It is without question, the greatest honor an individual player can earn in the National Football League.
It is the Associated Press' NFL league MVP award and it is given to the absolute best player the NFL has to offer.
Or at least, that is the intent.
No, it is not the top goal of these NFL stars to win this MVP award, but winning it can often be more reflective of an individual's contributions than any other accolade the NFL has to offer.
Right now, the NFL's finest teams are preparing for the post-season and their goal is to win the Super Bowl.
But more often than not, the best player in the NFL does not happen to play for the best team in the league.
It's a sad reality that many people fail to come to grips with because they desire so much for that best player to be paired with the best team.
It is the reason why we have seen less productive players pushed beyond their capacity for actual performance on the field into the realm of beloved heroism for exploits achieved by their entire team (as a whole) while they themselves continue to contribute less than should be expected for the aforementioned praise they receive.
Right now, I'm talking league MVP's.
I'm talking about players who at an individual level, contribute more to their team's chances of winning than anyone else in the National Football League.
This year, we have a number of qualified candidates but none more deserving than the most productive player in the 90-year history of the sport.
We're talking about a man who, despite the loss of a future Hall of Fame head coach, the loss of a starting wide receiver, and backed by the worst rushing support in the entire league, managed to perform at a level above and beyond what he contributed on the football field during times far more favorable.
We're talking about a guy who helped lead his team to an undefeated record.
No, that's not a typo.
Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts went 14-0 while Curtis Painter's Indianapolis Colts went 0-2.
I'm not concerned with the perception of reality.
I value reality itself.
You often hear people saying that "most people believe that..." and that is exactly what I'm disregarding.
False perceptions of reality.
But let’s talk about this year's MVP award.
The goal of each player might be to win the Super Bowl, but the best player from an individual standpoint is honored with an award that is reflective of 80-percent-plus of an entire season, not simply its conclusion.
For the same reason that Tom Brady was better than Eli Manning in 2007 and for the same reason that Peyton Manning was better than Ben Roethlisberger in 2008, this year’s MVP (should) represent the best player the NFL has to offer regardless of what happens from this point forward.
League MVP's who happen to win championships during the same season are a rare breed, and ones that should be valued beyond measure.
Peyton Manning will have the chance to do that this season, as will some of the runner-ups to the MVP award.
While the award has yet to be announced, I imagine that Manning will capture the votes necessary to pull away with the honor, despite the number of candidates who may take some votes away from him.
Rivers has had an impressive season, but I feel the "high" journalists have been on lieu of the Chargers 11-game winning streak might push Rivers to the top of some voters’ lists.
The issue I have here is the one that is bound to be overlooked.
As I see it, the MVP award is given to the best player in the NFL over the course of the entire regular season.
A great performance in week 17 is no more or less valuable than a great performance on opening weekend.
Had the Chargers began their winning streak early but lost three games towards the end of the season, Rivers wouldn't even be in this discussion.
It's the very reason why Drew Brees will not get the recognition he deserves.
By contrast, had the Colts started off 0-2 and won their next 14, this MVP race wouldn't even be up for debate.
The point being, voters should not get consumed with what has happened more recently because the league MVP award is not about the finish, it's about the entire season as a whole.
Then we have Chris Johnson.
A player who has certainly had an MVP-caliber season from a running-back's perspective.
But that just so happens to be the problem; no matter how unfair it might seem.
I don't hold the Titans' 8-8 record against Johnson one bit.
It is not as though his NFL record 2,509 total yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns weren't enough to give his Titans the best opportunity to win.
Football, being the team sport that it is, requires far more than the performance of one MVP-caliber player to get them as far as they'd like to go.
In Johnson's case, I hold the fact that he is a running-back against him (only) as it pertains to this year's MVP race.
Quarterbacks might often receive the lion's share of the recognition, but no player on the field has the opportunity to contribute as much to their team's chances of winning.
Johnson ran for 2,006 yards, but Matt Shaub threw for 4,770.
Johnson scored 16 total touchdowns, yet Drew Brees threw for 34.
It's simply the nature of the position and for the same reason that no defensive player will have any reasonable shot at winning the MVP despite how well they may play at their given position; Chris Johnson will not win the MVP award either.
Which brings me to Peyton Manning.
He finished second in the NFL is passing (4,500), second in touchdown passes (33), second in completion percentage (68.8), and sixth in quarterback rating (99.9).
Statistically, Drew Brees seems to be the logical selection.
He led the league in touchdown passes (34) and quarterback rating (109.6) while setting an NFL record with a completion percentage of 70.6.
The fact that his Saints dropped their final three games (two of which Brees was active for) will likely be held against him.
Their final loss of the season had nothing to do with Brees but that might not be relevant to a number of voters who simply remember the 0-3 finish.
As I said before, it doesn't make a difference whether the losing games (or bad games) came at the beginning or end of the season because this is not the MVP of December award.
In this case, it's more a matter of how impressive Manning has been than it is a matter of Brees not being impressive enough.
Manning's Colts ranked 32nd in the NFL (dead last) in rushing compared to the Saints who ranked sixth.
That is a monumental difference in terms of support.
When your running-game becomes non-existent, it forces your quarterback to play under far more pressure because defenses know that they need to throw the football to have any reasonable chance of winning.
Yet despite being backed by the league's least productive rushing-attack, Manning was able to become the most productive quarterback in the league.
Had he been given the opportunity to play the entire season (even if Brees played his final game), it would be fair to assume that Manning would have led the league in both passing yards and touchdowns.
His cameo appearances in the Colts final two games skew his per-game averages to the point in which they are not logically applicable to the discussion.
The trade-off between Manning and Brees comes down to interceptions (Manning's 16 to Brees' 11) but those figures were severely impacted by level of rushing support.
Defenses that played the Saints feared both the pass and the run.
When defenses played the Colts, it became all about protecting against the pass and that leads to interceptions.
Just ask Drew Brees.
He threw 17 interceptions in 2008 while being backed by a rushing attack far more productive than the Colts had this year.
What makes Manning's 2009 season all the more impressive is who he has been throwing to.
People will be quick to say that he had Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, and they'd be right regarding Wayne.
But with Clark, we're talking about a player who averaged 43 receptions for 513 yards and five touchdowns per-season prior to this year.
Yet people talk about him as though he has always been a Pro Bowl caliber receiver.
Manning was paired with one such target (Reggie Wayne) and a tight end who has only recently developed into an exceptionally productive target.
Manning lost his starting receiver in Anthony Gonzalez (who replaced future Hall of Fame receiver, Marvin Harrison) yet still managed to turn two late-round draft picks (Pierre Garcon & Austin Collie) into productive targets.
Over the course of doing so, he led the Colts to an undefeated record.
I'd mention Manning's NFL-record seven fourth quarter comebacks but something makes me hesitant to do so.
The Colts should have played better during the first three quarters of those games, and while I don't put too much stock in the heroics of these "clutch" moments, they should be recognized because the Colts wouldn't have likely been in those kinds of situations if it wasn't for an atrocious running-game to begin with, yet Manning still managed to lead his team to victory week after week.
Remove Brees, Favre, and Rivers from their clubs and I'd imagine they'd still be winning teams.
Not nearly the same threats mind you, but good teams loaded with talent never the less.
Take Peyton Manning away from the Colts and...well...we see the Colts of weeks 16 and 17.
Think about this for a moment.
The Colts had seven fourth quarter comebacks in 2009.
Remove Manning from the team and do you honestly think they would have had an opportunity to win any of those seven games?
That's provided that Jim Sorgi or Curtis Painter produced at Manning's Hall of Fame level for the first three quarters of all those games (which clearly isn't logical).
You can then add another seven "L's" to accompany the two that Curtis Painter’s Colts earned.
That brings the Colts to a 7-9 record under the absolute best of circumstances.
There is simply no player as valuable to his team as Manning is to the Colts.
You cannot ignore his knowledge of the playbook, his mastery of the audible and his desire to work with the younger talent to help them develop.
The Colts would not get any of these things to nearly to the same extent with another quarterback under center, especially with a quarterback the likes of Curtis Painter (his 9.8 quarterback rating and all).
The fact that Manning managed to still be so productive and remain undefeated while being backed by horrendous rushing support and a very young receiving corps speaks volumes.
The combination of all the above to me, more than warrants an NFL-record fourth league MVP award.