On NFL Thursday this week, we start the final approach to the present day, just like we’re doing on NBA Tuesday. Many of the contenders for the MVP Award, therefore, are still playing today, which is kind of cool when you stop and think about it. In the end, it’s the players that draw us into sports and keep us watching …

Now, onto the award analysis for this exciting season!

2012 MVP: Adrian Peterson (original AP & PFWA, confirmed)

Defensively, Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was the only player to register more than 10 tackles a game (164), but he didn’t do much else. Four players notched more than one sack per contest, however: Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (20.5 sacks), San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (19.5), Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (18.5), and Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (13 in 12 games).

Watt added 81 tackles, 16 passes defended, and 4 forced fumbles to his stat line, while the other three sack masters did not do much else beyond rushing the quarterback. The Texans won 12 games to claim the AFC South Division title, so that puts Watt in the MVP discussion, for sure.

On to those QBs: Four of them posted passer ratings of at least 100.0 points, including last year’s MVP pick, Green Bay gunslinger Aaron Rodgers (108.0). He was followed by Broncos star Peyton Manning (105.8), Washington Redskins youngster Robert Griffin III (102.4), and Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson (100.0). All four players got their teams to the postseason, so any one of them could be MVP candidates, in truth.

For the running backs, Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson won both MVP Award votes by running for 2,097 yards, the second-highest total in NFL history behind the 1984 effort of Eric Dickerson. The Vikings squeaked into the postseason on a tiebreaker, and we don’t like the fact AP fumbled 4 times during the year, but we can’t ignore the milestone he surpassed, readily.

In the receiving category, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson set the all-time yardage record with 1,964 yards, but he scored just 5 times while fumbling 3 times. Also, the Lions won a mere 4 games—which means two things: 1) Megatron didn’t play under a lot of pressure; and 2) His team was really bad, so he probably had to work twice as hard for all those yards on his NFL-best 122 catches.

Peterson and Johnson finished 1-2 in scrimmage yards, by the way, with AP posting 2,314 total yards. Johnson did not add any rushing yards to his total. Both are flawed candidates, but we have more analysis to do, of course, and we have 7 candidates right now to take seriously.

Here we go:

  • Watt: QB Matt Schaub (90.7 QB rating), RB Arian Foster (1,641 yards and 16 TDs), WR Andre Johnson (1,598 yards and 4 TDs)
  • Rodgers: fifth-best scoring defense in NFC (336 points allowed), WR Randall Cobb (1,086 yards and 8 TDs), RB Alex Green (589 yards and 0 TDs)
  • Manning: top scoring defense in AFC (289 points allowed), WR Demaryius Thomas (1,434 yards and 10 TDs), RB Willis McGahee (952 yards and 4 TDs)
  • Griffin: sixth-worst scoring defense in NFC (388 points allowed), RB Alfred Morris (1,690 yards and 13 TDs), WR Pierre Garcon (633 yards and 4 TDs)
  • Wilson: top scoring defense in NFC (245 points allowed), RB Marshawn Lynch (1,786 yards and 12 TDs), WR Sydney Rice (748 yards and 7 TDs)
  • Peterson: QB Christian Ponder (81.2 QB rating), seventh-best scoring defense in NFC (348 points allowed), WR Percy Harvin (733 yards and 4 TDs).
  • Johnson: QB Matthew Stafford (79.8 QB rating), third-worst scoring defense in NFC (437 points allowed), RB Mikel Leshoure (1,012 yards and 9 TDs)

Watt had a lot of offensive help, so that diminishes his defensive contributions somewhat. Rodgers had no running game to work with, although he did have a handful of average receivers (but no stars, literally). Manning had a second WR gaining over 1,000 yards in addition to the players above. Griffin added 815 yards on the ground himself, with no WR corps to speak of—and a mediocre defense, to boot.

Wilson added 489 yards rushing himself, although he had a great defense behind him—and no one good to throw the ball to every play. Peterson had next to no support on any front at all, and neither did Johnson. Generally, we think this topical analysis leaves us with Peterson, Johnson, and Rodgers in that order when ranking our potential MVP candidates, followed by Griffin and Wilson. Manning and Watt had way too much help, overall.

All things considered, it’s stunning that the Vikings won 10 games to make the playoffs. Minnesota won its last four games to beat out the Chicago Bears for the last playoff spot in the NFC, and in those four games, Peterson ran for 651 yards while scoring 5 TDs as Minnesota beat Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, and Green Bay to snag a postseason berth.

Johnson clearly may have had the best contextual season, with a crap QB and crap defense behind him. But the value is missing, since he couldn’t carry the Lions to the postseason on his own. That’s not his fault, but it’s just the way the cookie crumbles in these analyses.

The Packers never would have made the playoffs without Rodgers, but Peterson’s season bring a little bit more value, in terms of individual loads carried. But this certainly was another MVP-caliber season from Rodgers, no doubt.

In the end, we feel confident in confirming Peterson’s MVP awards vote victories. But this was an interesting season with a lot of viable candidates and some pretty amazing performances from some exciting players.

Check in every Thursday for our NFL awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!