After dismantling Bears, MVP is officially Rodgers' to lose
Aaron Rodgers has been better this year than Brett Favre was in his MVP seasons
Expect Tony Romo to play in vital Week 17 game despite suffering hand injury
Stat of the Week; Fine Fifteen; Weekly Awards; Ten Things I Think I Think; more
Summing up the drama with 17 games left in the NFL season:
NFC: One playoff spot left -- the NFC East title game Sunday night at the Meadowlands. The winner of Cowboys-Giants is in, the loser's out ... The Packers locked the No. 1 seed last night ... San Francisco clinches the second seed with a win at Rams Sunday, or one Saints loss in their last two games ... The lesser of Niners-Saints is third seed ... NFC East winner is fourth seed ... Falcons, Lions have clinched last two seeds, in some order. Battle for fifth seed between Atlanta (9-5 entering tonight's game at New Orleans) and Detroit (10-5) is significant -- and Atlanta has the tiebreaker -- because you'd much rather play a Wild Card game at the Giants or Cowboys than at either of the two teams in play for the third seed, San Francisco or New Orleans.
AFC: Pats clinch top seed with home win over Buffalo -- and they haven't lost to Bills in Foxboro since Tom Brady was a third-string rookie in 2000 ... Ravens (8-0 at home, 3-4 on road) clinch the second seed with victory at Cincinnati, which would make Pittsburgh the fifth seed. But a Ravens loss and Steelers win at Cleveland makes Pittsburgh two and Baltimore five ... Houston is locked in as the three seed ... Denver wins the West and fourth seed by beating KC at home. Oakland wins the West and fourth seed with a win over San Diego and Denver loss ... The sixth seed? Only 943 possibilities, give or take a dozen, but the Bengals clinch it with a home win over Baltimore (anyone in Cincinnati care?), and beyond that, the Raiders and Jets and Titans are still alive.
Now on to everything else, including a personally historic day by Mr. Discount Double-Check, a rewarding day for Detroit (as a team and a city), an emotional day in New England, my annual harangue about the prospect of an 18-game schedule, why John Fassel and Richard Seymour are the heroes of the weekend (and why the left side of the Kansas City field-goal team is decidedly not), how we are watching draft history change before our eyes, my take on Tony Romo's status for Sunday, Jerry Richardson loves him some Cam Newton, the unexpected MVPs of the Giants behind Eli Manning, Adrian Peterson's Christmas nightmare, and Minnesota's enduring Christmas gift, beginning with the night Chicago died.
Did Aaron Rodgers sew up the MVP last night?
Well, that's the last time I doubt Bob McGinn. The trustworthy longtime Packers beat man told me last week on my podcast he wasn't worried about three Green Bay tackles being out with injuries, with Marshall Newhouse and T.J. Lang set to protect The Franchise against the Bears' formidable front. Combined defensive stats, via the NFL gamebook, for Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Israel Idonije: seven tackles, zero sacks, zero quarterback hits. Rodgers wasn't sacked. He threw five touchdown passes, an NFL-best for him ("In junior college I threw six against Shasta in 2002; since then, no'') and made next week's finale against Detroit meaningless. Meaningless, too: the whole Kansas City-gave-the-league-a-blueprint-on-beating-the-Packers thing. I'll tell you the blueprint -- keep the Packers defense on the field and keep Rodgers off it.
Now for the talk show topic of the week, the NFL MVP, and whether Rodgers' night clinched the deal. I look for Mike McCarthy to sit Rodgers for most if not all of the final regular season game. And I look for Sean Payton and the soon-to-be-record-shattering Drew Brees to give Rodgers a counterpunch tonight against the Falcons. And if the Saints have something to play for next week (like the second seed), I look for Brees to duel Cam Newton in Week 17 and finish an intergalactic offensive season in which some of the numbers (yardage, completion percentage) could far exceed Rodgers' stats. But the MVP is more than stats, of course. By Rodgers piloting the Packers to one of the best seasons in wins and numbers a quarterback's ever had, it's going to be hard for anyone to catch him -- Tom Brady included.
I remember back in 2009, when Brees and Peyton Manning were in a brawl for the MVP award, I wrote I thought Manning deserved it because his cast of supporting characters wasn't as good as Brees'. I got a call on New Year's Eve, just before the Saints' final game, from Brees' coach, Sean Payton, making a very strong case for Brees. I loved what Brees had done, and I admired Payton for being so passionate about his guy, but I just thought Manning had done the most with a lesser cast (like the worst running game in football that year). I stuck with Manning.
I'll bet a lot of money that, in the spirit of the game tonight in New Orleans, Payton's playsheet holds a big game for Brees. So these numbers will change. I'm including Brady here, because he deserves consideration too. Problem is, the 50 media people who vote for MVP (me included) don't have the ability to vote 1 through 10 on a sliding scale (as in the baseball MVP). We vote for one -- though I've occasionally split my vote in the Associated Press' awards categories.
Comparing the top three, as I did last week:
|The MVP Race|
|Rodgers vs. Brees vs. Brady|
It'll be interesting to see whether, in the minds of the 50 voters, Brees breaking Dan Marino's yardage record -- and maybe breaking it by a lot -- is a deciding factor.
One last point: Rodgers' year, by most or all measures, is a better one than Brett Favre had in any of his three MVP years, 1995, '96 and '97. Favre was, in touchdown-to-interception ratio, 38-13, 39-13 and 35-16, and Rodgers' completion percentage, yards and rating this year were better than in any of Favre's three years.
Appears to me Brees is going to have to do something incredible in the last seven days of the regular season to win the MVP.
Cam Newton is on his way to the best rookie season ever. By any player.
Many of us were skeptical of Cam Newton's ability to transition to the pro game so quickly, and without a full offseason program. But he's done a fabulous job in all ways of adjusting to the NFL. His confidence is off the charts for a young player. His hatred of losing, as I've written about before, is surprising for such a young player; after a loss, he's nearly inconsolable, even by respected opponents. He's more accurate in a complicated offense than anyone had a right to expect. And though he clearly wants to establish himself as a strong pocket passer with awareness to see the whole field, he knows when to take off too. And the results have been strong since the Panthers, on Thanksgiving Day, stood 2-8. Carolina is 4-1 since then (thanks, Bucs), and here are Newton's numbers: eight touchdown passes, two picks, five rushing touchdowns, 60 percent passing.
He already owns the rookie record for passing yards (3,893), and, obviously, will be the first rookie to pass for 4,000 with 107 yards against the Saints next week. Newton passed Peyton Manning's record with his 478th throw Saturday; Manning threw 575 passes as a rookie in 1998. Newton's rushed for more touchdowns, 14, than any quarterback in any season ever. The NFL mark for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback is 43, by Steve Young ... and Newton's a third of the way there already.
Listen to these strong words from owner Jerry Richardson to me the other day: "As far as I'm concerned, he'll be the last quarterback we ever draft high in my lifetime. He is a very unusual young man, and I say that in a highly complimentary way. He does not complain. Ever. He's never in the trainers room. You watch him get hit out there and you think, 'He got to be hurting,' and then you see he's never with the trainers. The way he has adapted to our team and to the NFL has been tremendous. We couldn't be happier.''
GM Marty Hurney said before the draft that in order to compete in a quarterback-strong division, the Panthers had to take a quarterback and develop him quickly. He could never have imagined this. Who could? The most amazing thing is Newton having seven weeks of pro coaching before the real games began, and having a season like this one. Imagine when he has an offseason to work on the things he needs to improve. Which, from watching him, is not much.