COMMENTARY | Aaron Rodgers won't go back-to-back as the league's Most Valuable Player. But he should.
I've written this before , but the argument for Rodgers has actually become more compelling since. In fact, it isn't really close when you compare Aaron Rodgers to the other players on the MVP shortlist.
Despite Minnesota's victory Sunday against the Texans, Adrian Peterson's chase to Eric Dickerson's rushing record is probably over. Green Bay will be playing for the 2 seed this weekend, which means the Vikes could fall out of the playoffs, not to mention lose to the Packers twice.
The last time an NFL MVP missed out on the postseason was 1973. Furthermore if the Packers win, they'll have swept the Vikings and it would be hard to put Peterson ahead of Rodgers in that case. It's hard to vote for an MVP when his team is barely over .500.
Calvin Johnson's record-breaking season was pretty remarkable, but the Lions were a dumpster fire all season and currently sit at 4-11. It's hard to be 'valuable' when your team has nearly three times as many losses as it does wins.
There's no easy way to reduce this list. All four quarterbacks play for teams leading their divisions. Green Bay, Denver and Atlanta are all in position to get byes in the playoffs. Among quarterbacks who have started every game, they're the top rated passers in the league.
So why Aaron Rodgers and not Brady or Ryan or Manning? The reasons are myriad.
Aaron Rodgers' value to the Packers can't be properly stated unless you look at the injuries to his teammates. Greg Jennings has missed most of the season and Jordy Nelson has also missed long stretches. Take the top two receivers off any other NFL and you're looking at mediocre offenses.
Tom Brady lost Rob Gronkowski but can lean on Aaron Hernandez and a solid running game. Aaron Rodgers didn't have such luxuries. Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning played on teams who were pictures of health for most of the season. Take Roddy White or Eric Decker off their respective teams and tell me you think Ryan and Manning are the same.
Green Bay's third best receiver leads the league in touchdown catches and its fourth best has a chance to break the single-season yardage mark. The reason is Aaron Rodgers.
Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson have been in and out of the lineup due to injuries and the Packers are currently starting a rookie at right tackle with a first-time starter - as of last week - at center.
Every team has had injuries, but no team, at least among this group, has had them like the Packers. Green Bay put up 55 against a half-way decent Titans defense with two street free agent running backs, that patchwork offensive line and no Jordy Nelson.
Furthermore, despite the injuries at offensive line and receiver, Rodgers lead the Packers to 12* wins and is the highest rated passer in the league, despite being sacked 46 times. For comparison, Brady and Ryan have been sacked just 26 times each, and Manning just 21.
One of the biggest differences between the season Rodgers has had versus his MVP competitors is the division in which each team plays. There's an old adage about having to play the teams on your schedule, but Green Bay plays in by far the toughest division of this group.
Both Chicago and Minnesota have chances to make the playoffs. Not one of these other quarterbacks have even one team in their respective divisions who have a chance.
The Bears and Vikings are 0-3 against Green Bay and a combined 18-9 against the rest of the NFL. Those 18 wins between just the Bears and Vikes are as many as the entire AFC East has outside of New England, six more than the entire rest of the AFC West outside of Denver, and just one fewer than the entire NFC South outside of Atlanta.
The fact that Green Bay won that division and is in position for a 2 seed speaks to Rodgers' value on this team.
We can talk about quality of wins and strength of schedule here, but I don't want to rehash too much of my last MVP column.
Atlanta has played the easiest schedule in the league, but that's not their fault entirely. Part of the reason is that when you win 13 games, you're adding losses to the teams you play and reducing your own strength of schedule.
A better way to compare these four may be to look at how they've fared against the same defenses. When you look at it that way, Rodgers once again proves why he deserves top billing for the MVP.
Manning vs. RodgersRodgers and Manning have played the fewest common opponents with just Houston and New Orleans. Both teams beat the Saints and the Packers demolished the Texans behind Rodgers' six touchdown day, whereas Peyton and the Broncos were beaten soundly by the Texans.
As we look at the numbers from all of the quarterbacks, remember that yards per attempt and rating as a duo are the best indicators of a quarterback's efficiency and success rates.
In two games, Aaron Rodgers went 55/78 for 657 yards with 10 touchdowns and just 1 interception. That's a 70.5% completion rate and a 130.2 passer rating with a 8.4 yard per attempt average. That is three or four games for the average quarterback.
Peyton Manning went 48/82 for 635 yards with 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. That's just a 58.5% completion rate, 7.7 yards per attempt and a rating of 103.4.
Rodgers actually threw more touchdowns just against Houston than Manning did against both teams combined. Every number favors Rodgers including win totals. Given the strength of the NFC North vs. the AFC West, Rodgers has the edge there. For the season, Rodgers has more touchdowns, fewer interceptions and a higher passer rating. Remember too, this is while Rodgers is being sacked twice as often and playing without his two best receivers for much of the year.
Can you imagine what Manning's team would look like if he had to throw to Brandon Stokely and Andre Caldwell 20 times a game? Denver also has the superior defense and running game. Given all of that, it is hard to argue Peyton Manning has been a bigger part of his team's success this season than Rodgers has been for his team.
Ryan vs. Rodgers
The sample size for Rodgers vs. Ryan provides a better frame of reference. It's pretty intuitive: the bigger the sample size, the more accurate a picture it paints. Green Bay and Atlanta have played five games against common opponents, each going 4-1. Atlanta's lone loss was to New Orleans, whereas Green Bay's was to New York.
In five games, Roadgers went 92/147 for 1165 yards with 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. That's 7.9 yards per attempt on a 62% completion rate and a 100.86 rating.
Ryan's numbers are pretty similar as he went 128/191 for 1417 yards with 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. That is a 67% completion rate, a 7.4 yard per attempt average and a 94.9 rating.
These numbers include a 5 interception game Matt Ryan had against Arizona, one that Atlanta somehow won. If you take that Cardinals game out, the Ryan numbers are pretty staggering, but you can't. The game happened and it could have cost the Falcons dearly. It's tough to talk about how valuable a player is if he can turn the ball over five times but your team can still win.
This is why sample size, though, is important. Over time, these numbers regress to the mean and you're left with a better view of a player's performance across the course of a season. Notice in the important metrics, Rodgers has the advantage, albeit a slim one. Ryan attempted and completed more passes, plus did so at a higher rate, but those passes were shorter and fewer of them went for touchdowns as a ratio of all passes thrown.
Rodgers also has the advantage in gross statistics like touchdowns and interceptions, plus efficiency metrics like passer rating. Given how similar the statistics are, you have to take into account the circumstances. Atlanta's division was worse, its schedule was easier, and they had less adversity with injuries than Green Bay. Given that Rodgers and Ryan then essentially created the same outcomes, the more impressive job was done by Rodgers.
Brady vs. Rodgers
Something of a statistical oddity, by season's end the Packers and Patriots will have played half of their games against common opponents. Both teams played the NFC West and AFC South, leaving only the division and two other opponents on the schedule. These numbers, perhaps more than any of the others, are staggering. Both Green Bay and New England went 5-3 against these opponents, although Green Bay's record should have an asterisk for the Fail Mary game.
In 8 games, Aaron Rodgers went 193/292 for 2187 yards with 23 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. That's a remarkable 110.3 passer rating on 66.1% completions and a 7.49 yard per attempt average.
Tom Brady went 215/346 for 2588 yards to go with 19 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. That comes out to a 62.1% completion rate, a nearly identical 7.48 yard per attempt rate with a 94.9 rating.
Just to give you an idea of how good these numbers are for Rodgers, only 12 starting quarterbacks have 23 touchdowns through 15 games in the NFL. This is half a season for Rodgers. Brady's 19 touchdown passes is better than all but 20 starters.
That being said, Rodgers is head and shoulders above Brady in efficiency and gross production. Throwing four more touchdowns and four fewer interceptions in 50 fewer attempts is pretty remarkable. A chasm sits between Rodgers and Brady in passer rating and is about the same as the gap between Rodgers and Joe Flacco for the season. Yes, against common opponents, Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady is Joe Flacco.
In a year where this is no MVP favorite, it makes sense to go with the guy who had a better season, head-to-head, than his competitors. Rodgers is also the only one to have another MVP candidate in his own division. If Rodgers beats the Vikings Sunday, he'll have beaten Adrian Peterson's team twice in a year where Peterson will probably rush for 2,000 yards.
Despite a massive injury deficit, an inferior offensive line, an influx of rookies on defense and a tougher division, Aaron Rodgers had a statistically superior season to to his peers at the most important position in the game. Only Drew Brees has thrown more touchdowns. No player who started every game threw fewer interceptions or has a better passer rating.
It wasn't quite the historic season of a year ago, which is why Rodgers hasn't been getting the same credit nationally for his candidacy. Green Bay hasn't had a running back rush for 100 yards since Bart Starr was under center it seems, yet the Packers keep winning because they have '12' under center and the other team doesn't.
Aaron Rodgers hasn't been all-time great this season, but he's been better than everyone else. That's all that matters and that's why he should be the MVP. His story isn't as good as Manning's or Peterson's, which is unfortunately why he won't be.
Peter Bukowski is a Wisconsin transplant living in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime