Even though the NFL has an Offensive Player of the Year Award for most prolific production in a year, the NFL MVP award has evolved into an award for the best statistics. Players need to have record-breaking seasons to crack the conversation for MVP. However, the Most Valuable Player award must go to the player who has been most correlated to his team's success this season, the player who's team cannot succeed without his guidance. This article goes through a few candidates for Most Valuable Player in the league, demonstrating that players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady do not deserve the award this season. With the exception of Adrian Peterson, none of these players will be in the conversation, but their gargantuan efforts this season merit discussion.
Peyton Manning will likely win the MVP award this season. I wrote last year that Peyton was the Most Valuable Player to his team, and I am using the same principles to guide this discussion. Peyton has had a great season, an Offensive Player of the Year caliber season, but he is not the most valuable to his team this year.
The Broncos made the playoffs last year and made it to the Divisional Round with Tim Tebow at quarterback. John Elway signed Manning this season as a final piece to his championship-caliber team, not a make or break acquisition. If you re-insert Tim Tebow into the mix, the Broncos would still make the playoffs because the rest of their squad is good enough to pull them that far. Their defense is top-three, something that Peyton Manning did not influence. The Broncos are a top-three passing offense now, which is mostly Peyton's doing, but that kind of change merits the Offensive Player of the Year Award, not the Most Valuable Player Award. The Broncos won with the 25th ranked offense last year.
With the Super expectations facing the Broncos, their schedule also merits mention. Peyton Manning's Broncos had a 13-3 record this year, but their schedule was among the easiest in the league. The Broncos' losses were all to playoff teams, and their quality wins were over the Bengals and an injury-ravaged Ravens squad. For Manning to be an MVP candidate, he would have to have a win against a solid playoff team, something he failed to do this year. Maybe the Broncos still lose those games with Tim Tebow at the helm, but Manning did not change the Broncos' fortunes enough to merit consideration.
As a Patriots fan, I will be excommunicated for this slide, but Tom Brady does not deserve the MVP award this year either. Last year, when Brady carried the Patriots to the Super Bowl, he was more deserving of the award. His stellar play last year pushed the Patriots to be better than they were, and therefore he merited discussion for the award.
This year, he has had another great season, but the Patriots have improved enough in every other facet of the game that Brady does not have to carry the team alone anymore. In some games this season, Brady did not play his best, but his teammates picked up the slack and propelled the Patriots to victory. In the San Franscico game, Brady's two early picks significantly hurt the Patriots' chances of beating the 49ers. While his heroics kept the Patriots in the game, Brady's absence would not kill the Patriots' chances of winning this season.
Another manifestation of this point was 2008, when Brady went down with a torn ACL and backup Matt Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. While Brady correlates to much of the Patriots' success over the past decade and is, along with Peyton Manning, a surefire Hall-of-Famer, Bill Belichick's systems have a lot to do with the Patriots' success as well. There are other candidates who account for more of their team's success.
Although last year's MVP has had a worse season statistically this year, he is no less deserving of the MVP award. The big boost to Rodgers' candidacy this year is his body of work in light of his circumstances. Rodgers' offensive line has been a mess this season, with injuries to Brian Bulaga, T.J. Lang, and others, forcing Rodgers to make quicker decisions on his throws. In conjunction with this, the Packers did not have a running game this season. Cedric Benson was average at best, and when he went down, the Packers ran through a slew of different running backs to compensate. In their wild card game against the Vikings, DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn led the rushing attack. While Kuhn is a solid fullback, those names highlight the Packers' lack of a run game this season.
Therefore, the Packers' success this season rests mostly on Aaron Rodgers' shoulders. Rodgers uses every advantage at his disposal, such as "free plays", to earn the Packers victories. Rodgers had several victories over good teams, even with injuries to many of his wide receivers. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, Rodgers' two favorite receivers in 2011, both missed significant time this year. Rodgers adapted, turning to James Jones and Randall Cobb as his favorite targets.
With all the adversity facing him, one would expect Rodgers' statistics to take a significant turn for the worse, but his numbers this year have been rock solid, amazing considering his circumstances. Rodgers makes those around him better, and it is hard to believe the Packers would be in the position they are now if not for Aaron Rodgers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been in decline since their Super Bowl victory in 2008. Injuries to defensive leader Troy Polamalu and others made their defense into less of a strength than it once was. On the offensive side of the ball, Rashard Mendenhall, a former first-round pick and great asset last year, tore his Achilles tendon and struggled to get back on the field this season. Even more so than Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger came into this season facing adversity.
In addition to Steelers' injuries and personnel, Roethlisberger admitted this offseason that he tore his rotator cuff against Baltimore. Roethlisberger came into the season, ready to lead the Steelers, even though he had torn his rotator cuff on his throwing shoulder! Like him or not, Big Ben is the toughest quarterback in the NFL. One would expect that these circumstances would signal the end for the Steelers' playoff hopes this season, but Roethlisberger kept the Steelers in the thick of the playoff chase, posting unbelievable statistics until his throwing shoulder gave out in November. While injured, Roethlisberger also noted that he has been playing with a rare rib injury that threatens his life every down he plays. A normal quarterback would not have played this season in Roethlisberger's position, but Big Ben powered through and changed his team's fortunes. When his backup Charlie Batch came in to replace him, the Steelers lost two in a row and looked lost without Big Ben. Although the Steelers lost when he returned, his injuries should have sidelined him for longer, and Roethlisberger was not himself.
Although they missed the playoffs, the Steelers' season would have been disastrous without Ben Roethlisberger
The Indianapolis Colts were terrible last year without Peyton Manning. The Colts went from 10-6 in 2010 to 2-14 in 2011. This past offseason, they decided that Peyton Manning was not worth the risk with his neck surgeries, and that they would rather draft Andrew Luck out of Stanford. Luck was one of the most heralded prospects in draft history, sporting the highest draft grade since John Elway in 1983. NFL.com rated Luck as a future Hall-of-Famer.
With all this praise, one would expect great things from Luck in his rookie season, but, if possible, Luck surmounted those expectations. While individual statistics are not paramount in determining MVP, Luck broke the rookie record for most passing yards in a season, finishing the season with 4,374. While Luck coupled those yards with 18 interceptions, Luck led the Colts in seven fourth-quarter comebacks. Those interceptions demonstrate that although Luck was responsible for the Colts losing at times, he also pulled them back from his mistakes to win seven times. In addition, this production led the Colts to a 10-6 record, giving Luck the record for most wins by a quarterback selected number one in the previous draft and giving the Colts a playoff berth.
Another boost to Luck's candidacy is that the Colts did not make many personnel moves this offseason, meaning that Luck's play stands out even more in the Colts' success this season. While one could argue that Chuckstrong gave the Colts the motivation to succeed, an eight-win swing from last year indicates that players influenced the Colts' record this year. Andrew Luck led that group this year for the Colts and deserves consideration as an MVP candidate.
For those who watched the Seahawks-Redskins game last weekend, the play on which RG3 re-injured his ACL and LCL was one of the saddest of the season. RG3 clawed his way up draft boards after a Heisman campaign at Baylor and the Redskins selected him with the second pick in the draft. At the time of the draft, some even argued that RG3 could be taken before Luck in the draft. After a 5-11 campaign the year before, the Redskins believed that RG3 could lead them to victory in future years. However, nobody expected the Redskins to have this much success so soon. The Redskins did not have many weapons on offense, and their defense was suspect at best.
This season, the defense was stout against the run, but awful against the pass. The Redskins started the season 3-6, and RG3 played well, but RG3's brilliance shone through during the Redskins' seven-game winning streak to make the playoffs. RG3 dazzled in several games, compiling a 102.4 passer rating for the season, and leading the Redskins to the playoffs. One could argue Alfred Morris, the Redskins rookie running back, contributed to the Redskins success as well. However, Morris is a one-cut back with few moves, and RG3's ability as a runner (he broke Cam Newton's rookie QB rushing record) opened up lanes in which Morris could run. In addition to having the league's top rushing offense, RG3 threw for 3200 yards and 20 TDs with only five interceptions. He did this with the oft-injured Pierre Garcon as his top target. In addition, Griffin injured his LCL in Week 14, and still led the Redskins into the playoffs.
All this success culminated in last week's playoff battle against the Seahawks. RG3 led the Redskins in two scoring drives to start the game, but further tweaked his knee in the second quarter, hobbling him. After his injury, the Redskins did not score another point and gained few yards. In the fourth quarter, RG3's knee finally gave out, and with it the Redskins' season ended. RG3 had surgery for a torn ACL and LCL yesterday, and hopefully one of the NFL's brightest stars will return to the field to start next season. Robert Griffin III has seized the reigns of the Redskins, and he deserves recognition as one of the most valuable players in the league.
Which leads us to the man who should win the MVP award this season, Adrian Peterson. Peterson tore his ACL in Week 16 last year, and many questioned whether he could come back as strong for 2013, considering ACL injuries generally take almost a year of recovery time. Peterson ripped through his rehab as if they were defenders in his way, coming back in Week 1 of this season, scoring two touchdowns and leading the Vikings to a victory over the Jaguars.
Outside of Peterson, the Vikings are not a mediocre team, let alone a playoff team. Quarterback Christian Ponder struggled to find a groove this year and was almost benched this season. Percy Harvin, the Vikings' premiere passing weapon, was placed on injured reserve in early December, leaving the Vikings already sub-par passing game in shambles. The Vikings' defense was middling this season, solid against the run but near the bottom of the league against the pass. In a passing league, that does not cater to success.
Peterson came back from his injury to carry the Vikings into the playoffs. When the media doubted whether he could come back from ACL surgery, Peterson scored two touchdowns on the Jaguars. When Percy Harvin went on injured reserve, Peterson accounted for over half the Vikings' total yards, rolling for 154 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears. When the Vikings needed a win against the Packers to make the playoffs, Peterson ran for 199 yards and scored two touchdowns. In all, Peterson fell eight yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, on 31 less attempts. Peterson opened up new possibilities for his teammates and inspired them to succeed with his perseverance. That kind of player is irreplaceable, and it is why Adrian Peterson deserves this year's MVP award.