The contest for the 2012 MVP award could be one of the closest races in league history. With several players setting near record-breaking seasons, and numerous excellent quarterbacks vying for the title -- it's an unfortunate situation where there are more deserving players than available awards.
Beginning with back-to-back wins by running back Jim Brown, only 14 running backs have won the award in its 56 years. The MVP has, and continues to be, dominated by quarterbacks. The last five league MVP's have been quarterbacks, with Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers taking home the award in 2011.
That 2011 season has become a high watermark for quarterback play in the league. Throwing for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdown and six interceptions -- Rodgers posted a 122.5 quarterback rating on the season, all while completing almost 70 percent of his passes. While Rodgers could be in the hunt again in 2012, this appears to be Peyton Manning's year out of the quarterback crop.
Manning didn't throw for the most yards in the league, or post the highest quarterback rating -- but his addition to the Denver Broncos was the most important off-season addition of any team. The Broncos didn't progress in the playoffs the way fans had hoped, but throughout Peyton proved that not only did he still have all the trappings of a top flight quarterback, but shrugged off any suggestion that he wouldn't be the same player following neck surgery that kept him out of the entire 2011 season. If Manning manages to win the MVP, it would be his fifth award -- overwhelmingly giving him the record for most awards, with Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas his closest competition; both have three.
Quarterbacks may be the golden children, but if there's any running back who can end the streak it's Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006 was the last back to win the MVP, but this was no ordinary season for Peterson. Despite Eric Dickerson setting the league rushing record in 1983, it was Joe Theismann who won the award -- this time could be different. Peterson fell eight agonizing yards short, however his season will be remembered as one of the most dominant running performances the league has ever seen.
Teams knew the Minnesota Vikings would be running the ball at them non-stop, and they couldn't do anything to stop it. As defenses stacked the box, Peterson ran right through them. Finishing with only 838 less rushing yards than quarterback Christian Ponder had passing yards, AP was the Vikings' meal ticket in the playoffs. Coming off an injury of his own, it would be Peterson's first MVP award.
Manning vs. Brady: Over the last decade it's been the NFL's argument of choice, and this year it could be over the MVP award. Finishing with over 4,800 passing yards and 34 touchdowns -- the fact this was down from his 2011 season is a testament to how good Brady and the Patriots are right now. Throwing for the second highest total of his career, Brady would be aiming for the third award of his career -- joining Johnny Unitas and Manning with three MVP awards or more.
This list is dominated by offensive players, just like the MVP award is every year. Only two defensive players have ever won the MVP award, but Houston Texans' defensive end J.J. Watt gives voters pause. His statistics are astonishing: 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. Watt was more than the Texans' best pass rusher, he was their everything on defense. It's rare to see a defensive player fly around the field like he did this season, especially from a big man. While he fell short of Michael Strahan's 22.5 sack record, he was astonishingly good.
Overall it looks again like this will be a quarterback-dominated contest that will likely become Manning vs. Tom Brady. The latter may have more yards, but Manning's ability to take a Denver Broncos' team in need of a quarterback, and completely turn around their passing game will be remembered as the most important free agent acquisition of the season. Peterson is wholly deserving of the award, but he will likely need to settle for offensive player of the year, or comeback player of the year.