Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tore apart more than just gift wrap on Christmas Day 2011, shredding the Chicago Bears’ secondary for a career-high five touchdowns in a Week 16 rout that helped cement the signal caller’s spot atop the Most Valuable Player conversation.
But then during the very next week, Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn muddled the MVP discussion by passing for 480 yards and six touchdowns during Green Bay’s shootout win over Detroit in the season finale.
Approximately 1,100 miles south of Green Bay on that crazy day, New Orleans Saints signal caller Drew Brees tallied 389 yards and five touchdowns to turn a close MVP race into something convoluted.
Strong cases can be made for both Brees and Rodgers, whose credentials are scrutinized below:
The Case for Brees: The Saints signal caller set a new NFL single-season record with 5,476 passing yards, breaking a 27-year-old mark that had been held by the great Dan Marino (5,084 yards in 1984). Brees’ feat is all the more mesmerizing when you consider that he accomplished it without compromising his amazing accuracy; 71.6 percent of his passes were completed, another NFL record).
A strong argument can also be made that Brees’ receiving corps was inferior to the one at Rodgers’ disposal. On a related note, Rodgers’ worst game of the season coincided with the absence of Titletown’s top wideout Greg Jennings, who missed Green Bay’s Week 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs with an injured knee.
How Rodgers Helped Brees’ Case: By sitting out the season finale and affording Flynn the opportunity to reset the Packers’ record books for single-game passing prowess, of course. Flynn’s Week 17 stats are especially stunning when you consider that he had to vault over Hall of Famer Bart Starr, and future Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, to reach the top of the team’s record pages.
Did the dominant performance of a rusty second-string QB — against a Lions team that was vying to improve its playoff seeding, no less — help support a theory that any signal caller can succeed in Green Bay’s offensive system? This hypothesis warrants consideration but can’t be taken too seriously considering Flynn’s small sample size. Besides, who can say that Chase Daniel, Brees’ backup, wouldn’t have lit up the Carolina Panthers’ porous secondary had the Saints sat their starting quarterback as well?
The Case for Rodgers: Only two men had ever passed for 5,000 yards in one season (Marino in ’84, and Brees in ’08) entering 2011, when the exclusive club once again opened its doors for Brees, who returned to the list along with first-timers Tom Brady (5,235 yards) and Matthew Stafford (5,038 yards). The increased inclusiveness of vaunted 5,000 passing yard club slightly dilutes the impressive nature of Brees’ record-setting totals, and as a result, one of his strongest MVP arguments.
Rodgers, by contrast, compiled 4,643 passing yards but on 155 fewer attempts than Brees. What would an extra 155 throws have done for Rodgers? Try 60 touchdowns and 5,612 yards, if you believe in projecting.
Rodgers also set a new NFL bar with a 122.46 quarterback rating, comparing favorably to Brees’ 110.6 mark. A QB rating, viewed by many as the most reliable metric for judging the men under center, is determined after considering a multitude of factors such as touchdown passes and interceptions thrown. It was here that Rodgers earned himself considerable separation, tossing 45 scores and only six interceptions to Brees’ ratio of 46:14 (more than double the picks).
Lastly, Rodgers’ average pass attempt (9.25 yards) traveled almost an entire yard farther than Brees’ (8.33). Three feet may not sound like much, but it is a significant difference over the course of an entire season.
How Brees Helped Rodgers’ case: The Packers finished the regular season with the NFL’s best record at 15-1. The Saints went 13-3. When viewed in a vacuum, a team’s winning percentage is not a reliable way to appraise the value of a single player. But a closer review reveals that Brees threw multiple interceptions in key spots during New Orleans’ losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams, who combined to go 6-26 during the 2011 season. Guess how many times Rodgers tossed multiple picks? Try zero.
In Summary: Both Brees and Rodgers are worthy of winning the MVP, which has been shared twice in the award’s history. (In 1997, Packers quarterback Brett Favre and Lions running back Barry Sanders split the accolades, as did quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Colts and Steve McNair of the Titans in 2003.) A nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL votes for the award, which will be announced on Feb. 4.
Who do you think should win? Let us know in the comments section.
Zach Finkelstein is a contributing writer for YESNetwork.com and SNY.tv.