Craig: Peterson's MVP candidacy would get big boost if Vikings advance

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2012 - 11:59 AM

Rarely has the league's most valuable player not led his team to the playoffs.

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Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 212 yards and a touchdown to beat a St. Louis Rams team dedicated to stopping him.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Can running back Adrian Peterson win the NFL Most Valuable Player award if the Vikings don't make the playoffs?

Yes, but he'd be 96.5 percent better off if he concluded this year's magic act by reaching into his top hat and pulling Christian Ponder into the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

There have been 57 winners in the 55 years that the Associated Press has recognized an MVP (1961-present) or a Most Outstanding Player (1957-1960). Only two of them -- 3.5 percent -- were on teams that didn't make it to the postseason.

In 1973, O.J. Simpson's Buffalo Bills went 9-5 the year he became the first player to rush for 2,000 yards (2,003). At the time, there was only one wild card per conference. Had there been two, as there has since 1978, the Bills would have made the playoffs.

Johnny Unitas' Baltimore Colts (11-1-2) tied the Los Angeles Rams atop the Western Conference's Coastal Division in 1967. The Colts missed the playoffs because the Rams had a 24-point net difference in head-to-head games.

The Vikings are 8-6 and can make the playoffs as a wild card only. Even that would make Peterson a rare winner of the award.

Since wild cards were introduced with the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only six of 44 MVPs have come from a wild-card team. The last to do so was Peyton Manning, whose third of four MVPs came during the Colts' 12-4 season in 2008.

Four running backs have won MVP while playing for a wild-card team. Barry Sanders (1997) and Walter Payton (1977) did it on 9-7 teams. That's more than twice the average number of losses for a team that has the MVP (three).

Impatience is a modern societal flaw. So it's no wonder people can't wait two more games before demanding to know if Peterson is the MVP winner.

As someone who has a vote for the award, the answer from this vantage point goes something like this: "Easy, pal. The season isn't over."

Peterson is in good position to win. But so is two-time winner Tom Brady, four-time winner Manning and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers.

Peterson has 1,812 yards and a 6.3-yard average against stacked defenses that have absolutely no fear of Ponder hurting them with the deep pass. Even more amazing is the fact that Peterson has averaged 171 yards per game and has topped 200 twice while leading the Vikings to a 3-2 record without Percy Harvin.

Manning, of course, has outdone himself while playing for the hottest team in the league, the 11-3 Broncos. Manning won MVPs in Indianapolis with replaceable parts at receiver, running back and offensive line. Who knew he could change entire franchises and never miss a beat?

Like Manning, Rodgers and Brady have carried their teams to division titles already. Meanwhile, Peterson's team isn't nearly as good, yet it's still playing meaningful games in late December.

But is that enough? The MVP is an individual award, but the individual's performance has to carry his team to extraordinary -- not good -- heights. That's why 37 quarterbacks with a combined record of 470-102-4 (.819) have been selected.

There are exceptions, of course. If the Vikings don't make the playoffs, Peterson's case would be similar to Simpson's in 1973 if Peterson were to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105.

Before Simpson's 1973 season, Jim Brown's mark of 1,863 yards was the rushing standard. Simpson came along and averaged 143.1 yards per game, 10 more than Brown.

Peterson is averaging 129.4 and needs 294 to break Dickerson's mark. If Peterson gets the mark and doesn't win MVP, he'll have some Hall of Fame company. The year Dickerson set the record, 1984, he led the Rams to a wild-card berth but was trumped for MVP by Dan Marino, who won a division title while setting a single-season passing mark (5,089 yards) that stood until last year.

There are so many variables to consider over the next two weeks. But there is one scenario that's a no-brainer to this brain: If Peterson breaks the record and leads the throwback Vikings to a playoff berth in this pass-crazed league, well, he's got my vote.

Mark Craig mark.craig@startribune.com

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