The day didn’t necessarily live up to high expectations though, with nine games being decided by at least 14 points. However, Sunday night’s game proved to be the redeeming matchup with the Patriots and 49ers battling in Foxboro in what some people think was a Super Bowl preview.
The Patriots were ugly early, and so was quarterback Tom Brady. However, you can never count No. 12 out, and he proved that once again on Sunday. The Patriots came roaring back from a 28-point deficit to tie the game, only to see the defense give it away late.
That comeback, however, was just enough for Brady to hold off Adrian Peterson in this week’s NFL MVP power rankings.
1. Tom Brady — New England Patriots quarterback
This was not Tom Brady’s best performance, not by a long shot. In fact, had the Patriots rolled over when it was 31-3 and took their beating from the San Francisco 49ers, there’s a good chance there would be a new No. 1 this week. However, Brady was able to orchestrate a near-historic comeback on Sunday night, bringing the Patriots all the way back to tie it up. If the Patriots could tackle someone — anyone — on special teams and defense, Brady and the New England offense may have actually won that football game. That would have added to the legend just a little bit, huh? Adrian Peterson is doing superhuman things in Minnesota right now, but this is a quarterback-driven league. Brady was far from his best on Sunday night (he was outplayed by Colin Kaepernick, after all), but he still almost helped the Patriots to an improbable win. That’s pretty impressive stuff. If for some reason the Patriots had actually won that prime time thriller, these rankings would be moot, as Brady would have wrapped it up right then and there. Even so, it’s looking like he’s going to add to the trophy case come season’s end.
Week 15 performance: 36/65, 443 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, rushing TD (Loss)
Season: 100.1 passer rating, 63.4 completion percentage, 30 TD, 6 INT
Last week’s ranking: 1
2. Adrian Peterson — Minnesota Vikings running back
While we’re just about ready to say this is Brady’s trophy already, there’s still a chance that Adrian Peterson takes it home. He’s right on the heels of Eric Dickerson‘s single-season rushing record, thanks to a season-high 212 yards on Sunday. That’s insane. Teams have one job that stands above all others when they play the Vikings: stop Adrian Peterson. He’s by far the team’s biggest offensive weapon, so he’s obviously the No. 1 target for opposing defenses every week. Yet, he still gets better and better and better. In his last eight games — a half season’s worth — Peterson has racked up 1,313 yards. That’s 7.5 yards per rush. It’s 164 yards per game. That’s a 2,600 yards per season pace, which would shatter Dickerson’s record 2,105-yard season set in 1984. Even so, Peterson still has a very good chance to catch the Hall of Famer. He only needs 294 yards over the final two games to break the record. That’s becoming tough to bet against. If AP does break the record, we could have a very, very close race for the MVP.
Week 15 performance: 24 carries, 212 yards, 1 TD (Win)
Season: 289 carries, 1,812 yards, 6.3 yards per carry, 11 TD
Last week’s ranking: 2
T3. Aaron Rodgers — Green Bay Packers quarterback
The Green Bay Packers started the season 2-2, reeling after a horrible loss at Indianapolis where they blew a big halftime lead. Since that Sunday afternoon, though, the Pack has won eight of its last nine, wrapping up the NFC North title with a win over the Chicago Bears. Much of that has to do with the play of Aaron Rodgers, who has quietly been pretty darn good. The numbers aren’t where they were last year, but that was a borderline historic performance. This season, he’s been the leader of a team that has gone through a lot, whether it was having a win stolen in Seattle to overcoming a rash of injuries. Rodgers came up big on Sunday, throwing three touchdown passes against the Bears, helping the Packers cruise to another division title. He leads the league in passer rating, and he’s the best player on one of the best teams in football. That’s good enough to share the No. 3 spot this week with another one of the league’s top gunslingers.
Week 15 performance: 23/36, 291 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT (Win)
Season: 104.7 passer rating, 63.9 completion percentage, 32 TD, 8 INT
Last week’s ranking: 4
T3. Peyton Manning — Denver Broncos quarterback
Peyton Manning hasn’t done anything overly impressive this season — unless, of course, you think leading a new team to a divisional title one season after a handful of neck surgeries is. So yeah, that’s pretty impressive. But aside from that, it’s not like Manning has done anything that makes you stop and say “Wow.” When you step back and look at the full body of work, it’s pretty impressive, of course. The passer rating is among the league’s best, he’s surpassed 30 touchdowns and on Sunday, he passed the 4,000-yard mark. Manning and the Broncos also won again, and they now control their destiny. Thanks to the Patriots’ loss, the Broncos can get themselves a first-round bye if they can win out. There’s no denying that the Packers have played a more difficult schedule than the Broncos this season, which is why Manning and Rodgers now find share the No. 3 spot on the power rankings.
Week 15 performance: 17/28, 204 yard, 1 TD, 0 INT (Win)
Season: 103.5 passer rating, 67.9 completion percentage, 31 TD, 10 INT
Last week’s ranking: 3
5. J.J. Watt — Houston Texans defensive end
J.J. Watt had, by his standards, a pedestrian game on Monday night against the Patriots last week. He responded in a big way on Sunday afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts in a game the Texans needed to have. Watt was a monster against Andrew Luck and the Colts, with 10 tackles and three sacks. He also forced a fumble for the third time in as many weeks. The three sacks also moves him into a tie for the league lead with Aldon Smith. Both have 19.5 now, and with two weeks left, it’s beginning to look like Michael Strahan‘s 2001 record of 22.5* sacks, may be in serious jeopardy.
Week 15 performance: 10 tackles, 3 sacks, forced fumble (Win)
Season: 62 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 15 pass defenses
Last week’s ranking: 5
Most valuable notes: Smith wasn’t much of a factor against the Patriots on Sunday night (held without a sack for the first time since Week 6), but he was the beneficiary of a gift interception off of an Aaron Hernandez drop. … The Lions have lost six straight, but it’s not Calvin Johnson‘s fault. The standout wide receiver has 900 yards receiving in those six games to go along with four touchdowns.