No. 12 deserves the NFL's Most Valuable Player award this season. But it's not who you think.
Contrary to popular belief, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not this year's MVP. That distinction, for the second straight year, should go to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Now, before you roll your eyes, open your mind and hear me out.
Brady won the award last year during New England's 14-2 run, and he deserves to be just the second back-to-back MVP since 1998. This is not to discredit Rodgers, who is having a tremendous season. But sometimes numbers and hype get in the way of what the Most Valuable Player award, by definition, actually means.
The award is meant for the player who is the most important to their team. Let that sink in, because this is a key element to this debate.
Rodgers has been lights out and putting up great numbers for undefeated Green Bay (12-0). But what happens if you take Rodgers off the Packers? They won't be 16-0, but the defending Super Bowl champs would still keep the ball rolling with highly touted backup Matt Flynn and make it to the playoffs.
Green Bay has enough stars on offense (Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson) and big-time playmakers on defense (Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, B.J. Raji) to win plenty of games without Rodgers. I think Green Bay could even win the NFC North this year without Rodgers, considering the Chicago Bears (7-5) lost quarterback Jay Cutler, the Detroit Lions (7-5) are inconsistent and the Minnesota Vikings (2-10) stink.
In contrast, consider this: Where would the Patriots be without Brady?
With the NFL's worst-rated defense and no true superstars on the roster minus Brady, some believe New England would be similar to the Indianapolis Colts (0-12) this year without Peyton Manning. I'm not ready to go that far. But New England certainly would have a losing record.
Little-known backup Brian Hoyer or rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett have virtually no chance of getting this Patriots team to the playoffs. New England is too weak in other areas and couldn't afford poor play at quarterback.
And please do not point to what happened in 2008. That Patriots team had a top-10 defense and was much more balanced. Quarterback Matt Cassel is a former Pro Bowler who led the Patriots to 11 wins. Cassel was way more advanced and developed than Hoyer and Mallett.
The "Brady factor" in New England is clearly stronger than the "Rodgers factor" in Green Bay.
Without Brady, the Patriots would be challenging the Buffalo Bills (5-7) and Miami Dolphins (4-8) for third or fourth place in the AFC East this season. I'm sure New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan would be happy about that.
For those who want to focus only on the numbers, Brady's statistics are right on Rodgers' heels. In fact, Brady (3,916) has thrown for more yards than Rodgers (3,844) and is on a faster pace to eclipse Dan Marino's single-season passing record of 5,084 yards.
Also, Brady has thrown for 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the past month. Brady hasn't thrown a pick since Nov. 6. Rodgers has two interceptions the past three weeks.
The coach of the year award often doesn't go to the coach with the most victories. The award usually goes to the coach who overcomes the most hardship and does more with less. That is why San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh will most likely get the nod this year over Green Bay counterpart Mike McCarthy.
Just like McCarthy probably will not win the coach of the year, Rodgers should not be the MVP this season. The cupboards are very full in Green Bay, and neither faced much hardship in their quest for an undefeated season and another Super Bowl title.
Brady is doing more with far less talent around him and is much more valuable to New England's success.
So forget that other guy wearing No. 12. Brady is this year's MVP.