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Adrian Peterson vs. Peyton Manning: Who gets comeback nod?

Associated Press
Adrian Peterson (left) and Peyton Manning have overcome major health obstacles to have successful 2012 seasons.

Much like the MVP award should change its name to the MVQB, the Comeback Player of the Year might as well be the Comeback Quarterback of the Year. Dating back to Chad Pennington in 2006, five of the past six awards have been given to quarterbacks. Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Ellis was the last non-quarterback to receive the award (in 2007).

Will 2012 continue that trend? One quarterback, Peyton Manning, is a legitimate contender after missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. He came back to a new team, the Denver Broncos, and has barely missed a beat. However, there's a pretty good comeback story happening in Minnesota, too, where Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is tearing up the league less than a year after tearing his MCL and ACL.

Whose comeback has been more impressive? Let's take a look:

The argument for Peterson

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson obviously has a great shot to be the next non-quarterback to win the award. Peterson is leading the league in rushing with 1,812 yards and needs to average just 94 over the final two games to earn his first career 2,000-yard season. He also is eyeing Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards, needing to average 147 per game to break it. That is a tall order for an ordinary player, but Peterson is far from ordinary.

That Peterson is even playing at all is remarkable. He is coming off major reconstructive knee surgery last December, which typically takes a full 12 months of recovery. Instead, Peterson has been running strong since Week 1, when his 17-carry, 84-yard, two-touchdown performance was just a small preview of what's to come. He now has more rushing yards than all but eight NFL teams.

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Peterson does not have the added benefit of being a part of an elite offense; the Vikings' passing game is virtually non-existent, so defenses key on stopping him. Facing eight- and nine-man boxes, however, has actually helped him. If he breaks through the initial barrier, he is off to the races without having to get through a second level of defenders. It makes it more difficult to find a running lane, but when he does, he has a better chance of going for a longer gain.

The biggest argument against Peterson is that he really only missed one game last season (he suffered the knee injury in Week 16) and was never away for a significant period of time. Of the past six awards winners, Michael Vick (2010) was the only other player to appear in as many games the season before, but in Vick's case it was in a backup role after being out of the NFL altogether the year before.

The argument for Manning

Manning, on the other hand, might win the award after playing in zero games last season. He was completely held out of the 2011 season after having multiple neck procedures in order to remedy a nerve problem that was thought to have weakened his right throwing arm.

After being released by the Indianapolis Colts, who went on to select Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Manning was courted by every team with a void at quarterback. He eventually chose to sign with John Elway and the Broncos. Just like Peterson, Manning hasn't missed a game this season. And he definitely has silenced the doubters who questioned if he could ever play the position again.

Manning has done for the Broncos what he always did with the Colts -- studying film like a man possessed and taking advantage of defensive weaknesses. He reads the pre-snap alignment and always puts his teammates in the best position for a positive play. It is for that reason that Manning is enjoying his 12th 4,000-yard season and currently ranks near the top in every major quarterback statistic.

This is also the 12th season in which Manning had led his team to 10-plus wins, good for most in NFL history. After starting the season 2-3, reaching 10 wins was considered a longshot. But Manning has led this team to nine straight wins, the longest active winning streak in the NFL right now. During this nine-game stretch, the Broncos have outscored opponents by an average of 12 points per contest.

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Taking nothing away from Peterson and his remarkably fast recovery, I give the nod to Manning. His neck injury was unprecedented, and what he's been able to do this season -- with brand new teammates and coaches, to boot -- is award-worthy. Besides, I'd probably give the MVP to Peterson, because he is the sole reason the Vikings are even in the playoff discussion. And rather than double up on the two awards, I'll give the Comeback Player of the Year to a well-deserving Manning.

Follow Brian Billick on Twitter @coachbillick.

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