Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) shows his frustration after a dropped pass in the second quarter during Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
Last season, Tom Brady was the first unanimous choice for the NFL’s official most valuable player award.
It’s a decent bet Aaron Rodgers will be the second.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback was the MVP front-runner going into 2011 based on his strong finish and Super Bowl MVP performance last season, and he’s followed that with what could be the best-ever statistical season by an NFL quarterback. Also, by the time The Associated Press polls its nationwide panel of voters immediately after the regular season, the Packers might be only the third team in NFL history to finish the regular season undefeated and untied.
It’s all but a given Rodgers will win the award, though getting all 50 votes is difficult. It’s only happened once since the award started in 1961. In his favor, no one else this season can offer his combination of personal and team accomplishments. But even since 2000, when the AP reduced its panel of voters to media members who cover the league as a whole to help eliminate local-market bias, a player twice has received all but one of the votes.
“It would take something miraculous to sway my vote away from Aaron Rodgers for MVP at this point,” said Don Banks, an MVP voter and writer for SI.com. “Even the Denver Tebows don’t have enough mojo going right now to swing that. The only debate would be if we were asked to name a second-place or third-place candidate.”
To get a sense for whether someone other than Rodgers might get serious consideration, the Press-Gazette polled a small sampling of voters and received eight responses via email. All, in one way or another, said they’d choose Rodgers if the vote were this week, and five suggested it would take highly unusual developments in the final three games to change their minds, if they would change their minds at all.
The strongest statement came from Alex Marvez of Foxsports.com: “Rodgers is setting a new standard for quarterbacking. How could anyone else get a vote?”
The player who received the most mention as a plausible alternative was New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. Two voters said New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning might deserve consideration depending on what happens the final three weeks, and two voters brought up the Broncos’ Tim Tebow, though both seemed to ultimately dismiss him.
Brees never has won an MVP but remains in the conversation because of another highly productive season. He has the NFL’s third-highest passer rating at 105.9 points, only one-tenth of a point behind Brady for the No. 2 spot but well below Rodgers’ 123.3 rating; is on pace to break his league record for completion percentage; and has a good shot at breaking Dan Marino’s record for most passing yards in a season. The Saints are tied for the NFC’s second-best record at 10-3 and rank No. 2 in the NFL in scoring and No. 1 in yards.
“The only way I would think of voting for someone other than Rodgers is if the Packers crash down the stretch (unlikely), and the Saints and Brees go nuts,” said Howard Balzer of The Sports Xchange/101.Sports.com in an email. “Even then it would be a close call.”
Said Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY: “To be fair to the process I’m considering Brees but am indeed pretty solid on Rodgers.”
Tebow is a potential wild card because he’s the most compelling story of the 2011 season. He’s 7-1 since becoming the starter (the Broncos were 1-4 before) and has been phenomenal at pulling out improbable wins in the fourth quarter and overtime. But he’s also put up only 17 points or fewer in half his starts and has been an incredibly erratic passer, which is reflected in his passer rating of 83.9 points (No. 14 in the NFL). That’s nearly 40 points lower than Rodgers.
If the Broncos win their final three games (against New England, Buffalo and Kansas City) and the Packers somehow melt down, that might change the mind of some voters.
“Fans everywhere are fascinated with Tim Tebow,” said John Czarnecki of Foxsports.com, “but I don’t see many picking him for MVP despite his unbelievable winning streak.”
Tom Brady is the NFL’s only unanimous MVP, but interestingly, that came last year, not in the Patriots’ 2007 unbeaten regular season in which he put up the second-highest passer rating (117.2 points) in league history and led an offense that set the record for points in a season (589). Brady missed unanimity because one of the 50 voters chose the Packers’ Brett Favre.
Last year, Brady received all 50 votes after taking New England to the league’s best record (14-2), putting up the season’s highest passer rating (111.0) and throwing 36 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, an incredible 9-to-1 ratio. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick might have received consideration after going 8-1 as a starter heading into the last two weeks of the season, but he lost both games and any chance of staying in the running.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning also came within one vote of unanimity, in the 2004 season. He set the league record for passer rating (121.1 points) that year and the Colts finished 12-4, but Vick (78.1 rating, 902 yards rushing) received one vote for leading the Atlanta Falcons to an 11-5 record.
The MVP is a regular-season award — the voting is immediately after the regular season ends, though the winner isn’t announced until the week of the Super Bowl. By the time the voters email their ballots, Rodgers might have broken one or more passing records.
His 123.3 passer rating with three games to play gives him a good shot at breaking Peyton Manning’s 121.1. Rodgers also is within reach of the record for completion percentage — he’s at 69.6 percent, just shy of Brees’ record 70.62 percent, though Brees is on pace to break that this year at 70.9 percent. Also, if Rodgers can average at least 320 yards passing in each of the last three games, he would surpass Dan Marino’s record for passing yards (5,084) in a season, though Brees and Brady are ahead of Rodgers there this season as well.
Maybe the most telling mark of Rodgers’ consistently high level of play is he’s already tied for most games with a passer rating of 110 points or more in a season with 11 — those statistics go back only to 1960. Steve Young had 11 in 1994, and Brady had 10 in 2007. Rodgers has three games to add to his total.
“Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning are all having MVP-type seasons, and in another year it might have given me something to think about,” said voter Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. “But not this year. Not the way Rodgers has played.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.