Normally, I would wait a couple of weeks until the winners of some of the most important annual awards in pro football have been handed out and then give my opinion on how right or wrong we got it. This year, I can’t wait for two reasons. The first is that, as often as not, we get it wrong, and I’d like to avoid seeing that happen again this year if I can offer some compelling arguments for voters to consider. The second is that this year three of the most important awards — Most Valuable Player, Comeback Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year — offer some of the most compelling races we’ve ever seen.
From where I sit, the race for the NFL’s 2012 MVP is all about J.J. Watt, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but before I start testifying, I think it’s important to establish the criteria for the winner.
All too often, voters confuse the best player in the league in a given season — or the most productive player — with the MVP. For those guys, you can vote for Player of the Year or Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. If that was the discussion we were having right now you would have to add Calvin Johnson, Aldon Smith, Brandon Marshall, Von Miller, Arian Foster and others to the ballot.
But I believe the MVP has to be the player who was the most instrumental and indispensable to his team, having an outstanding regular season and accomplishing great things. Where would the Texans, Broncos, Vikings, Patriots and Packers be without Watt, Manning, Peterson, Brady and Rodgers?
I will not vote for Rodgers or Brady this year because I believe there’s a chance their clubs still would be playoff teams without them, and both have had a couple stretches where they weren’t as good as they could have been. Three or four weeks ago, I would have voted for Watt, but the Texans recently have become quite pedestrian and Watt, while still playing great, hasn’t been able to do anything about it. I believe this vote comes down to Manning and Peterson, because each has been the difference between their clubs being contenders or irrelevant. In the end, I’ll vote for Manning for MVP because he has taken the Broncos from afterthought to legitimate Super Bowl contender, and as great as Peterson has been — in fact, he has had the better individual season — the Vikings just aren’t a Super Bowl threat.
Comeback Player of the Year is a two-horse race, also between Manning and Peterson, with Jamaal Charles a distant third, and I believe this one has to go to Peterson. As great and valuable as Manning has been, his comeback has been meticulously planned and orchestrated over a more than reasonable time frame, and I don’t believe there was any reason to believe he wouldn’t come back as well as he has.
Peterson’s season, on the other hand, has been nothing short of a miracle. Most players aren’t even playing again yet 7-8 months after a complete knee reconstruction. Peterson hasn’t just played, he has been better than ever. Even though he has been the best running back in football for a number of years, he has had one of the greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history while carrying an entire team on his back as a shocking playoff contender. I believe “A.D.” should be a slam dunk for this award.
The Rookie of the Year Award will come down to Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Alfred Morris. All have had memorable and outstanding rookie campaigns. But Luck’s and Morris’ individual accomplishments just don’t measure up to those of RG3 or Wilson. Some will penalize RG3 in a match race with Wilson because of his far loftier draft status, and that will be a mistake. As great and surprising as Wilson has been, RG3’s numbers are clearly superior, and what he has meant to the Redskins has been, too. Many folks expected Seattle to be a wild-card team with or without Wilson, but nobody saw the Redskins battling for an NFC East title, and it has happened almost exclusively because of Griffin. To give the Rookie of the Year Award to anyone but RG3 would be a gross injustice.
While other award choices might not be as easy, to me, these three should be as clear as day.