It seems silly that I feel the urge to campaign for Aaron Rodgers as the NFL’s MVP after he had all but wrapped up the award a few weeks ago. Green Bay was in the midst of a run at an undefeated season and Rodgers was the cream of a very good quarterback crop. Here we are, though, with another NFL season fully in the books and Drew Brees improbably closing the gap on the Packers’ quarterback, who narrowly missed an undefeated season. There is no denying the greatness of both of these record-breaking quarterbacks. They are on another level, with Tom Brady and arguably Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning hot on their heels. We witnessed a special season from these two great quarterbacks, and both are more than deserving to be in the MVP conversation. Only one truly deserves the award, though, and I am here to tell you what you should already know: Aaron Rodgers is the NFL MVP.
The main argument for Brees-as-MVP is his obliteration of Dan Marino’s yardage record, and it is a fair one. Brees put the record out of reach, topping Marino’s old mark by nearly 400 yards. That is special — despite the relative ease and propensity to pass around the league nowadays, that is no small accomplishment. The feat is somewhat diminished by the fact that Brady also broke the record, and Stafford joined the duo in the 5,000-yard club, though to what degree is impossible to determine. Rodgers would have joined them as well had he played his team’s final game as well, even though Brees threw the ball many more times than Rodgers.
Even if statistics are everything — and they are not — I believe Rodgers had the more impressive season outside of yardage and traditional completion percentage. Here is a side-by-side comparison (some stats from Pro Football Focus):
At first glance Brees wins the beauty contest — it is hard to argue with the annihilation of the yardage record. Where Rodgers really sets himself apart, though, is his accuracy and efficiency. As I previously alluded to, Brees threw for 837 more yards than Rodgers, but you will note they came on 156 more attempts and one more game. This in no way diminishes Brees’ accomplishment, but it does highlight efficiency differences. The fact Rodgers nearly averaged one full more yard per attempt is subtly impressive. While Brees had a fantastic 71.2% accuracy — another NFL record, in fact — Rodgers completed almost 80% of his passes when removing receiver drops, throw-aways, and spikes, beating out Brees by almost 2%. Again, take into consideration the fact Rodgers had fewer attempts than Brees, which only magnifies the fact his receivers dropped 40 passes. The coup de grâce, however, comes in Rodgers’ record-setting 122.5 NFL rating, which was almost 12 points better than Brees.
To put his statistics into perspective, if Rodgers had thrown 156 more passes to match Brees’ attempt count, he would have thrown for 6,094 yards and 59 touchdowns based on his season yards-per-attempt and touchdown rates. Of course it is unreasonable to assume those numbers would have actually been attained, however this point serves to highlight the efficiency with which Rodgers dissected opposing defenses. Not only did Rodgers shred those defenses, he did it with no semblance of a running game, a drop-happy wide receiving corps, and an offensive line that gave up many more sacks.
Also lending support to Brees, because we tend to have short memories, is the fact that Matt Flynn torched Detroit for 480 yards and 6 TDs, both Packers records. Somehow that has evolved into an example why Rodgers should not win the award, because Flynn made it look easy for Green Bay. The fundamental flaw with this argument is that it is unprovable. What if Flynn is the next great quarterback? What would happen if Chase Daniel played an entire game for the Saints? There is no way to know answers to these questions for last season; Flynn’s great game does not take away from Rodgers’ great season.
Numbers aside, the fact of the matter is Aaron Rodgers nearly led his team to an undefeated season en route to a #1 seed, and he beat Drew Brees in their head-to-head matchup. Rodgers played one less game, which was his and his team’s prerogative, but he earned that with his other-worldly play. The Packers had no running game of note, and they had one of the worst league defenses. The Saints, meanwhile, had the league’s easiest schedule to boot (.441 opponent winning percentage), albeit the Packers’ schedule was not terribly tough. In two of the Saints’ three losses, Brees threw more interceptions than touchdowns; Rodgers did not have one truly bad game.
Both quarterbacks were a joy to watch this year, and again both deserve to be in this conversation. Brees’ gaudy raw numbers make him the best candidate for the Offensive Player of the Year Award. While Rodgers is no longer the “hands down” winner, however, he is still the better choice for MVP. Ask yourself this simple question: if we call the statistical comparison a draw, which can be reasonably argued, then why should Brees win the MVP over Rodgers?