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Monday, December 10, 2012

Peyton Manning vs. The 2,000 Yard Rusher

In 2009, Chris Johnson had one of the greatest RB seasons ever. He rushed for 2,006 yards with a 5.6 YPC and 14 touchdowns. At the time I advocated for CJ2K to be the MVP of the league and was very upset when he did not even receive an MVP vote that year. That year, the following people received more MVP votes than Johnson: Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, and of course the winner: Peyton Manning. That year, Manning's Colts went 14-2 and easily made the playoffs. Johnson's Titans went 8-8 and easily missed the playoffs.

In 2012, Adrian Peterson is currently on pace to rush for 1970 yards (If you extrapolate his 13 games rushing totals over a 16 games season). However, if he rushes for 133 yards/game over his final three games, AP will reach the 2,000 yards plateau. It seems that it is a certainty that All Day will get over 2,000 rushing yards considering he has averaged 165 rushing yards per game over his past 5 games and averaged 157 YPG over his last 7. However, despite these godly numbers, Peyton Manning looks like the front runner for MVP.

The 2011 Denver Broncos were an average team that got extremely lucky thanks to Tim Tebow and some crazy nonsense from their opponents (i.e., see: Broncos vs. Bears where Marion Barber failed to stay in bounds to let time expire during the 4th quarter AND fumbling in OT). However, now that Peyton Manning is at the helm, this same Denver team looks unbeatable. The Broncos are 10-3, have won 8 straight games in a row, won the AFC West, and they look like they will get either the 2 or 3 seed in the AFC. On the other hand, the Minnesota Vikings are still on the outside looking in for a playoff spot and are still third in the tough NFC North.

Adrian Peterson is on pace to have a crazy season for a running back and is clearly the best RB in the league.* Peyton Manning turned an average football team into an unstoppable force and has positioned himself as the league's best QB.*

ESPN ran a poll this morning asking its fans who deserved to be the MVP this year: Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson? AP won, but only by 51%. Clearly this a very, very close race.

Or is it?

In 2009, Manning had a 6.19 WPA compared to Johnson's 1.33 and had a 183.2 EPA compared to a 49.7 for Johnson per Advanced NFL Stats. Manning also had a 1,771 DYAR and a 34% DVOA compared to Johnson's 328 DYAR and his 14% DVOA per Football Outsiders. Those numbers aren't even close. Now let's look at this year.
DON'T KNOW WHAT THESE STATS MEAN?: Click here to see Advanced NFL Stats' statistic glossary. For Football Outsiders' stats, basically DYAR means total value and DVOA means value per play. Also, both FO stats take into account the quality of defense the offensive player has played.  

In 2012 (as of the writing of this post), Manning has a 2.98 WPA / 118.9 EPA versus Peterson's 1.01 WPA / 23.2 EPA per Advanced NFL Stats. Manning also has a 1,305 DYAR / 30.6% DVOA versus a 302 DYAR / 23.7% DVOA. Again, Manning's numbers are not even in the same ball park at Peterson's.

The reason for this disparity is that a quarterback is just inherently more valuable than a running back. Think about it logically for a second. A 300 yard passing day is considered the good norm for a quarterback whereas a 100 yard rushing day is considered the good norm for a running back. That's still a 3:1 disparity. Manning currently has 3,820 passing yards this year. That's about 2.5 times more yards than Adrian Peterson has contributed. Manning currently has 30 passing touchdowns. Peterson only has 10 rushing touchdowns. Manning has THREE TIMES more touchdowns compared to AP.

One more example, let's look at Manning's and Peterson's Week 14 game that they each played (the last game played before the writing of this post). Manning's stat line: 26 for 36 (72% completion percentage), 310 yards, 8.6 YPA, 1 TD/ 1 INT. Peterson's stat line: 31 carries, 154 yards, 5.0 YPC, 2 TDs/no fumbles lost. In our fantasy football age, we are conditioned to think Peterson had the better day. Peterson scored 28 fantasy points whereas Manning only scored 14. However, Manning had more yards (318 versus 154) and a better yard per attempt (8.6 versus 5.0). According to Advanced NFL Stats, Peyton Manning had .45 WPA and an 11.7 EPA for his game versus the Raiders whereas AP only had a .24 WPA and a 2.3 EPA in his match up versus the Bears. While it is true that Manning (36) and more plays than Peterson (31), those five extra plays Manning threw on are essentially meaningless. The odds are slim to none that if Peterson was given 5 extra carries (or Manning threw the ball five less times) that he would have come close to Manning's value. AP is good. He is not THAT good.

Admittedly, these are just micro examples. You could make the argument that I am only citing statistics solely  to help prove my point. That is quite the contrary. Go back to look at the numbers and you will consistently see that quarterbacks as a whole produce more value than a running back does. Even mediocre quarterbacks produce better numbers than the best RB. For example, right now, according to Football Outsiders, there are currently 15 quarterbacks- including Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman, and Tony Romo- that have produced more value than their top ranked RB: Adrian Peterson.**

The point is, the debate between Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson as to which deserves to be the MVP is already over. It is Peyton Manning and it is not close.

Now that being said, if Adrian Peterson wins the MVP this year, I would be very happy with that selection. He is the greatest running back since LT left San Diego and I think if his career ended today he is a no brainer Hall of Famer for that very reason. AP is amazing at football and in a year in which he rushes for 2,000+ yards he should win the MVP. Especially over a guy who's already won a bajillion MVP's previously.

And Peyton Manning for MVP this year using my logic means that a quarterback should always win the MVP every single year. There's something not right and unsettling about that statement. While in today's day and age a quarterback generally does win the award, that does mean one automatically should.


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* EDITOR'S NOTE: This is just my opinion (and popular opinion as well). Advanced NFL Stats says either Matt Ryan or Tom Brady is the best QB and either Ray Rice or C.J. Spiller is the best RB. Football Outsiders says Tom Brady is the best QB.

** In 2011, 17 QBs had a better DYAR than the top ranked RB (LeSean McCoy). In 2010, 17 QBs had a better DYAR than the top ranked RB (Jamaal Charles). In 2009, 18 QBs had a better DYAR than the top ranked RB (Chris Johnson). Listen guys, I could go on and on but I think I've proven my point here.