This year’s NFL season certainly faced high levels of controversy ranging from the replacement refs to on-field fines and rule changes, but before the final game of the season is played in two weeks, one final hot topic is who should win the 2013 MVP award. While some players including Tom Brady, J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers certainly qualify for consideration, the two front-runners for this season’s award are Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson. Manning is one of the best players of all time and is certainly deserving of a record fifth trophy, but Adrian Peterson was the most dominant player this season and elevated the Vikings to the playoffs. He deserves to be the 2013 NFL MVP because he made history, fought back from a devastating injury and lifted a mediocre team to the playoffs.
AP rushed for 2,097 yards this season, a mere nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record set in 1984. Peterson rushed for over 100 yards in nine of the final 10 games of the season and finished third in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns. His 2,097 yards rushing were more than 24 other teams had as a whole this season.
The last two times a non-quarterback won the MVP were in consecutive years, 2005 and 2006, when Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson won. Both times, the individual player broke the single-season rushing touchdown mark. Peterson may lack the same numbers in terms of touchdowns, but when comparing him to this season’s other main candidate in Manning, AP’s numbers certainly stack up in comparison.
Last season, Peterson tore his ACL and MCL, an injury that would have forced any other player to sit out for multiple games this season. Not only did Peterson rehab and not miss any playing time, but he also came back looking like a stronger and more dominant runner. Manning’s return from his neck injury is equally, if not more, impressive, but Peterson’s quick return must be taken into account.
Finally, AP led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs after the team finished last season with a franchise-worst 3-13 record. Minnesota won its final four games this season to clinch a wild card spot, games in which Peterson powered the Vikings behind averages of over 160 rushing yards and one touchdown per game. Even after losing top receiver and big-play threat Percy Harvin to injury for the final seven games of the season, Minnesota won five of those games.
Already a limited offense with few weapons, when the Vikings lost their second best offensive player, it seemed certain Minnesota was doomed as teams prepared to stack the box against AP. Instead, Peterson went on to dominate opposing defenses. Without Peterson, the Vikings win maybe four or five games this season. Christian Ponder isn’t going to get the job done without an elite running back, as the Vikings ranked 31st in the league in passing yards and second in rushing yards. Denver, meanwhile, featured a balanced attack in which it ranked fifth in passing and 16th in rushing yards per game. Manning had the threat of handing off to Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno, but everyone knew Peterson was going to run the ball for a majority of the game. Even against stacked boxes all season, Peterson managed to put forth one of the most impressive performances by a running back ever. He was a man on a mission during the final 10 weeks of the season.
Manning, by comparison, played for a Denver team that made the playoffs last season with Tim Tebow at quarterback. If a decent quarterback replaced Manning, the Broncos would have been likely to make the playoffs in the weak AFC West. Peterson put the Vikings on his back and led them to a playoff berth in the stacked NFC over teams like the Bears and Giants.
Regardless of what the voters decide, either player is deserving of the award. Peterson just stands out to me as more valuable to his respective team than Manning does. I guess come Super Bowl weekend we shall find out who was truly viewed as the best and most valuable player this season.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of January 23rd, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.