Defining the NFL MVP Award and Who Deserves It Most in 2012

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIDecember 27, 2012

Can Adrian Peterson break up the streak of QB's winning the MVP award?
Can Adrian Peterson break up the streak of QB's winning the MVP award?Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

When the AP voters fill out their ballots for the 2012 NFL season-ending awards, what criterion will they rely on most heavily when voting for the NFL Most Valuable Player award?

We will with a brief review of the AP MVP voting mechanics, followed by laying out 10 plausible factors and nominating a player or two that meets that description. Then we will go back and review each of the past 10 NFL MVP award winners to identify if any significant trends exist with the AP voters. You may find the results surprising.

Overview of the AP MVP voting mechanics

The AP NFL MVP award consists of a panel of 50 national media representatives that are dedicated to covering the NFL. In the 2011 AP vote for the NFL MVP, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers earned 48 votes, while the runner-up was New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees with two votes. Nobody else in the NFL earned a vote. Yet it was Brees that beat out Rodgers for the 2011 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award as if it was predetermined that each player should win one award.

Going back a year earlier, New England QB Tom Brady became the first player in the history of the AP NFL MVP voting to be voted in unanimously, as he received all 50 votes. He came close in 2007 when he got 49 of the 50 votes, with Brett Favre getting the only other vote that year.

Each voter only writes down the name of one player, unlike the Heisman Trophy ballot, which requires the voters to write down the names of their first-place, second-place and third-place choices.

The voting will take place on December 31, which is the day after the 2012 regular season ends. For the football fans that are really amped up about learning who wins the award, your patience will be tested. The NFL will keep you waiting for 33 days to learn the outcome. The will be announced on February 2, which is the eve of Super Bowl XLVII.

The 2012 season has been unique because of the overall dominating play of two veterans who have literally excelled the entire season. Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson and Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning have each produced one of the best years of their respective despite coming back from major operations that cast a number of question marks for the season.  

There is the remote possibility that the AP voters could be so torn by which player to vote for that they could be split right down the middle, resulting in a co-MVP situation. There is precedent for that, as we have had co-MVP award winners twice before. It happened in 1997 (Barry Sanders and Brett Favre shared the award) and again in 2003 (Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the honors).

From a recent history perspective the MVP award has been dominated by quarterbacks, which isn't a total surprise because the NFL is clearly a quarterback-driven league. The past five winners have all been quarterbacks: 2007 (Tom Brady), 2008 and 2009 (Peyton Manning), 2010 (Tom Brady) and 2011 (Aaron Rodgers).

The 2012 season still has its share of outstanding quarterback play with Brady, Peyton Manning and Rodgers leading the way. However, we also have two very intriguing non-QB candidates for the award in RB Adrian Peterson and DE J.J. Watt that have been grabbing headlines all year long.

10 factors for AP voters to consider when selecting their MVP choice

1) Will their decision be based on the statistics a player generated throughout the year? 

If they consider stats only, RB Peterson and WR Calvin Johnson would have to be strongly considered, as would the top three or four quarterbacks in the league.

2) Does it depend on whether the player is on a winning team, or is the number of wins immaterial?

If a winning record is a prerequisite, then you would have to eliminate WR Johnson and QB Drew Brees.

3) How important is it for the MVP to be part of an offense that generates lots of points?

If that is a key category, than this year would look good for QB Brady, as the Patriots are the only team that has scored more than 500 points. With the offensive explosion that the Seahawks have going on, they are still only at 392 points, in case you were wondering.

4) What if his overall numbers aren't great, but the player makes everybody around him better?

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck and Atlanta QB Matt Ryan spread the ball around and elevate the level of performance for the rest of the offense.

5) Is he the best player at his position in the league?

For RB Peterson, WR Johnson and DE Watt, the answer is yes. For the quarterbacks, there are simply too many great, if not elite, players to be able to single out just one and say he is unquestionably the best QB in the NFL.

6) How did the player improve his team from the prior year to the current year?

With Luck and the Colts, the answer is obvious. By inserting Luck at QB, the Colts improved by eight more wins and counting over 2011. Peterson has led the Vikings to six more wins than they experienced last year, with one more game to go.

7) How important is the level of talent surrounding the MVP to determine if he is a product of the system or if he is excelling on his own abilities without much help? 

The player that is doing it mostly on his own this year is RB Peterson.

8) Is it based on the best player on offense from the team with the best record in the league?

If that is the case, things are looking up for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan.

9) Is there one player that the AP voters tends to favor or throw the traditional rules out the window for?

 Yes, that player is Peyton Manning. We will offer more about our theory on this later in the presentation.

10) Can a defensive player be truly considered for the MVP award?

If you review the list of AP MVP award winners from 1957-present, there have only been two players from defense that won the AP MVP award. Minnesota Vikings DL Alan Page won it in 1971 and New York Giants LB Lawrence Taylor was the last defensive player to be voted MVP. That was in 1986, so 26 years and counting.

If the AP voters are ready to consider a defensive player, they would have to strongly consider Houston DE Watt.

As for players on offense, it has always gone to either a quarterback or a running back. The MVP has never gone to a wide receiver, tight end or offensive lineman. There is only one player from special teams who has ever won the award, and that was Washington kicker Mark Moseley, who won it in 1982.

Reviewing the past 10 AP MVP award winners (looking to identify a trend)

2011: Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay had the best record that year in the NFL at 15-1. The Packers also scored the most points in the league with 560.

2010: New England QB Tom Brady 

New England had the best record in the NFL at 14-2. The Patriots led the NFL with 518 points, the only team to score more than 500 points that year.

2009: Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning

Indianapolis had the best record in the NFL at 14-2. The Colts only scored 416 points on offense, which was good for No. 7 that year in the league (Manning outlier No. 1). 

2008: Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning 

Indianapolis went 12-4, one of four teams with that record. The team with the best record was Tennessee at 13-3. With 377 points, the Colts were No. 13 in points scored that year (Manning outlier No. 2). 

2007: New England QB Tom Brady 

New England went a perfect 16-0, and the team was No. 1 in offense with a whopping 589 points scored. Next closest was Dallas with 455.

2006: San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson 

San Diego went 14-2, best record in the NFL. Tomlinson led the NFL in rushing and scored 28 touchdowns in a dominating performance that year. He is the last non-quarterback to win the award. San Diego scored 492 points, most in the NFL.

2005: Seattle RB Shaun Alexander 

Seattle went 13-3, which was the second-best record in the NFL. The best record was Indianapolis at 14-2. Seattle, though, scored the most points in the NFL with 452. Alexander led the NFL in rushing and scored 27 touchdowns that season.

2004: Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning 

Indianapolis went 12-4, but Pittsburgh had by far the best record at 15-1. The Steelers won with a great defense, not a great offense. They only scored 372 points all year while the Colts led the NFL with 522 points (Manning outlier No. 3).

2003: Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning and Tennessee QB Steve McNair 

There were co-MVPs in 2003. Indianapolis went only 12-4 that year. New England had the best record at 14-2, followed by Kansas City at 13-3. The Colts were one of four teams at 12-4, along with Tennessee.

Kansas City was No. 1 in points, followed by Indianapolis at No. 2. The Chiefs also had the second-best record, so the MVP could have easily gone to Kansas City QB Trent Green that year. For what it's worth, McNair and Manning were rated No. 1 and No. 2 in the QB passer rating that season (Manning outlier No. 4).

2002: Oakland QB Rich Gannon 

Oakland was 11-5, and there were three teams that finished ahead of it with a 12-4 record. The Raiders scored 450 points, which was No. 2 in the league.

Can we draw any conclusions from the 10 prior MVP awards?

In the past 10 years, Peyton Manning has won the MVP four times while Tom Brady has won it twice. Aaron Rodgers, Rich Gannon, Steve McNair, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander won it once each. For Brady, Tomlinson, Alexander, Rodgers and Gannon, the formula was basically the same: play on a team with the best or second-best record in the league that scores the most points or second-most points.

We aren't intentionally trying to oversimplify the voting rationale, but you can draw your own conclusions.

When it comes to Peyton Manning, you can throw all rationale out the window. Out of his four MVP awards, the Colts have been anywhere in points scored from No. 1 to No. 2, No. 7 to No. 13. And in only one of those MVP seasons did Manning's team finish with the best record in the NFL.

Please understand that we aren't trying to say that Manning isn't a great quarterback, because obviously he is. He will be a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, but the research reveals that the AP voters are holding the other MVP winners to a higher standard than they are for Manning.

So who should win the MVP award in 2012?

If we use the AP trend of narrowing it down to the best player on offense with the best record and most points scored, that would point in the direction of QB Tom Brady or Matt Ryan.

If you look at it from the perspective of the player that was most valuable to his team by helping to elevate a group made up of inferior skill or talent, the winner would be Adrian Peterson.

If you go with AP history or who the voters have a clear comfort level voting for, it would be Peyton Manning.

If you prefer the one player that was most dominating for his unit on the field, it would be narrowed down to either Peterson or J.J. Watt.

For our presentation, we would vote Adrian Peterson as the 2012 NFL MVP winner.

Peterson did the most with the least, as the rest of the Minnesota offensive supporting cast just doesn't have that much star power. When the NFL came out with the announcement of who made the Pro Bowl team, the only other Vikings member on offense was fullback Jerome Felton. QB Christian Ponder is hardly a major threat to any secondary, as he has recorded three games of less than 100 yards passing and five games of less than 150 yards passing this year.

Here is a link to an interview Peterson conducted with NFL Network on being named to the Pro Bowl team. If you watch the interview, you will note that he really wants to win the Most Valuable Player award. There is also some nice video clips of some of his highlight runs this year.

Defenses stuff the box continually to shut down Peterson, yet he finds a way to create one big play after another. He has reeled off 23 rushes of 20-plus yards or more this year. Next closest to him is C.J. Spiller with only 12. The fact that he was able to do this on a knee that required major reconstruction during the offseason is simply amazing. Peterson looks just as good, or better, now than he did prior to the injury.

Peterson didn't get off to a historically fast start this season, but he continued to work hard and get his legs back underneath him. For his perseverance, for what he did to lift the Vikings to the verge of the playoffs and for his quest to break the 2,000-yard barrier, Peterson is an easy choice for 2012 NFL MVP.


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