Vikings RB Adrian Peterson made a late entrance to this race. He did not crack the top 10 on the MVP Meter until Week 10 and was on the lower end of the truly legitimate candidates on our top 10 just last week in part because we expected the Vikings — a team we projected to win four games in our season preview — to miss the playoffs.
The balance we have attempted to strike on the Meter is built on assessing the state of the MVP race as it is while also projecting where it is heading. To win MVP honors, Peterson’s eye-popping production would not be enough. The top candidates lead their teams to the playoffs, at minimum, and we thought Peterson and Minnesota would come up a bit short playing in one of the league’s toughest divisions. That was a projection. It didn’t become reality. The Vikings won their 10th game, beating the Packers, 37-34, in Week 17. The Vikings clinched a wild-card berth with the win, and Peterson moved to the top spot on the Meter, which he had not previously held this season.
Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan each held the No. 1 slot on the Meter this season, and J.J. Watt remained in contention until his Texans tapered off in the final quarter of the season.
However, Peterson did the most with the least. No one was more indispensable than him this regular season. On a team that finished with the 31st-ranked passing offense in the league, Peterson made the strongest case for the MVP award in a fairly deep field of worthy candidates, edging out Rodgers, Manning and Brady, who finished a very close second, third and fourth on the Meter.
He didn’t pass Eric Dickerson — Peterson finished just nine yards short of setting the record for rushing yards in a season — but Peterson was dominant enough to cross the barrier that rightly stands between running backs and an award that quarterbacks usually win.
(Preseason ranking in parentheses)
1. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (NR) — Maybe the Broncos, Packers and Patriots find their way into the playoffs without Manning, Rodgers and Brady. It’s highly doubtful, but maybe. It’s unthinkable in the case of Minnesota sans Peterson. There is simply no way it would have happened. Defenses were able to make stopping him their lone focus for much of the season with QB Christian Ponder playing some horrendous football at times, and Peterson still ran right through those defenses more often than not.
2. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (No. 1) — In many media outlets, Manning is getting more consideration than Rodgers for MVP, but not here, and Manning was pretty spectacular. Rodgers finished as the league’s highest-rated passer (108.0) — don’t forget about his 54 rushes for 259 yards and two touchdowns — and he did that despite not having the Pro Bowl left tackle that Manning enjoys or a healthy group of targets at wide receiver.
3. Broncos QB Peyton Manning (No. 6) — It seems like Manning has taken the Broncos to another level as they snapped off 11 consecutive wins to close out the regular season. However, Denver lost to the Falcons in a game in which Manning was picked off three times in the first quarter. The Broncos fell to the Patriots and Texans in the first half of the season, too. Those were the Broncos’ only three losses of the season, but Denver had the fourth-easiest schedule in the league. It may be that no player was more instrumental to his team’s success than Manning was to the Broncos’, but we believe Peterson and Rodgers were more indispensable.
4. Patriots QB Tom Brady (No. 3) — Brady, the leader of the league’s highest-scoring offense, had a league-best interception percentage of 1.3 (eight interceptions in 637 pass attempts), and only three players had more passing attempts than him. He certainly had a hand in the running game’s improvement this season, but Brady still had more help from his rushing offense than the other top MVP candidates at quarterback. It’s hard not to wonder what Peterson would have been able to do if he was supported by the ninth-ranked passing game in the league.
5. Falcons QB Matt Ryan (Cusp) — Ryan certainly looked like an MVP in Weeks 15 and 16 when he threw seven TD passes and no interceptions in wins over the Giants and Lions. He just had about one too many poor performances vs. bad teams to overcome, though, throwing three picks vs. the Raiders and five picks against the Cardinals.
6. Texans DE J.J. Watt (NR) — He was fighting an uphill battle all season as a defensive player trying to remain a viable MVP candidate. Watt usually made his presence felt even when the Texans lost three of their final four games, but the weak finish no doubt hurts his case. For much of the season, no player was more dominant than Watt, who led the league in sacks (20½) and had 16 passes defensed. He certainly is the clear choice for Defensive Player of the Year.
7. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (NR) — He might be the most unexpected candidate on the Meter. Wilson, a third-round pick in 2012, wasn’t named a starter until shortly before the start of the regular season, and he went on to become the fourth-highest rated passer in the league (100.0). He even overcame his early season road struggles, scoring eight TDs (three rushing) while not turning the ball over once in his last three road games.
8. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (NR) — It’s unfortunate that he suffered a knee injury in Week 14 because who knows where he might have finished on the Meter had he stayed healthy and not missed his next game. There’s no doubt that the Redskins’ ability to win a game without RG3 and win games when he was not at his best hurt his MVP case. RG3 was the third-highest rated passer in the league (102.4), though, and his 815 yards rushing were the fifth most by a quarterback since the 1970 merger.
9. Colts QB Andrew Luck (NR) — Luck’s individual performance was not quite as impressive as Wilson’s or Griffin’s, but there is no denying that his arrival in Indianapolis marked a massive turnaround. He led the league with seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime and did it with a running game that finished ranked 22nd.
10. Broncos LB Von Miller (NR) — Miller built on his standout rookie season by finishing third in the league in sacks (18½) and forced fumbles (six). He was not as dominant as Watt, but he was the top playmaker on a defense that finished ranked third vs. both the pass and the run.