'09 NFL MVP: Five Player Race

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'09 NFL MVP: Five Player Race
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The 2008 NFL regular season ended with many wondering who was the true Most Valuable Player. 

Many thought it was James Harrison, the Pittsburgh Linebacker and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. 

Others thought Drew Brees, and his record setting season, had a shot to garner the honors. 

Even some thought that the worst-to-first turn around from the Miami Dolphins could give the edge to Chad Pennington. 

However, at the end of the day, the NFL selected Peyton Manning for the third time in his career.

The 2008 award, however, was a tough call, mainly because no one player stood out like others did in the past few years.

In 2007, Tom Brady was a foregone conclusion, throwing an NFL record 50 touchdown passes. 

In 2006, LaDainian Tomlinson received 44 of the 50 votes after he set an NFL record of his own, rushing for 28 touchdowns. 

The '08 MVP didn't set any single season records, he didn't even crack the top four in passing yards, touchdowns, or quarterback rating.  Yet, Manning was consistent and won games, two major factors in winning the NFL's most prestigious award.

The 2009 season begins without a clear cut favorite to win the NFL MVP. 

However, when the dust settles, there will be five players who have a chance to bring home the award.

Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL and, with another opportunity to run for 1,700 yards and double digit scores, one would have to think Peterson has a strong chance to run away with the '09 MVP. 

If the Vikings win the NFC's North Division for the second consecutive year, without a middle-to-top tier quarterback, winning will only prove Peterson's value. 

The Vikings schedule should allow Peterson to get off to a very fast start. 

In their first five games, the Vikings will face the Browns (28th in '08 vs. the run), Lions (Last in '08 vs. the run), 49ers (13th in '08 vs. the run), Packers (26th in '08 vs. the run) and Rams (29th in '08vs. the run). 

With only one of those teams in the top 25 versus the run in 2008, Peterson should runn wild from the start. 

The MVP voters will likely vote for a player on a division champion, and, even more importantly, a 10-win team. 

Every MVP from this decade has won ten or more games in the regular season. 

It may be a little tougher for Peterson to win the award; of the past nine MVP’s handed out, only two were running backs. 

Those two running backs set NFL records for rushing TDs and Peyton Manning has still won more MVPs, three.

If the Vikings can runaway with the division, or win at least 10 games, Peterson could win the MVP.

Drew Brees

The bottom line for Drew Brees' MVP chance is not stats.

Instead, he needs to win games. 

Brees had a tremendous season for the Saints in season 2008. He was a lone completion shy of breaking the NFL record for passing yards in a single season. 

Brees' numbers most likely won't take a big hit from last year, and with his favorite target, Marques Colston, back for a full year, his numbers may actually get better. 

The 2008 NFL MVP race showed exactly what the voters look for. 

Brees had outstanding numbers and a .500 record.

Manning had solid, but not spectacular, numbers and more wins. 

     Drew Brees        5,062 yards 34 Touchdowns 65% Completion 96.1 QB Rating

     Peyton Manning   4,002 yards 27 Touchdowns 66% Completion 95.0 QB Rating

The only difference is twelve wins versus the eight wins. 

Manning's team won twelve games and made the playoffs, while Brees' team won eight games and finished dead last in their division. 

As last year showed, winning is everything in the MVP race. 

If Brees and the Saints can be competitive in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, it will help Brees' chances. 

However, the Panthers are returning a team that won twelve games last year and the Falcons were right behind them, winning eleven. 

The Saints' defense may actually become the biggest factor on Brees' MVP consideration. 

If the Saints and Colts records were switched last year, Brees would have won his first award already.  If the Saints can pull of another NFC South's worst-to-first move, Brees won't have to wait another year for the honors.

Tom Brady

After attempting just 11 passes in the 2008 season, Tom Brady went down for the season with a torn ACL. 

Coming off his record breaking 2007 season, many thought Brady was poised to have an even better season with Randy Moss and Wes Welker back and healthy.

The division has changed greatly since Brady's last MVP season, and facing the Dolphins this year will be a little different than it was in '07. 

The 1-15 Dolphins were one of Brady's favorite opponents during his MVP campaign. 

In two games, Brady threw for 569 yards and nine touchdowns. 

The defending division champion Dolphins will not allow that to happen again. 

In 2008, the 'Fins won eleven games and showed a much improved pass defense.  The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets have also made many changes from their '07 defenses and will be much better against the Patriots' arial attack.  

Brady has the best target in the NFL. 

Randy Moss, at any age, is a quarterbacks dream.  The last time Brady and Moss played a full season together, the duo combined for 23 touchdowns, an NFL record.  Wes Welker caught over 100 passes for the second consecutive year and has emerged as a terrific possession receiver. 

The Patriots will win 10 games, that's a sure bet. Brady doesn't have to put numbers up identical to his 2007 season and coming off major knee surgery, he probably won't. 

But with another good season, Brady will be in talks all year for MVP.

Peyton Manning

It would be ridiculous to say that Manning isn't one of the top favorites to win MVP honors. 

Manning won't put up numbers like he did in 2004 (4,557 yards, 49 touchdowns) but as he showed last year, he is still one of the best players in the league.  

The biggest problem for the Colts in is their rushing attack. 

They ranked 30th in the league in 2008 and it seems Joseph Addai cannot return to full strength.  The Colts addressed the teams biggest concern by drafting running back Donald Brown in the first round of April's draft. 

If the rushing attack can return to its 2007 form, Manning could become even more dangerous.

With Mavin Harrison gone, Reggie Wayne becomes the clear cut go-to receiver. 

Anthony Gonzalez has made great strides and there is no reason to think he can't become a 1,000 receiver with Manning. 

Dallas Clark is one of the top tight ends in football and, with Reggie Wayne taking on more double teams, Clark will become even more valuable for Manning. 

When the dust settles, Manning will be an MVP candidate. 

Not only will Manning put up great numbers, but also the Colts will win games.  With Tom Moore back, Manning is poised to make another run at league MVP.

Phillip Rivers

Phillip Rivers entered 2008 hoping to prove that, with LaDainian Tomlinson's age and injuries, the Chargers were his team. 

He proved he was up to the challenge. 

Rivers threw for over 4,000 yards and added 34 touchdowns, tied for the league lead.  He led the league in QB Rating at 105.5, which, besides Brady's record setting '07, was the best in the last four years. 

The San Diego Chargers return Shawn Merriman on defense, which is key to the Chargers defensive attack. 

Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson are both back and are rumored to be completely healed from their '08 injuries.  

Even if Tomlinson is back to full strength, Rivers proved that the Chargers are his team and where he goes, the Chargers will follow. 

Vincent Jackson has emerged as number one receiver and the fifth year wide-out is a big target at 6'5''. 

With a presumably healthy Antonio Gates back at tight end, Jackson will see less double teams and Rivers will be able to find Jackson even more.

The Chargers get back their most dynamic offensive weapon in a healthy Ladanian Tomlinson.  A great pass catcher, Tomlinson gives Rivers a great check down option with open field speed and shiftiness.  

Phillip Rivers will benefit from playing in the worst division in football. 

The Raiders, Chiefs, and Broncos all picked in the top 12 in April's draft.  All three teams are on the rise, but without either three being able to stop the pass, Rivers has a chance to have a field day six times this season. 

Honorable Mention

Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb asked the Eagles front office to surround him with playmakers this offseason. 

The Eagles responded, drafting the talented and versatile wideout Jeremy Maclin, a back to back 1,300 yard college rusher, LeSean McCoy, and big red zone target, tight end, Cornelius Ingram. 

Ingram was lost for the season with a torn ACL, but the other rookies should have an impact in the 2009 season. 

The Eagles made other offseason acquisitions that will make McNabb much better.  Thier first big move was trading for Jason Peters, an All-Pro Left Tackle. Along with Peters, the Eagles signed Stacy Andrews, a tackle who is poised to not only start for the Eagles, but help bring his brother, Shawn, back to his All-Pro form. 

With the O-Line bolstered, a 1,000 yard receiver back from injury in Kevin Curtis, and plenty of other playmakers around McNabb, it would be hard to imagine McNabb not turning in one of his best seasons.

Matt Ryan

Coming off his outstanding rookie season, Matt Ryan is ready to become a perennial MVP candidate.  With the addition of an All-Pro tight end in Tony Gonzalez and a pleased Roddy White, just signing a $50 million contract extension, Ryan should have no problem finding open receivers.  The 2008 Rookie of the Year will also benefit from having a 1,699 yard, 17-touchdown running back in the backfield with him again. 

The major question for Ryan is that he is the only quarterback on this list that has a top tier running back on his team.  If Ryan can build off his excellent rookie campaign, the Falcons will not only win games, but they could be seeing their quarterback winning an MVP trophy.   

Kurt Warner

Kurt Warner led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2008.  After an MVP career in St. Louis, the Cardinals hit gold after picking up Warner, a player just trying to find a job in 2006.  Now in 2009, Warner is an MVP candidate on a team that should definitely win their division. 

The biggest problem for Warner is that he is not the most popular player on his team.  Larry Fitzgerald has gotten all the hype from being named to the cover of Madden '10 to being the hottest jersey sold since the Super Bowl.  If Fitzgerald has another 1,400 yard season and double digit touchdowns, he could take some votes away from Warner.

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