atlanta's Matt Ryan in completion percentage (68.6). Manning also threw for 364 more yards than Rodgers, and his eight yards per pass attempt tied him with Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers for tops in that category.
Peterson has been incredible, and it certainly wouldn't be a crime if he won MVP. But he has 12 touchdowns and three fumbles, which is great, but it could be improved on. There are a handful of backs with fewer fumbles and two with more touchdowns, and C.J Spiller averages six yards per carry, just like Peterson. Even RGIII averages more yards per carry than Peterson, with 6.8 YPC on 120 carries.
Even though Peterson has been the main reason for Minnesota's success, his two best games based on yards per carry (10.0 and 10.7) came in losses. In four Viking wins, Peterson didn't rush for a touchdown, while he ran for one or fewer in seven of their 10 wins.
While quarterbacks obviously impact the scoreboard more than do running backs, it's worth noting that Manning has accounted for 3.08 times as many touchdowns as Peterson, and that he has a touchdown pass in every game. Manning has an incredible nine games with three-plus touchdown passes, and eight of those are in wins. Because of that, Denver is the AFC's top seed.
Peterson makes Christian Ponder better by making opponents focus mostly on him, but Ponder has also stepped up in obvious passing situations, especially when he threw for three touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the crucial Week 17 win.
Ponder hasn't been intercepted in the Vikings' last three games, and he has 18 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions on the season. He is far from elite, but has still done a nice job complementing Peterson.
The Vikings wouldn't be in the playoffs without Peterson, but it's worth noting that they are the sixth seed and don't have a very good chance of playoff success (a first-round matchup against the Packers on the road isn't a favorable one). But the Broncos, on the other hand, have the first seed, while with Tim Tebow, they might not even be in the playoffs.
Has Peterson's run been incredible? Yes. But does he deserve the MVP award over Manning?