Since 1957, The Associated Press NFL MVP has been awarded to 37 quarterbacks and 17 running backs.
Only two defensive players have won the league’s best player in that time, but Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt could be the third.
In just his second year out of Wisconsin, Watt leads the Texans in tackles with 59, is second in the NFL with 15.5 sacks, and has knocked down 15 passes through 12 games.
At just 23 years old, Watt certainly has the stats for at least Defensive Player of the Year. He has helped Houston to an AFC-best 11-1 record, and the defense is sixth in yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, and second against the rush.
The last defensive player to win the MVP was New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986, who terrorized the NFL with a league-leading with 20.5 sacks. While Taylor was a unanimous decision that year, Watt faces not only a quarterback bias but two superstar passers who are having exceptional seasons: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
The Texans are poised for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first round bye, and much of the credit for the club's success has been given to Watt. But Watt faces a litmus test in Week 14, when Houston is on the road against the New England Patriots and Brady.
Brady has New England at 9-3, and the Patriots are still in the hunt for the No.1 seed in AFC. Should Houston stumble in their last four games, a win for the Patriots could make the difference between two home playoff games or one.
Brady has won two MVPs, and is currently fourth in the league in touchdown passes, fifth in passer rating, and sixth in passing yards.It will be the first time Watt has matched up against the veteran quarterback.
Watt has faced Manning, when the Texans traveled to Denver in Week Three. Watt recorded a sack in the game, as Houston edged the Broncos, 31-25.
Manning has Denver on pace to match their best record since 2005, when the Broncos went 13-3 with Jake Plummer under center.
Manning could earn his fifth MVP by leading the Broncos to a 9-3 record, and in contention for a first-round bye.
In his first year in Denver, Manning is second in the league in passer rating, tied for fifth in completions, second in touchdown passes, and second in completion percentage.
Manning also has the advantage of being perhaps the best story in the league this season upon returning to action following neck surgeries that kept him sidelined all of 2011. Many questioned whether Manning would continue to effectively throw after the injury, or if he lost a step at age 36.
With such stiff competition, Watt appears to be a longshot for MVP.
Watt would have to break the single-season sack record of 22.5 set by Michael Strahan in 2001, manhandle Brady, and hope for Manning to fall into a slump in the final stretch of the season.
While Watt may have to settle for Defensive Player of the Year honors, his 2012 season has been an excellent one.