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Peyton Manning or AP? Whose comeback is greatest?

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Back in August, we predicted this would be the greatest Comeback Player of the Year race in the NFL history. Four months later, this can be confirmed as fact.

Our original prediction had Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning as the most likely candidates to win the honor, which looks pretty good right now. Sure, we also had Terrell Owens high on the list, but quit splitting hairs, OK?

With three weeks to go in the regular season, it's Manning vs. Peterson. A battle for the ages. Let's take another look at the top two candidates:

Adrian Peterson

What he's coming back from:

Reconstructive knee surgery/The saddest New Year's Eve photo on record

2012 statistics:

265 carries, 1,600 yards, 6.0 YPC, 10 touchdowns

What we said then:

Peterson is arguably the greatest running back of his generation, so it's not impossible to imagine he puts up a representative season if he plays all 16 games. But he had surgery to rebuild his knee on Dec. 30. It likely will take him into the season to start feeling like his old self, and the Vikings are sure to be cautious with his pitch count.

What we say now:

The most remarkable aspect of Peterson's season is that we all assumed the best-case scenario was production that merely approached his career averages. Instead, AP is putting up the greatest numbers of his career. Again, this was Adrian Peterson 11 months ago. Now he's talking about rushing for 2,000 yards like it's an afterthought. This is insane.

Peyton Manning


What he's coming back from:

Multiple neck surgeries that sidelined him for entire 2011 season/New team, new scheme, new coach/Father Time

2012 statistics: 104 passer rating, 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 3,812 yards passing. Broncos are 10-3.

What we said then:

Manning looked healthy in his first preseason cameo, and he has the weapons around him to put up another 4,000 yards, 30-plus touchdown season if he can stay upright. He'll also be the sentimental favorite of voters on account of his impeccable media savvy. The clear favorite.

What we say now:

Manning's greatness cannot be denied. He's a quarterback whose value can be measured both in elite statistics and team success. The Denver Broncos are AFC West champions and are currently riding an eight-game winning streak. This was the same act Manning pulled for years in Indy. All those questions about arm strength and his ability to endure contac? Ancient history by October. Manning's greatest achievement is that it looks like he never left.

So ... who wins?

This is now AP's race to lose. If Peterson goes over 2,000 yards on the ground, it will be tough to give it to anyone else. If he breaks the single-season NFL record -- legitimately in play right now -- it becomes a no-brainer. Poor Peyton might have to settle for his fifth MVP award. Tragic stuff.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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