After a one-week absence due to extenuating circumstances, NFL Thursday returns this week with a look at one of the more interesting seasons in recent memory. You will see why as we go through the MVP candidates below, but needless to say, it was significant for many reasons.

So, no more teasing, and here we go … on with the show!

2013 MVP: Peyton Manning (original AP & PFWA, confirmed)

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning set NFL records for passing touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477) in a season, while winning the vote for both MVP awards. However, he was not the highest-rated QB of the year (115.1); that honor went to Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles (119.2). In fact, seven different passers posted ratings higher than 100 for the season. This tells us a lot about value at the position.

Both records still stand, by the way, so there’s that, as the Broncos posted a 13-3 record to win the AFC West. The Eagles went 10-6 to win the NFC East, with Foles going 8-2 as a starter. Save completion percentage, Foles’ sabermetric numbers were higher than Manning’s across the board, and we see Philly went just 2-4 without him in the starting lineup.

For running backs, Eagles stud LeSean McCoy was the only rusher to post 100 yards a game (1,607 yards in 16 games). No other RB came within 10 yards a game of his numbers, and McCoy only fumbled once during the entire season. He stands out among his peers for these reasons, in terms of an MVP consideration.

Receivers were a mixed bag, with the two best players at the position playing only 14 games apiece: Cleveland Browns youngster Josh Gordon (87 catches for 1,646 yards and 9 TDs) and Detroit Lions stalwart Calvin Johnson (84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 TDs). Five other WRs caught at least 100 passes each, but none of them had the yardage/TD package that both Gordon and Johnson put together in fewer games.

The Browns won just 4 games, however, so Gordon can’t really be an MVP candidate, and while the Lions posted just a 7-9 mark, they were very close to the postseason in the NFC North, finishing right behind division-winning Green Bay (8-7-1). That makes Johnson a borderline consideration for the top award.

McCoy led all position players with 2,146 total yards from scrimmage, while Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (1,980 yards and 19 TDs) and Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte (1,933 yards and 12 TDs) also posted good numbers. The Chiefs posted an 11-5 record to finish behind the Broncos as a wild-card team, and the Bears finished between the Packers and the Lions (8-8) in the NFC North, missing the postseason by a half game.

Defensively, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis notched 19.5 sacks while forcing 10 fumbles during the season. The Colts won 11 games and the AFC South Division, so he clearly made a difference in his team’s fortunes. He was the most multi-faceted defensive player of the year, really.

So, that leaves us with a list of 7 players to consider, as the picture gets murkier with more statistics available to us every season. But we have two of them from the same team: Foles and McCoy. On top of that, the Eagles were the only team in the NFC East to finish with a winning record, so it’s hard to take either of them seriously as MVP candidates, as it is possible Philly could have won the division still without either player.

Those are the breaks for the Eagles duo. Here we go with a deeper analysis of the 5 remaining candidates:

  • Manning: RB Knowshon Moreno (1,568 total yards and 13 TDs), WR Demaryius Thomas (1,430 total yards and 14 TDs), WR Eric Decker (1,288 yards and 11 TDs), fifth-worst scoring defense in the AFC (399 points allowed)
  • Johnson: QB Matthew Stafford (84.2 QB rating), RB Reggie Bush (1,512 total yards and 7 TDs with 5 fumbles), RB Joique Bell (1,1197 total yards with 8 TDs and 4 fumbles), seventh-best scoring defense in the NFC (376 PA)
  • Charles: QB Alex Smith (89.1), WR Dwayne Bowe (673 total yards and 5 TDs), WR Donnie Avery (602 total yards and 2 TDs), top scoring defense in the AFC (305 PA)
  • Forte: QBs Josh McCown and Jay Cutler (96.9 rating combined), WR Alshon Jeffrey (1,526 total yards with 7 TDs and 3 fumbles), WR Brandon Marshall (1,295 total yards and 12 TDs), second-worst scoring defense in the NFC (478 PA)
  • Mathis: QB Andrew Luck (87.0), WR T.Y. Hilton (1,089 total yards and 5 TDs), RBs Donald Brown and Trent Richardson (1,474 total yards and 12 TDs combined)

Manning ran a sophisticated offense, and we can argue that the teammates would never be as effective with a different QB, while the defense was in prevent mode a lot of the time. Meanwhile, Johnson put up stunning numbers with good RBs who fumbled all the time and an average QB, and the Lions lost the two games he missed. But he also disappeared in a three-game losing streak down the stretch that cost Detroit its playoff hopes.

Charles led the Chiefs in both rushing and receiving, while receiving decent QB support and good defensive support. Forte had great offensive teammates that just couldn’t outscore opponents, thanks to a bad defense. Mathis played with an offense that was potent enough although hardly outstanding.

We have to drop Johnson here from consideration for his disappearing act when it mattered most, and Forte had plenty of help in his offense as well. So both those players go, and we have to decide between Manning, Charles, and Mathis. It’s hard to overlook Manning’s records, but Mathis spearheaded the fourth-best scoring defense in the AFC (336 PA) while supporting an above-average offense. Charles was kind of a one-man wrecking ball for his offense, with a good defense to boot.

In the end, we’re going to confirm Manning’s award, due to the NFL records that still stand today. While Charles and Mathis clearly had great seasons, Manning had an all-time season, historically. That is good enough for us.

This is Peyton’s second MVP nod from us, after the 2004 award; we also stripped him of the award in 2003, 2008, and 2009, however. Lastly, this is the third consecutive season we’ve confirmed the voters’ choice—that has never happened before in our long-term NFL revisionist project.

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