With five games left on their schedule, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has put himself back in the race for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award. Rodgers is the reigning league MVP and has already won the award three times, in 2011, 2014 and 2020.
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Why is Rodgers back in the race after a slow start? And who are the other candidates who find themselves in the thick of the chase? There is no clear-cut favorite right now as several candidates are in the running but nobody has set themselves apart as a runaway candidate.
Rodgers himself has nowhere near the statistics he put together a year ago. He finished 2020 with a career high 48 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. He also completed 70.7 percent of his passes while having a quarterback rating of 121.5, the second highest in the history of the NFL.
This season, A-Rod has 23 touchdowns and four interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 105.5 which puts him fourth in the league.
Rodgers has led the Packers to a 9-3 record through 12 games and has helped the Packers overcome an incredible rash of injuries that forced the team to play without their top two offensive linemen, their starting center, starting tight end, their Pro Bowl edge rusher and Pro Bowl cover corner.
Rodgers even had to play a game without each of his top three wide receivers as Davante Adams, Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling were all unavailable against the previously unbeaten Arizona Cardinals on the road and during a short week. The Packers found a way to pull off the upset.
Rodgers will need a strong finish to win the award. The Packers face a relatively easy schedule down the stretch with games at home against the Bears, Browns and Vikings and road games at Baltimore and Detroit.
The controversy over Rodgers’ lack of transparency concerning his vaccination status may turn off some voters as may the fact that the Packers starting quarterback has already won the award three times. Still, a strong finish by Rodgers and the Packers would make A-Rod among the top candidates to win the award again this year.
Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett supports Rodgers’ candidacy and all he has accomplished despite missing so much practice time because of his injured toe.
“The fact that that guy hasn’t practiced for so long, if it was someone else, it would worry you. But his preparation, how he is with the team, how he is with the team, being in practice, calling the plays for the boys, messing with the boys, just his presence is as important as anything else,” Hackett explained. “He is a leader of our team. Seeing him out there and not even missing a beat once he gets on the field is just a merit of his toughness.”
Here are the other candidates for the award as we head into the final five weeks of the season:
QB Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
A case can be made for Murray. The Cardinals signal caller leads the NFL with a 112.2 quarterback rating and he has 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. The former Oklahoma star is also leading the league with a 72.7 completion percentage and the Cards are 8-1 in games he started.
Murray has been consistent all season and has a quarterback rating of more than 100 in all but two games this season and over 90 in all but one.
But Murray has missed three games because of injuries and voters will have to overlook that to give Murray the MVP.
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QB Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like Rodgers, Brady has won three NFL MVP awards in his Hall of Fame career. This season, the 44-year-old former Michigan star leads the league in touchdown passes, yards, attempts and completions. The defending Super Bowl champion Bucs are 9-3 and in the thick of the race for the top seed in the NFC.
Brady has tossed 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 68.3 percent of his passes.
The Bucs have a tough game coming up this weekend against the Bills but much of their remaining schedule is also relatively easy.
Brady last won the MVP award in 2017 and a fourth MVP would put him in very elite company. Peyton Manning won the award five times so Brady would be within striking distance with one more win.
Other candidates for the MVP at this point include running back Jonathan Taylor of the Colts who is running away with the rushing title and has 16 rushing touchdowns in 13 games. But can a non-quarterback win the award in this pass happy era?
Matthew Stafford has strong numbers but would need a very strong finish both individually and for his team to pass players like Rodgers, Brady and Murray.
As of now, Rodgers is a contender, but he will need a dominant December to win a second consecutive league MVP.
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