NFC North: 2012 Awards

Aaron Rodgers: Your landslide MVP

February, 4, 2012
Last month, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers earned first-team All-Pro status from a 50-member panel of Associated Press voters. The vote was a landslide at the quarterback position: 47 1/2 votes for Rodgers to 2 1/2 for Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. So from that perspective, it should be no surprise that the same 50-member panel elected Rodgers the NFL's Most Valuable Player for 2011 by a similarly one-sided margin.

[+] EnlargeRodgers
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireGreen Bay averaged a whopping 9.2 yards when QB Aaron Rodgers threw a pass this season.
Rodgers won 48 votes, decisively ending a thin debate that nevertheless raged for the final month of the season. Brees led the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage, but there was near-unanimous agreement that Rodgers had a better year.

Why? Simply put, Rodgers had one of the most efficiently productive seasons in league history. There is no doubt his statistics dipped in the final month of the season, but a slip from "all time" to something just below it would hardly have merited a glance elsewhere for MVP, and I was glad to see the voters did not get caught up in Brees' eye-popping statistics. Consider:

  • Rodgers set an NFL record with a 122.5 passer rating, the traditional measure of a quarterback's efficiency.
  • His six interceptions were the fewest in history for a quarterback who also threw for 4,000 yards.
  • He is the only quarterback to have completed at least 68 percent of his passes while averaging more than 9 yards per attempt. That's an incredible combination that means Rodgers was pushing the ball downfield, with greater success, than in any single season a quarterback has ever had.

It's true that Brees threw for an NFL-record 5,476 yards in 16 games, a full 833 yards more than Rodgers amassed in 15 games. That's why yards per attempt is so important. It evens the field for playing time and (a portion of) scheme discrepancies. The Packers averaged 9.2 yards every time Rodgers threw a pass. The Saints averaged 8.3 yards per Brees attempt. That's a big difference over, say, the course of a 30-pass game.

I haven't had a single bad thing to say about Brees' season, and I still don't. I just think that from Week 1, Rodgers established himself on a higher plane and, at worse, came down to a similar level during the final stretch of the season.

When it was all said and done, we could agree that Brees had a historic season. But I wonder how many people realize Rodgers was having the best season of a generation -- and perhaps the best in NFL history -- for most of the year. I would argue it still qualifies among the leaders in both categories, and there is no better way to symbolize it than a landslide victory in the MVP vote.
As you helped me assemble a list of possible candidates for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award, one name stood out as a chief competitor for Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs not only produced the best season of his already-notable career in 2011, but he also elevated his play to coincide with what could have been a devastating injury to middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

The Ravens won all four games Lewis missed due to a toe injury on the way to an AFC North crown and a 12-4 record. Suggs totaled seven of his 14 sacks in those games. So in all honesty, I would have been sorely tempted to vote for Suggs if I had a vote.

And yes, I haven't forgotten that Allen finished the season with 22 sacks, one short of an NFL record. It was an incredible season, especially when you consider how poorly his teammates played in a 3-13 season.

But fair or not, voters at least take into account the context of a players' performance. Given his impact on the Ravens' playoff run, Suggs got 21 of a possible 50 votes for this award from the Associated Press. Allen was next with 14 votes. That's how it goes sometimes.
Another domino has fallen in what we figured would be a big night for NFC North accolades. A panel of Associated Press voters has named Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford its comeback player of the year.

Two shoulder separations limited Stafford to three starts, and only one full game, in 2010. But he returned in 2011 to throw for 5,038 yards and lead the Lions to their first playoff appearance in more than a decade. He started all 17 games, playing in all but 12 of their offensive snaps, and was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl. He received 21 of the possible 50 votes.

Speaking to reporters earlier Saturday, Stafford acknowledged the likelihood he could win the award but made clear it would be the final step in pushing past the injury-ravaged start of his NFL career.

"If it happens, it happens," Stafford said. "I'd be very happy if I win it. At the same time. It's not something I want to make a habit of."

To clear up some of the confusion this evening, please be advised that the awards show is going on as we type and read but won't be televised until 9 p.m. ET on NBC.