Peterson, Watt make MVP cases, rally contenders

Posted Dec. 17, 2012 @ 12:36 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

What happens when unstoppable force meets and immovable object?

In what might be one of the few true head-to-head battles for MVP this late in the season — and we’re not talking about quarterbacks playing in the same game — either Adrian Peterson or J.J. Watt might actually have the chance to earn the award in Week 16.

Vikings at Texans. About as fascinating a matchup of individuals (read: non-QBs) as we have seen in a while.

It just so happens that the Vikings and Texans are in the playoff hunt. The Texans wrapped up the AFC South and are gunning for the top seed in the conference. And the Vikings, one of the true surprises this season, are right in the mix with the Giants and Bears for the final playoff spot.

The reason they’re contending is because of these guys. Peterson has been doing what he is doing, now challenging Eric Dickerson for the best rushing total in a season ever, with a million things working against him.

Healthy ligaments. Christian Ponder at QB. No one at receiver. Opponents’ soul focus every week. The law of averages. The law of everyone has a bad day at the office eventually.

Not Peterson. That’s eight straight 100-yard games, and six of those have been more than 150. He’s now 294 from the record with two games to go. Is anyone doubting he’ll get it at this point? You’d have to tie a yoke to his back for eight quarters to stop Peterson.

Sunday’s 212er at St. Louis was ridiculous for many reasons, but the Rams actually hurt themselves when they attempted a mini-comeback. They scored with just under eight minutes left, and the two-point conversion made it an 11-point game. Are the Rams dumb? They should have cried uncle at that point because all it did was bring Peterson back into the game. He took the next carry, his final one of the game, 52 yards. Don’t tug on Superman’s cape, gentlemen.

“That's a damn, damn good football player, and he made some really good plays out there," said Rams DE Chris Long, who rates as a poor man’s Watt, but then again, comparing pretty much any front-four player to Watt is doing him an injustice these days.

That’s not a knock to perhaps one of the better collections of defensive players to be in the MVP discussion — including Von Miller and Aldon Smith, with others tailing off the past few weeks. It’s just a testament of how rare and disruptive Watt is.

It’s not overstating to say he’s in the Reggie White-Bruce Smith territory of trench dominance.

Watt’s game is more like Smith’s in that he’s versatile, but he has the relentlessness of a walk-on trying to win a scholarship. With the Texans struggling after a hot start offensively, each one of his big plays Sunday meant more and more. Even in an era of passing proliferation where quarterbacks are prone to hit, Watt’s statistics from Week 15 against the Colts just don’t make sense:

Ten tackles. Six tackles for loss. Three sacks. One forced fumble.

Watt played his best game of the season. Think about how many times we have said that, too, and it has been true every single time. He’s honestly becoming more dominant.

It’s pretty stunning how shocked people were last week that a 295-pound player who rushes as much from the interior as he does on the edge would not get a sack against the Patriots. Considering he had only two other games this season without at least half a sack would give them reason to feel that way. But Watt still made his imprint by slamming Tom Brady at least three times after throws. Guarantee Brady remembered those and is hoping against a Texans rematch in the AFC playoffs, despite the Patriots beating them 42-14.

Brady easily could win the MVP. If not Brady, then Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning. Both were excellent again Sunday, as they have been time and time again this season. Smith might end up with more sacks. Miller might feed off the fact that the Broncos are hot at the right time.

But we should not dismiss the Peterson-Watt duo. In fact, it has been their play that has allowed their teams to stay afloat. The Texans have been atop the AFC rankings for a while, but has it felt as if they are the best in the conference? Not lately. It seems as if every time the Texans need a huge play defensively, Watt delivers. That’s an MVP-type resumé, no matter the position.

The Vikings have no chance without Peterson going nuts. He’s willing them to victories, each one more ridiculous than the one before. Since Week Seven, Peterson has more rushing yards than Ponder has passing yards. I mean, who is able to do that in this day and age? In his past eight games he has rushed for 1,313 yards. In the past five seasons only 12 other running backs have reached that total for an entire season.

The MVP award should go to the player who does the heaviest lifting, the one who makes the biggest difference to help its squad win a team sport. The Texans would be good without Watt, but not great. The Vikings might be a two- or three-win team without Peterson, seriously.

They’ll get to state their cases next week. At some point, they’ll meet in the hole. What a collision that will be.