With the 2012 NFL regular season officially in the books, it's time to look back and determine who earned the title of the league's Most Valuable Player. There are three standout candidates, all with compelling cases, all worthy in their own right. Each one enjoyed tremendous individual success over the past 17 weeks and helped his team reach the postseason, but one rose above the pack and is the frontrunner to win the award.
3. Tom Brady
Brady once again guided the league's most prolific offense by getting the most out of New England's deep arsenal of weapons in Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. The two-time MVP amassed 4,827 passing yards--the second highest total of his distinguished career--and limited his mistakes, posting the lowest interception percentage in the league. His name is plastered over the NFL leaderboards, for the 35 year-old placed in the top five in nearly every passing category. Tom Terrific is a longshot to take home the trophy but has the best chance to win more valuable hardware: another Super Bowl ring.
2. Peyton Manning
After sitting out all of 2011 and getting released by the Colts (fortunate to draft a good replacement in Andrew Luck), the 36 year-old field general came back and added another MVP-caliber season to his Hall of Fame resume. Even more impressively, he single-handedly transformed a mediocre offense that used to rely on Tim Tebow's miracles into one of the league's most dangerous passing teams that outscored every team not named the Patriots. Eli Manning's big brother threw for 37 touchdowns, posted the league's second highest passer rating (behind only reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers) and completed 68.6 of his 583 pass attempts--tied with Matt Ryan for the best rate in the NFL--all while leading Denver to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the AFC. Although Brady's stats are neck and neck with Manning's numbers, Manning's season was more valuable because his supporting cast was not quite as deep nor talented as Brady's receiving corps. However, you could make the case that neither one was the top quarterback last year since Drew Brees accrued the most yards and TDs, Rodgers boasted the best passer rating and Luck led the most game-winning drives.
1. Adrian Peterson
The NFL's leading rusher and MVP favorite rebounded from a down 2011 plagued by injury to have a historic year. Peterson racked up 2,097 rushing yards, falling just nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's single season record. AP also led the league with with 2,314 total yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving yards combined) while helping 10-6 Minnesota clinch a playoff berth with its 37-34 win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. With his eye-popping numbers and timely late-season surge, Peterson is the clear-cut choice for this year's MVP.