January 3, 2012
This season, the NFL has seen some of the best quarterback play in its history. So it’s not surprising that two of the league’s premier signal callers are up for its most prestigious award – the Most Valuable Player.
Aaron Rodgers was the early favorite for the award as the Packers raced out to an undefeated start, threatening the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ mark as the only squad to finish an entire season unbeaten. Green Bay did stumble once along the way in a late-season loss in Kansas City against the Chiefs, but still finished 15-1. Rodgers was the total package for the Packers this year throwing for more than 4,600 yards and 45 touchdowns. Perhaps the most impressive quality, however, is that he’s displayed an uncanny ability to avoid mistakes.
On the season, the defending Super Bowl champion quarterback has tossed only six interceptions. Aside from 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, Rodgers is the only starter with at least 3,000 yards to have a single digit interception total. Smith has five interceptions on the season, but doesn’t have nearly as many yards or touchdown passes as Rodgers. Other premier quarterbacks in the league aren’t anywhere near Rodgers in the interception department. Matthew Stafford has 16, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger have 14, and Tom Brady and Matt Ryan have 12. Simply put, Rodgers has played smarter than all of his counterparts this season.
And here’s the amazing thing about Rodgers – he’s doing it all without a running game. The Packers’ leading rusher is James Starks with 578 yards. Green Bay ranks near the bottom (27th) of the NFL in rushing yards and for Rodgers to be putting up those types of passing numbers without the support of a legitimate ground threat is flat out ridiculous.
Lastly, you can’t mention the quarterback’s credentials without throwing in the fact that he leads the NFL’s top team. At 15-1, it’s hard to make a case for another quarterback as the best in the league. Talk all you want about the weapons he has at his disposal, but it’s safe to say other teams have better talent at the skill positions. Starks, Greg Jennings, and Jordy Nelson are all fine players, but no one would mistake any of them for Arian Foster, Calvin Johnson, or Larry Fitzgerald.
Then there’s Drew Brees.
Brees is in a bit of an unfortunate position this season. His biggest problem is that he’s run into Rodgers, who’s having an even better season. Still, he’s had a heck of a year himself.
For starters, he broke Dan Marino’s long-standing record for passing yards in a season, finishing with a whopping 5,476. And with 46 touchdown passes, he led the league, besting Rodgers’ 45.
Now, breaking Marino’s record for passing yards is a huge accomplishment, no doubt. But the fact that Brady also broke it this season and that Stafford nearly broke it will (right or wrong) at least diminish the significance slightly in the minds of fans and voters for the award.
Like Rodgers, Brees doesn’t have any of the league’s marquee players around him. No offense to Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Pierre Thomas, but they’re simply not in the same category as the superstars I mentioned earlier. However, Brees does have something Rodgers doesn’t – the benefit of a running game. While the Saints don’t have any 1,000 yard rushers, the team does rank 6th in rushing in the NFL. New Orleans has had a four-headed monster in the backfield consisting of Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and rookie Mark Ingram. The four have combined for approximately 2,000 rushing yards and a whopping 21 total touchdowns. A strong rushing attack has no doubt given Brees at least a slight leg up on Rodgers.
My pick for the Most Valuable Player Award is Rodgers, but if Brees finds a way to pick apart the Packers’ defense in the playoffs and gets to another Super Bowl, I think he’d take that instead.