Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 2/2/13

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 6: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings runs past Calais Campbell #93 of the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 6, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The battle for NFL Most Valuable Player was expected to be a tight race, as Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning both made strong cases for their candidacy. But in the end, it was the Vikings tailback who ran away with it, taking home both MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press. Peterson not only recorded one of the most statistically impressive seasons by a running back in NFL history, he did so less than a year after tearing his ACL — an injury that often sidelines players for a full season. His league-leading 2,109 rushing yards fell just nine short of Eric Dickerson‘s NFL record as Peterson almost single-handedly carried the Vikings’ offense to the postseason. Manning did receive some consolation, however, as he was awarded the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. The signal caller missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, but did not take long to return to his former self. Manning led the Broncos to the AFC’s best record in 2012, throwing for 37 touchdowns with 11 interceptions while completing a league-best 68.6 percent of his passes. J.J. Watt had one of the greatest seasons ever on the defensive side of the ball in 2012, and the AP gave that dominance its due. The Texans defensive end was the nearly unanimous winner of the AP’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, receiving 49 of 50 votes. Watt finished his second season with an NFL-leading 20.5 sacks and an NFL-record 16 passes tipped, earning him the nickname “J.J. Swat.” Watt’s historic season overshadowed stellar campaigns by San Francisco’s Aldon Smith and Denver’s Von Miller — who tallied 19.5 and 18.5 sacks, respectively.
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