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Final MVP ballot: Vikings' Adrian Peterson on top

I don't want to live in a world where Shaun Alexander owns an NFL MVP award and Adrian Peterson does not. I don't want to live in a world where one of the NFL's all-time great running backs has an all-time great season and does not win the award.

This isn't about lifetime achievement. This is about 2012. No player was better or meant more over the course of the season than ...

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Peterson hit the top spot on my weekly MVP rankings for the first time last week. I made his MVP case then, and only an awful Week 17 performance would have knocked him out of the top spot. Instead, he racked up 199 rushing yards in a must-win game to drag an inferior Vikings team to the playoffs. He dragged a lousy offense to 37 points.

Peteson led the NFL in yards from scrimmage by 350 yards. There's nothing more that he could do. That it happened in the season after Peterson tore his ACL makes it a remarkable story, but this season is deserving of the award regardless.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

What a sneaky awesome season by Brady. His Patriots led the NFL in points and yards by a huge margin. He nearly threw for 5,000 yards again and had just eight interceptions. He gets the ever-so-slight edge over Peyton Manning because he outplayed Manning head to head.

Manning will receive votes for MVP, and they are deserved. But it's strange that we give Manning a total pass for his biggest games of the season against the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Patriots. Yes, it was before Manning had hit full stride. But those games count. When you are trying to separate two legendary quarterbacks, something has to break the tie.

3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Manning was good right away, great by midseason and keeps getting better. In recent weeks, the Broncos have added some routes that rely on Manning's arm strength even more, and he has handled it so well. He has made all the players around him better. Manning leads the NFL in QBR and completion percentage.

It's not hard to argue Manning was better this season than his final year or two with the Indianapolis Colts. No one saw that coming. He'll get a lot of MVP votes and might just win the award. He's not my pick, but he's certainly not a bad pick. I just worry some voters are voting for the story.

4. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

Watt just completed one of the greatest defensive seasons of our lifetime. His consistency week-to-week was outrageous, and he closed strong with a Defensive Player of the Month award in December.

Here's a good peak at Watt's dominance. Football Outsiders defines a "defeat" as a forced turnover (or tipped pass that leads to turnover), a tackle for loss, or a tackle or pass defensed that prevented a conversion on third or fourth down. Essentially, how many times did a defensive player completely dominate the play?

Watt had 56 defeats this season. The previous all-time high was Ray Lewis with 45 defeats in 1999. Von Miller "only" had 39 defeats, which is good for seventh-best ever. I feel guilty for not ranking Watt higher.

5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

We're spoiled by Rodgers. He pulls off ridiculous throws and carries a flawed group of teammates week after week without a lot of notice. As great as Manning and Brady were this season, I'd still take Rodgers for my hypothetical playoff run this year. Only a slow start (by his standards) kept him from contending for the award.

6. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: There has been a debate about who's the best wide receiver in football for a while. Megatron did his best to end that debate for a year.

7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: There was a midseason lull, but Ryan played very well overall in September and December. He took on more responsibility than ever.

8. Von Miller, Denver Broncos: He's not particularly close to Watt, but Miller also put together a season that would win him Defensive Player of the Year in most seasons.

9. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks:Still the most valuable player on the Seahawks' offense.

10. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals: It's hard to imagine a defensive tackle meaning any more to his team week after week. The Bengals are not a playoff team without Atkins.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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