Adrian Peterson ahead of pace he set during his 2012 MVP season

Adrian Peterson has 961 rushing yards this season, four more than he had at this point in 2012, when he finished with 2,097. AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach

MINNEAPOLIS -- We begin with a disclaimer: Adrian Peterson's 2,097-yard, MVP-winning season of 2012 was fueled by an otherworldly second half in which the running back racked up 1,322 yards in the final eight games and 1,140 yards in the final seven. He went over 100 yards six times in the final seven games and over 150 yards five times in that span. His third-best game was 199 yards, and he posted 409 alone in two December meetings with the Green Bay Packers, whom Peterson faces this Sunday.

We say all this to bring some decorum to the following point: Through nine games in 2015, Peterson is ahead of where he was in 2012.

His 203-yard performance against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday gave Peterson 961 yards for the season, four more than he had at this point in 2012. The Minnesota Vikings were cautious with Peterson that season, giving him only three games of 20-plus carries in the first nine weeks as he got back to full strength following knee surgery.

Though he's not at the 6.0-yards-per-carry average he posted in 2012 (Peterson is at a still-impressive 4.9 yards per carry), he's had six games with 20-plus carries and has lugged the ball 27 more times than he had through nine games in 2012, leading the league with 195 carries to this point.

We are, of course, teasing toward the obvious and scintillating question of whether Peterson can approach his 2,097-yard total in 2012. He's three years older, of course, and instead of playing his December home games in the climate-controlled Metrodome, he'll play them outside at TCF Bank Stadium. Frankly, there were things Peterson did in 2012 -- averaging 6.45 yards per carry with eight men in the box, posting a 2.93-yard average after contact and breaking 16 runs of 20 yards or more in the final seven games -- that are tough to expect again.

That said, Peterson is running against loaded boxes about half as often as he did in 2012 (3.3 times per game compared to 6.45 times per game that season), and the Vikings have hit on something with their three-tight end package that has helped pave the way for three of Peterson's longest runs this season (80, 48 and 43 yards). Though it's probably too much to expect another run at Eric Dickerson's single-season record, Peterson is 227 yards clear of the competition in his hunt for a third rushing title, which he said last week would mean a great deal to him. And if 2012 taught us anything, it's that doubting Peterson on a football field probably isn't a great idea.