The NFL's MVP is awarded for regular-season performance, but there's no doubt that playoff outcomes—mainly failures—influence how fans and voters view the winner.
In the case of the two leading candidates, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, neither looked MVP-caliber in their postseason defeats. This leaves fans with an underwhelming last impression.
With that in mind, let's break down how each top contender will be viewed if they win the coveted award.
Adrian Peterson rushed for 99 yards on 22 carries in Minnesota's NFC Wild Card Game loss at Lambeau Field. In addition to being the underdog prior to kickoff, the Vikings were forced to start backup quarterback Joe Webb, challenging him with the task of leading the league's 31st-ranked passing attack on the road.
Without their starting quarterback, and perhaps even with him, no one expected Minnesota to be a threat to reach the Super Bowl. Unlike Manning, Peterson will be viewed in a positive light by fans who recognize the magnitude of his regular-season accomplishments, rather than that of his postseason failure.
Peterson led the league in rushing this season, racking up 2,097 yards (484 yards more than the second-leading rusher). In addition, Peterson finished tied with Buffalo's C.J. Spiller for the most yards per carry, averaging six per attempt.
His final regular-season performance in Week 17 certainly altered the opinions of many as he shredded the Green Bay Packers' defense to the tune of 199 yards rushing.
Although he fell short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, Peterson's flirt with history created a buzz that Manning never did at any one point in 2012.
Not only was Peyton Manning's team a favorite to reach Super Bowl XLVII, but he was responsible for all three of Denver's turnovers in its bitter playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round.
Obviously the regular season is all that matters, but you would be hard-pressed to find an NFL fan who would be content with Manning as league MVP following that upset loss to Baltimore. He fumbled once and threw two costly interceptions. The three turnovers led to 17 points for the Ravens, including the game-winning field goal in double overtime.
Manning was valuable during the Broncos' 13-3 regular-season run, but what good is earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC if it's squandered right off the bat?
While Manning's regular-season numbers were outstanding in their own right, they don't exactly tower over other NFL quarterbacks quite like Peterson's do in comparison to other running backs.
No. 18 finished sixth in passing yards (4,659), third in touchdowns (37), second in passer rating (105.8) and tied with Atlanta's Matt Ryan for first in completion percentage (68.6). Certainly nothing to sneeze at, but for a four-time MVP who's set the bar high for himself, these statistics don't demand the sort of respect and admiration that Peterson's do.
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