When it’s all said and done this season, Aaron Rodgers should be the NFL’s MVP. It feels cathartic to type that sentence, as it’s been a full six years—a lifetime in football years—since Rodgers’s last MVP campaign in 2014. With 15 games in the book, the Packers quarterback is the clear-cut favorite for the league’s highest individual award, pulling away from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes thanks to a sterling Sunday Night Football performance that has Green Bay on the cusp of the NFC’s no. 1 seed.
For weeks now, Rodgers and Mahomes have been neck and neck in the MVP race. Both Green Bay and Kansas City are at the top of their respective conferences, with the 14-1 Chiefs securing the AFC’s only postseason bye on Sunday, while the 12-3 Packers have a chance to do the same in the NFC next week with a win against the Bears. And both QBs’ individual statistics have been so close that you could essentially throw them out. Coming into Sunday, Rodgers and Mahomes were the top two passers in the league in adjusted net yards per attempt (8.66 for Rodgers, 8.50 for Mahomes), QBR (83.9, 82.7), and PFF grade (94.5, 92.4). It’s crucial to note, though, that Rodgers held a slight lead in all those categories—and after Sunday, there should be a wider gap between Rodgers and all of his nearest competitors.
In a prime-time showdown against the playoff-bound Titans, Rodgers calmly picked apart the Tennessee defense, completing 21 of 25 passes for 231 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. The Packers won in a blowout, 40-14, and they did it in snowy weather conditions that seemingly would have benefited Derrick Henry and Tennessee’s smashmouth offense. And while the Packers put up more than 200 yards rushing, they did that thanks in part to a large early lead engineered by a dazzling display from Rodgers.
Each of Green Bay’s first three drives ended in Rodgers touchdown passes, with the quarterback hitting Davante Adams for two scores and Equanimeous St. Brown for another. Rodgers would go on to connect with Adams for another touchdown in the second half, and while the QB did toss an interception—just his fifth of the season—he was nearly flawless otherwise. He threw just four incompletions and took one sack. Some of his passes were so impressive they would have been jaw-dropping even if he’d done them in an air-conditioned dome rather than the snowy conditions at Lambeau:
This is class! Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are on a mission! pic.twitter.com/GRLhwUgrkr— IKE Packers Podcast (@IKE_Packers) December 28, 2020
As NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth noted on the broadcast, this performance should all but wrap up the MVP award, because while Rodgers thrived on Sunday, the Chiefs struggled. Kansas City barely overcame the 4-11 Falcons in a lackluster 17-14 win, needing Pro Bowl kicker Younghoe Koo to miss a last-minute field goal attempt to hold on. Mahomes finished the game with two touchdowns, a pick, and 278 yards—an unremarkable line for an MVP candidate that could have been much worse had Falcons defenders held on to a few more of his errant passes.
This game wasn’t the only time the Chiefs have sputtered down the stretch. Kansas City hasn’t beaten an opponent by more than one score since November 1, often letting opposing teams hang around until the fourth quarter. It’s almost spooky how many times Mahomes has gotten lucky on would-be interceptions that were dropped by defenders this season. Mahomes is still the most talented QB in the league—and he’s certainly had his sensational moments—but this season he’s been the luckiest quarterback, too. That luck has nearly run out many times, and with Rodgers’s performance Sunday and Mahomes potentially resting for the season finale, Rodgers has almost surely pulled away in the race for the MVP trophy. Betting odds, at least, point to exactly that:
Updated odds to win MVP— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) December 28, 2020
-145: Aaron Rodgers
+140: Patrick Mahomes
+1400: Josh Allen
+2000: Davante Adams
+10000: Derrick Henry, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill
(via @FDSportsbook) pic.twitter.com/fq5I7jjztv
It’s refreshing to have Rodgers back—truly back. Until this season, the future Hall of Fame quarterback hadn’t been anywhere close to his vintage form in about half a decade. Since at least 2016—if not 2014—Rodgers had declined in nearly all of his passing statistics. He was throwing for fewer yards and touchdowns and at a lower efficiency than he had in his prime. Though he was still a perennial Pro Bowler, Rodgers had failed to be an All-Pro or MVP—and there is a huge difference.
In a sports world where Tom Brady can play in Super Bowls in his 40s, Tiger Woods can win the Masters after a decade without a major title, Roger Federer and Serena Williams can compete at the highest levels in tennis for seemingly entire lifetimes, Justin Verlander can win his second Cy Young nearly a decade after his first one, Sue Bird can win a WNBA title at 39, and LeBron James can be the best player on a basketball court in his 18th season, seeing Rodgers’s magic seemingly slip away in his 30s was gut-wrenching. For the past few seasons, he had been a shadow of his younger self, a player who was once so talented and productive that it looked like he could one day wind up the best quarterback ever—just how Mahomes looks today.
But don’t just take my word when it comes to Rodgers’s decline—look at what his own front office thought. When the Packers traded up in April’s draft to take Utah State QB Jordan Love, it was stunning—and possibly ill-advised for a team that had just made the NFC championship. Green Bay could have retooled around Rodgers who, again, was not a bad quarterback in the past few seasons. But the Packers’ front office used a first-round pick on a plan for the future and seemingly indicated that they thought Rodgers’s best days were behind him.
But finally, at 37, Rodgers has reclaimed the throne. He’s thrown 44 touchdowns this season (adding three more on the ground), which leads the league and is just one away from his career high. He came into Sunday leading the NFL in touchdown rate and interception rate while guiding the Packers to the NFC’s best record. And he’s picked apart team after team after team. He’s thrown for four touchdowns and zero interceptions in five games, including against tough defenses in the Bears (no. 7 in DVOA) and 49ers (no. 10). Against the Drew Brees–led Saints in Week 3—perhaps the Packers’ top competition in the NFC—Rodgers threw for three touchdowns, 283 yards, and no picks in a 37-30 win. And he did that without Adams, who missed weeks 3 through 5 with a hamstring injury.
Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur, whom Green Bay hired ahead of the 2019 season, are clicking. LaFleur’s system has Rodgers using more play-action than he had before in his career, and while that didn’t result in a bump in production last season (Rodgers’s totals almost exactly resembled his 2018 stats), in Year 2, the Packers offense has become a destroyer of worlds. Green Bay came into Week 16 with the no. 2 offense by DVOA, no. 3 in points scored, and no. 4 in yards gained. Rodgers has praised LaFleur’s play-calling this season, saying in Week 3: “I think the flow of the calls have been really important for our success. I can’t underscore that enough.”
Rodgers is also impressing by doing something this season that he has never done before: avoiding sacks. For virtually his entire career, the trade-off to Rodgers’s ability to make mind-boggling plays and avoid interceptions has been that he holds the ball for long amounts of time, often resulting in sacks—and that’s despite playing behind a consistently great offensive line. Rodgers’s career sack rate of 6.7 percent is high for a passer of his caliber, but this season he is taking sacks on just 3.6 percent of his dropbacks (coming into Week 16)—a career low by 1.5 percentage points and the fifth-best mark in the NFL.
Just a few months ago, it looked like everyone—even the Packers themselves—had accepted that Rodgers’s best days were behind him. But Aaron Rodgers is once again the best player in the NFL. It still feels so good to type that.