COMMENTARY | Peyton Manning's season is cause for the kind of lauding and adulation it has received. Ditto for Tom Brady. But Aaron Rodgers has simply done more to help his team win than either Manning or Brady this season and under much more difficult circumstances.
That makes Aaron Rodgers the 2012 NFL MVP.
Statistically, the numbers are about the same:
Aaron Rodgers: 3,124 Yards, 67.4% completions, 29 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 105.0 QB rating
Tom Brady: 3,537 yards, 64.8% completions, 25 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 102.6 QB rating
Peyton Manning: 3,502 yards, 68% completions, 29 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 104.6 QB rating
Matt Schaub is the only other quarterback in the NFL besides these three to have more then 20 touchdowns with fewer than 10 interceptions. And Robert Griffin III is the only other quarterback to have a rating over 100 while starting every game.
Statistically, they are the gold standards for quarterbacks in the NFL. Three of the greatest statistical seasons in quarterbacking history were engineered by this group at different times in their respective careers, although neither is having what you'd call a career year in 2012.
That being said, one of those three will likely win the MVP this season, although Adrian Peterson will and should be considered, as should RG3 and Andrew Luck, both of whom are having historic rookie seasons.
There are myriad reasons why it should be Rodgers, but two major factors stand out.
In football, perhaps more than any other sport, team success is the driver of this award. That's why it so often goes to quarterbacks, the most important player on the field at any given time. All three quarterbacks have their teams in first place. Denver and New England are 9-3, while the Packers are 8-4 with an asterisk.
By strength of schedule, the Packers have played the hardest slate of games of any team with an over .500 record and it isn't close. They have wins of Chicago and Houston and their losses are to San Francisco, Indianapolis, Seattle*, and New York, all of whom would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Denver has losses to Atlanta, Houston and New England, but their wins are much less impressive with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay. New England has lost to Arizona, Baltimore and Seattle, and boast an even less impressive set of wins over Denver and Indianapolis. In fact, those are the only two wins the Patriots have over a team .500 or above. Not exactly murderers row. New England has the worst set of wins and the worst set of losses in this group by a wide margin.
Manning has had more comeback wins, Brady has the most blowout wins, Rodgers has the most impressive single performance (the dominating win over Houston) and is the only quarterback whose team beat two teams with at least 8 wins as of week 13. What was Peyton's signature win? The performance most of us will remember is the comeback against San Diego, but the Chargers have imploded all season. Brady has the Denver win in his back pocket, so he certainly has the advantage over Manning, but who else has New England even played? Brady will get his chance for signature wins over elite teams in the next two weeks, but for now Rodgers clearly has the advantage.
Talent around them
It's hard to judge quarterbacks based on their skill position talent because a great quarterback and scheme can make a receiver or running back look better. Tom Brady has the best slot receiver in football and the most unstoppable duo of tight ends ever put on a football field. This season, he has paired that with the 8th best rushing attack in the league and the best pass-protecting line in football. Defensively though, the Patriots are a sieve and Brady is having to outscore teams to win games, much like Rodgers had to last year.
Peyton Manning has Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas on the outside and Thomas has become one of the elite receivers in the game. The former Georgia Tech star showed flashes of his potential before Manning arrived, but in this offense with a legitimate NFL quarterback throwing to him, Thomas is becoming a star. This offensive line group has protected Manning exceedingly well and opened up just enough holes in the running game for Manning's deadly play action game. Peyton has by far the best defense of the group, with the 6th ranked defensive unit in football. Von Miller, if not for J.J. Watt, would likely be the Defensive Player of the Year as well.
Rodgers has the best set of receivers, particularly as Randall Cobb has emerged as a dynamic playmaker, but his offensive line has been atrocious, leading the league in sacks allowed for much of the season. The Packers played Sunday's game against Minnesota with a backup left guard and the usual left guard playing tackle. That was, at least, until an injury forced a rookie into the right tackle role. Greg Jennings has been hurt essentially the entire season while Jordy Nelson will miss another game this Sunday with a hamstring injury. Green Bay's running game had been a joke until the aforementioned Vikings game, but now James Starks appears done for the season with an injury. Injuries have also depleted an already thin defense with Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews each missing extended periods of time.
Final wordThe story often wins an MVP race. Peyton Manning has the best story, but Tim Tebow won a playoff game with this team. How well did Manning truly have to play to make this a great team? That's not to say Manning hasn't been brilliant, but he has the most balanced team by far and they've played in a heinously bad division. The best teams on their schedule beat them. That's not an MVP.
Green Bay's running game has been about as pathetic as New England's defense and both teams have a kicker in the midst of a slump. Brady's running game gives him the edge in talent and New England has lost games late that they should have won.
The fact that Aaron Rodgers has the Packers in first place with their schedule, the slew of injuries and has still put up some of the best numbers in the league is a testament to how well he has played this season. When Rodgers doesn't get protection or is a little off, Green Bay has no chance, as evidence by the Sunday night beatdown at the hands of the Giants.
The records are basically the same as are the statistics but Rodgers has been without his top receiver and top two defensive players for long stretches of the season, which has featured tougher opponents and better wins, at least at this point. If Tom Brady goes out and lights up San Francisco and Houston, the conversation will and should shift.
But right now, no one has pulled off the proverbial 'more with less' trick better than Aaron Rodgers. That's why he should be the MVP.
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.