The 2012 NFL MVP race was a four-horse dead heat to the finish. All four candidates are deserving and worthy of being named the most valuable player in the league. And all four are going to be historic players who likely will land in Canton.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are elder statesmen who have nothing left to prove on the football field. They are two of the greatest to ever play the game and both produced championship seasons for their teams. Aaron Rodgers is the reigning MVP and somehow willed his team to a division title with a beaten and bruised supporting cast. And Adrian "All-Day" Peterson produced one of the game's most remarkable single-season performances... ever.
Below is the case for each candidate and how my ballot will look, but first a statistical breakdown of the three elite quarterbacks:
And a look at the Minnesota Vikings' running back:
Tom Brady, QB, New England
Brady threw more passes, completed more passes and threw for more yards than both Manning and Rodgers en route to his NFL-record 10th divisional championship. His 4,827 yards is the second-best mark of his career — better than the perfect 16-0 season of 2007. His 34 touchdowns were the fourth-highest total in his career and the Pats earned a first-round bye. His eight interceptions were tied for the second fewest in his career. He beat Peyton Manning head-to-head this season, finished 3-3 against playoff teams and had one fourth-quarter comeback. Finally, Brady and the Pats had easily the best running game behind Stevan Ridley of the three quarterbacks. Also consider, mastermind Bill Belichick was still pulling all the strings on the sideline and both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missed time this fall.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver
The future Hall of Famer returned from missing an entire season with four neck surgeries and didn't miss a single beat. He had a higher completion percentage than both Rodgers and Brady, while also winning more games than both, including an AFC West crown. He also led his MVP brethren with three fourth-quarter comebacks. His 4,659 yards and 37 scoring strikes were both the second-best totals in his career. That said, Manning's supporting cast was likely the best of the three quarterbacks as his defense ranked No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 4 in points allowed. His offensive line is likely the best of the three as well. He was 2-3 against playoff teams this fall.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
From a statistical standpoint, Rodgers was better than both Brady and Manning. He was the most efficient passer in the NFL and accounted for more touchdowns (41) than his peers — and he did so on dramatically fewer passing attempts. His team was also the most affected by injury as stars Desmond Bishop, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews missed most of the season while Cedric Benson, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson missed significant time on offense. All three of the Packers' most-recent first-round picks ended up on IR this fall (Nick Perry, Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod). He had two fourth-quarter comebacks and his running game was easily the worst of the trio, as no player on the team rushed for more than 500 yards. The Packers ranked 20th in rushing offense and 26th in rushing touchdowns. New England ranked 7th in rushing and led the league in rushing TDs while Denver was 16th in the NFL in rushing and 15th in rushing TDs. He was 2-4 against playoff teams, but everyone knows the Seattle loss doesn't really count and he was 2-0 against the 10-6 Chicago Bears.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota
All-Day was unbelievable in 2012. Less than one calendar year removed from major reconstructive knee surgery, Peterson was nine yards shy of breaking the all-time single-season rushing record. He played on easily the worst team of the four MVP candidates but literally carried a 3-13 team to a 10-win season and a playoff berth. He rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of the last 10 games and topped 150 yards in seven times over that span as well. He capped his remarkable season with a career-high 34 carries — including the game-winning, playoff-clinching 27-yard run — and 199 yards against Green Bay in the regular-season finale. His supporting cast is easily the weakest of the bunch as quarterback Christian Ponder was 25th in the NFL in passing yards (2,935), 23rd in passing touchdowns (18) and 21st in QB rating (81.2). No receiver on the team ranked in the top 60 in yards or the top 40 in receptions. This team was supposed to be one of the worst in the NFL this year according to preseason polls and, because of A.D., is visiting Lambeau Field for its first postseason game since 2009.
My 2012 MVP Ballot:
1. Adrian Peterson: The most talented runner on the planet carried a bad team to the postseason.
2. Aaron Rodgers: Did more with less than anyone in the league — and won the division.
3. Peyton Manning: One of his best years on a complete team after injury. Unlucky year to do it.
4. Tom Brady: Clearly the fourth option of the bunch, but no less impressive.