It seems like the overwhelming majority of people think that Peyton Manning is easily on pace to receive his fourth league MVP.
They cite the fact that Manning is having one of the best statistical seasons ever while "doing more with less" in the receiving corps and taking his team to an undefeated record without any consistency from the running game and defense.
However, upon closer examination, Manning's season is really not as impressive as some of the other quarterbacks around the NFL. I will be comparing Manning to Drew Brees quite a bit simply because I feel that Brees should be league MVP.
The arguments for MVP seem to fall into a few categories, and I'll discuss them one at a time.
At first, the stat line seems to favor Manning:
Peyton Manning: 298/423 comp/att, 70.4 completion percentage, 3,415 yards, 8.1 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 102.5 rating.
Drew Brees: 236/343 comp/att, 68.8 completion percentage, 3,117 yards, 9.1 yards per attempt, 27 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 112.6 rating.
Indeed, the fact that Manning is on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards is an impressive achievement, but look at the number of attempts, the yards per attempt and the number of interceptions by Manning.
Manning already has 80 more attempts than Brees and just under 400 extra yards to show for those attempts. Brees is averaging an entire yard more per attempt. Manning's extra attempts also have him on pace to have the most interceptions he's had in a season since 2002. Still, don't think that the statistical advantage is due to attempts? Here's a little experiment for you.
Take all of Manning's percentages this year and apply them to the same number of attempts that Brees has had, then do the same for Brees over Manning's attempts. What do you get?
Manning: 70.4 completion percentage, 2,769 yards, 19 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 102.5 rating.
Brees: 68.8 completion percentage, 3,844 yards, 33 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 112.6 rating.
While it may be unfair to assume that the quarterbacks would post the same numbers over a different amount of attempts, it is clear that Manning's stat line is inflated by the extra attempts.
2. Manning's "lack" of a Supporting Cast
This is a big myth, as I will explain shortly. I tend to break the supporting cast into three categories: receivers, run support and defense.
Receivers: The story is that Manning is doing more with less now that Marvin Harrison is long gone and Anthony Gonzalez has missed most of the season. He has been throwing passes to Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, but nobody talks about how much of the load Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark have been carrying:
Reggie Wayne: 79 catches, 987 yards, 9 touchdowns (ranks second in the NFL in catches and yards, tied for the league lead in touchdowns).
Dallas Clark: 74 catches, 834 yards, 5 touchdowns (ranks fourth in catches and 10th in yards among all receivers, first among tight ends in both categories).
The performance of these two receivers is more than half of Manning's stat line and both are drawing plenty of coverage to give Collie and Garcon favorable matchups. Only having two Pro Bowl receivers seems to be reason to believe that Manning is doing more with less.
Brees has done a much better job of spreading the ball around. His top receiver, Marques Colston, only has 48 catches and 808 yards. His second receiver, Devery Henderson, has 34 catches for 637 yards. Brees has four other players that have made it to 20 catches. Henderson and Colston only account for about a third of Brees' completions.
Run support: This is the one area where Manning has impressed me. The fact that the Colts are doing it without a good running game is definitely in Manning's favor.
However, consider that Manning is getting more attempts per game as a result of the Colts lack of a running game. The downside is that defenses play purely to stop the pass. The result is extra attempts, which leads to more yards and touchdowns, but also to more interceptions, which we've already seen is the case.
Brees has had a much better running game and it's helped him in terms of efficiency, but has resulted in far fewer attempts than Manning has had.
Defense: Yes, I've heard that the Colts' defense is injury-riddled. I've also heard that they are struggling (?). The struggling, injury-riddled defense is 15th in yards allowed, but third in the NFL in points allowed. They're also fifth in interceptions, tied for 10th in sacks and 13th in fumble recoveries. They have two defensive touchdowns to go with those numbers.
The Colts have also won four games in which the offense failed to score 21 or more points.
The Saints' defense has been excellent at creating takeaways (first in the NFL), but they are not quite as good as the Colts are at keeping the score down. They are 16th in yards allowed and 15th in points allowed. They are tied with the Colts at 10th in sacks, so things are pretty even, depending on whether you prefer the extra turnovers or the better scoring defense.
3. Manning's five come-from-behind wins in a row
Winning five games in a row in which you are down in the fourth quarter is an impressive feat, but the defense does deserve quite a bit of credit in those games.
They have had six takeaways in the fourth quarter alone in those five games. They also had a touchdown in the second game against the Texans and held the opponents to fewer than 20 points in three of the five games.
I'm not saying that Manning should be completely deprived of credit, but a come-from-behind win is a team achievement and something that is often credited solely to the quarterback. The Colts have been resilient in these games and that effort needs to be recognized.
There you have it. Manning's performance this year has not been as impressive as most people seem to think. There are plenty of other players more deserving of the MVP, like Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Chris Johnson.