The NFL season has finally concluded. With the playoffs right around the corner for 12 teams, it's a good time to look at the race for the Most Valuable Player award.
Now what exactly makes a player valuable? Is it the best player on the best team in football? Is it the one player a team can't afford to lose? Is it the guy who produces the best statistics, or the guy who wins the most games?
Well, yes. It's a combination of all of those. The most valuable player in the league is not going to come from a 4-12 team. If their team didn't make the postseason, they better have come pretty close.
With that being said, the following ten players are those whose team just couldn't have functioned without them this season.
1) Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos
First in touchdown passes, both in a season and a game. First in passing yards. First in points scored as a team. Second in completions, fifth in passer rating.
No, those aren't Peyton Manning's rankings among league leaders this season. Those are his all-time rankings for any quarterback in a single season.
Stastically speaking, Manning had one of the best years any quarterback has ever had. The question isn't whether he will win his fifth Most Valuable Player award. It's whether he will join Tom Brady (2010) as the only players to win the award unanimously.
2) Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots
Tom Brady's passing numbers were his lowest since the 2006 season, when the Patriots were still primarily a defensive team. But this year wasn't about being a defensive team or an offensive team. This year was about surviving.
Aaron Hernandez didn't play a single snap. Rob Gronkowski missed nine games. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson failed to develop into the legitimate weapons many expected. Shane Vereen missed eight games. The running game was inconsistent. The defense suffered numerous key injuries.
Who held the team together? Tom Brady.
The former two-time Most Valuable Player led a dramatic last-second victory against the New Orleans Saints. He put up 55 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He engineered a 24-point comeback against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. He led a 12-point comeback in the final two minutes against the Cleveland Browns. He put up 41 points on the road against a red-hot Baltimore Ravens team fighting for a postseason spot.
Brady threw for 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns, and the Patriots' 12 victories were right on par with their usual total. Only one player in the NFL was more important to his team this season.
Who should finish second in the MVP voting behind Peyton Manning?
3) Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
All Drew Brees did was produce his usual season, and that's good enough for a top-three finish in the Most Valuable Player voting.
He threw for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdown passes. He posted the lowest interception percentage of his career and produced a 104.7 passer rating.
4) Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck flew through under the radar, but the second-year quarterback played a major role in holding together a Colts team that was decimated by injuries on the offensive side of the ball.
Just look at the Colts' statistics this year. They had 22 different players carry the ball or catch a pass. The biggest injury was to Reggie Wayne, who missed nine games, but running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard also suffered season-ending injuries, as did tight end Dwayne Allen.
Luck cut down his interceptions and fumbles from 28 in 2012 to 15 in 2013. He also added two extra yards per rush.
Luck helped the Colts avoid near-certain regression by winning 11 games, the same amount as last season, which included big victories over the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.
5) LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles
LeSean McCoy may have surpassed Adrian Peterson as the most dominant running back in the National Football League. In Chip Kelly's offense, McCoy led the NFL in carries (314), rushing yards (1,607) and total yards (2,146). He scored 11 touchdowns and fumbled just once.
McCoy's finest performance came against the Detroit Lions in the Snow Bowl, when McCoy rushed for a franchise single-game record of 217 yards and two touchdowns, while leading the Eagles to 28 points in the fourth quarter of a much-needed victory.
6) Nick Foles, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
The passing numbers that Nick Foles posted this season would look out of place on a game of Madden. The second-year Eagles quarterback took over the starting job midway through the season and finished the year as one of the hottest signal-callers in the NFL.
Foles threw for 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He posted a 119.2 passer rating, the third-highest single-season mark in the NFL. He led the league in yards per attempt (9.1) and yards per completion (14.2). He broke the single-season record for adjusted yards per pass attempt (10.54) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (13.5-to-1).
Foles made just ten starts, but he led the Eagles to eight victories, plus a win in relief in Week 5. He threw seven touchdown passes in less than three quarters against the Oakland Raiders, tying a single-game record. Over the last half of the season, Foles' Eagles scored 268 points, which projects to 536 over a full season.
7) Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson successfully avoided a sophomore slump by posting virtually identical statistics to his rookie year.
Wilson threw for 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions while posting a 101.2 passer rating. He led the Seahawks to an NFC-best 13 wins.
8) Josh Gordon, Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns
Josh Gordon is the only player from a losing team in the top 10 MVP discussion. The second-year wide receiver is legitimately the only weapon on the Cleveland Browns and he had success despite the Browns using three different quarterbacks this season.
Gordon finished the year with 87 receptions for a league-leading 1,646 receiving yards. He scored nine touchdowns, including a 95-yard grab, the longest receiving score in the NFL this season.
Incredibly, he even missed two games during the regular season. He had a two-game stretch in which he totaled 498 receiving yards and a four-game stretch where he collected 774 yards.
9) Jamaal Charles, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs
All Jamaal Charles did was turn in a typical season, but for once, he played for one of the top teams in the NFL.
Charles rushed for 1,287 yards on 5.0 yards per carry. He added 70 receptions for 693 yards. He scored 12 touchdowns on the ground and seven through the air, giving him an NFL-best of 19 for the 2013 season.
10) Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers
Credit rookie head coach Mike McCoy, who's proven himself to be a quarterback genius. After much success with Tim Tebow in 2011 and Peyton Manning in 2012, McCoy has gotten Rivers to play like he did back in 2008.
Rivers led the NFL in completion percentage (69.5), while throwing for 32 touchdowns and posting a 105.5 passer rating. The Chargers won their final four games and qualified for the final postseason spot in the AFC.