2012 PFF Most Valuable Player
This has been a remarkable season for individual player performances even if no team has distinguished itself as a dominant force. There have been half a dozen standout player performances that will be getting extensive ink in our awards, but when it comes down to the race for MVP, the choice was a simple option of two players: Adrian Peterson or Peyton Manning.
Both players were coming back from major injuries, both players led their team to the postseason, and both players have been the unquestioned leaders of their franchise, coming up biggest when they were needed the most. How do you separate them in the race for MVP?
The Case For
This time last year we weren’t sure Peyton Manning could ever play again. He was going to be cut loose from the Colts and would need to improve his arm strength immeasurably before even auditioning for teams. At the start of the season in Denver his arm was still visibly short of what he was used to, and that three-interception performance against Atlanta showed he hadn’t come to terms with his own limitations by that point.
It didn’t take him long, though, and he has thrown just eight interceptions in his remaining 14 games, while tossing 34 touchdowns. That’s better than a 4:1 ratio and he has seven games with no interceptions at all. From being 2-3 and among nobody’s Super Bowl contenders, he took the Broncos on an 11-win streak to the top seed in the AFC, ending with arguably his greatest statistical season and sitting comfortably at the top of our QB rankings with a score of +53.2.
Manning transformed the Broncos from a run-heavy option offense with Tim Tebow at the helm to a perfect clone of the high-octane offense he ran in Indianapolis. None of the coaches from his first stop were there to aid the change, and Manning visibly raised the play of everybody around him. The Broncos may have been a playoff team in 2011 without Manning, but they are arguably the best team in football heading into the 2012 playoffs with him.
The Case Against
If Denver made the playoffs and actually won a postseason game last season with Tebow, a quarterback who couldn’t even supplant Mark Sanchez this year, how much better could Manning really have made them? There was a lot of talent already on that roster, with young receivers just waiting for a quarterback better than Tebow to throw them the ball, and it is actually the defense that has allowed them to win games. Von Miller has more pressure than every player in the NFL bar Cameron Wake, despite 131 fewer snaps rushing the passer, and the Broncos’ secondary has been playing fantastic football at times.
The Case For
At the tail end of last season, Adrian Peterson had his knee torn apart by a hit from the side against the Washington Redskins. He suffered a torn ACL, torn MCL, and meniscus damage. That injury has ended careers in the past, rendering a player like Daunte Culpepper a shadow of his former self, but Peterson came back as the best version of ‘All Day’ we have ever seen.
Peterson finished the season just 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, became just the seventh player to top 2,000 rushing yards, and actually outgained the Vikings’ passing attack during the second half of the season. When Percy Harvin went down, Peterson became the Vikings’ offense. Despite teams knowing there was no viable passing threat, he was still able to force his way for big yards and keep the chains moving.
Every single Peterson number this season is crazy. He averaged as much yardage after contact (4.1) as Arian Foster did overall, forced a massive 69 missed tackles to lead the league, and topped 150 yards in seven of his last 10 games. Only an efficient final game raised Christian Ponder’s passing average per attempt to 6.1 yards, 0.1 above Peterson’s ludicrous 6.0 rushing average.
The Case Against
The Vikings were winning games when Peterson was far from the most valuable player they had. In the first half of the season, we hailed Harvin as an MVP candidate and everything the team did on offense flowed through him. Harvin was leading the league in yards from scrimmage and was the sole focus of defenses trying to prevent him from getting the ball in his hands. Peterson was second fiddle in his own offense.
And in this league of pass-first offenses, can a running back truly be the league’s Most Valuable Player? With Peterson putting up one of the finest seasons in league history, the Vikings still only squeaked into the postseason and need Ponder to play better to have any hope of progressing.
The Bottom Line
It is possible to poke holes in the case for both players, but that is simply nitpicking to an unnecessary degree, and the good far outweighs any perceived negative. The bottom line is that both of these superstars had amazing seasons and both were fundamental to the success of their franchises.
Manning raised the performance of everybody around him and was able to turn the Broncos’ offense into a clone of the one he operated so well in Indianapolis for more than a decade. He came back from an injury that many feared would end his career, putting together one of his best seasons.
Peterson put the Vikings on his back and carried them to the postseason on his way to 2,097 rushing yards. When Harvin was injured and Ponder was struggling in the middle of the season, Peterson responded with some of his biggest games, dragging the team to 10 wins in a series of must-win encounters.
You can’t separate these two in terms of value, which is why PFF is naming co-MVPs for the first time: Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam