The NFL MVP race arrives at its conclusion, and at this point, it seems like a near-certainty that Peyton Manning will lock up his record-breaking fifth award.
However, as the playoff picture takes shape, it may affect how the runners-up shuffle in behind him. MVP players are not only usually on playoff teams, but also teams peaking at the end of the season.
That may be a case of recency bias, but it affects the voting nonetheless. With that in mind, here are how the top MVP candidates break down headed into Week 17.
3. LeSean McCoy
As much credit as Nick Foles deserves for the Eagles' offensive success, McCoy deserves an equal amount. The NFL's leading rusher by yardage, McCoy has thrived with as large a workload as any running back in the league, proving an impossible matchup for opposing defenses in Philly's up-tempo offense. The Eagles have employed some superb backs over the years, but McCoy has a chance to do something no Philly running back has done in over 60 years:
LeSean McCoy: trying to be 1st Eagles RB to lead NFL in rushing yards since Steve Van Buren in 1949— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 24, 2013
By virtually any measure, McCoy is among the best backs in the league. Per Pro Football Focus, McCoy has a league-leading 23 runs of 15 or more yards, ranks second with 72 broken tackles, and has the fifth-most receiving yards among backs.
McCoy is the foundation of one of the league's elite offenses, and has taken off under a brand-new offensive system that many were skeptical could thrive in the more athletic and complex confines of NFL defense. That has made him more valuable in 2013 than any quarterback outside of Denver.
Jamaal Charles has 12 games with 100 yards from scrimmage and a TD. Only Emmitt Smith in 1995 (13 games) has more. pic.twitter.com/uvSQVhdARj— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 22, 2013
And yet, McCoy is not even the most valuable at his own position because of Charles' exemplary season. Charles has accounted for 1,980 of the Chiefs' 5,064 total offensive yards, a truly astounding 39 percent clip. It's not a stretch to say he has single-handedly kept the Kansas City offense a respectable unit.
Indeed, the Chiefs offense has generally gone as Charles has this season, an influence few non-quarterbacks possess. In games where Charles receives 21 or fewer touches, Kansas City is 2-4. In games where he exceeds that threshold, they are 9-0. According to Andy Kovitz of the Kansas City Star, Andy Reid lamented not getting his best player enough touches in the Chiefs' Week 16 loss to the Colts, even when his team was down:
“That’s my responsibility,“ Reid said on Monday. “Of … 28 plays that we had in that second half, we (need to) give him more of a shot there than the six touches that he had.”
“You want to give him (the ball). You want to make sure that you do give him enough touches. What that number is, I don’t know. But I know that you need to give it to him a few more times the second half."
Charles' season is really not far from Adrian Peterson's historic 2012 MVP campaign, though Peterson had the flashier rushing yardage total. Peterson did compile 2,314 yards from scrimmage, which is certainly more than what Charles will end up with. But he was not as big a factor in the receiving game, and Charles has already scored 19 touchdowns, compared to Peterson's 13.
That is not to belittle Peterson's historic 2012, but rather show how Charles would have a much stronger case for MVP in most other seasons. He is one of the league's few workhorse backs, and none have been more important to his team's success this season.
1. Peyton Manning
There's not much left to be said about Manning that hasn't already been said. Perhaps it's telling that when Von Miller went down with a torn ACL, the Broncos maintained the cliche "next man up" mentality. And yet, as CBS Sports' John Breech shows, no one even bothers to maintain that stance under the hypothetical of Peyton going down:
Broncos coach John Fox thinks Peyton Manning is the NFL MVP this season and he thinks Manning should win the award in a landslide, "I don't think it's close, personally," Fox said on Wednesday. Broncos wide receiver Andre Caldwell would vote for Manning and he even explained why, "[An MVP] should be on a winning team, and it should also be about how much your team depends on you. There are some great players out there, but things would still roll. If we didn't have Peyton, it would be a totally different show around here."
Manning is also just 265 yards away from breaking Drew Brees' two-year old passing yardage record. Peyton has failed to reach that mark just once this season, when he threw for 150 yards against New England. That passing record should be his as well by Sunday night.
The only suspense remains over whether or not his award will be unanimous. It seems unlikely—only Tom Brady in 2010 has ever won the MVP unanimously, and Charles et al. figure to have done enough to steal at least a couple of votes.
But Manning fully deserves the award he will soon win, and there is little doubt as to who the NFL's best player in 2013 was.