By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of his generation and arguably the greatest coach of all time. He has just three AP NFL Coach of the Year Awards to show for it. The likes of Jason Garrett, Dick Jauron, Mike Smith, Marvin Lewis, Matt Nagy and Kevin Stefanski have won the award during Belichick’s Patriots career.
The award, clearly, doesn’t matter all that much.
Likewise, Tom Brady is the unquestioned greatest quarterback of all time, but he only has three MVP Awards in his theoretical trophy case. (They’re actually sitting inside a display case at the Patriots Hall of Fame, if memory serves.)
Clearly, in terms of establishing a legacy, the Lombardi Trophy is significantly more important than the regular season hardware.
Nevertheless, each and every year in just about every sport, writers and broadcasters and fans on the internet rant and rave about the awards. It’s a part of human nature. This year in the NFL is obviously no different.
And with one week left in the regular season, the MVP race has crystallized in a way that really reveals two true candidates for the award: Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Both veteran quarterbacks — Brady is famously 44 years old (!), while Rodgers turned 38 last month — have three MVPs apiece. With a fourth at stake for each player, the conversation is getting very interesting and, well, a little stupid.
OK, a lot stupid.
That’s because one of the 50 MVP voters — Hub Arkush out of Chicago — has said he won’t be voting for Rodgers because Rodgers is a jerk.
“I don’t think you can be the biggest jerk in the league and punish you team and your organization and your fan base the way he did, and be the Most Valuable Player,” Arkush said on 670 The Score.
Arkush admitted that the case could be made that Rodgers has been the most valuable player on the field in the NFL this season … which feels paramount in the discussion for determining the most valuable player. However, Arkush doesn’t believe Rodgers is “clearly that much more valuable” than … Jonathan Taylor or Cooper Kupp or “maybe even Tom Brady.”
(Reader, I assure you this: Aaron Rodgers is significantly more valuable than Cooper Kupp.)
Arkush added that even though the Packers locked up the No. 1 seed without even needing Week 18 to do so, Rodgers’ absence due to COVID (while unvaccinated after saying he was “immunized”) could have cost the Packers the first-round bye. It didn’t cost them in the end. But it could have.
“They’re going to get the No. 1 seed anyway, but what if the difference had come down to the Chiefs game where he lied about being vaccinated and ended up not playing and they got beat?” Arkush said. “I think all these things should be considerations. That’s the way I look at it.”
Everyone is entitled to their own way of viewing things, even if that way is flat-out stupid.
(Arkush is sporting a Chicago Cubs beanie in his Twitter header photo. Perhaps Rodgers’ “I own you!” exclamation — which was all sorts of funny and entertaining, if a bit unsportsmanlike — is factoring in to a Chicago-based voter as well.)
“I think he’s a bad guy,” Arkush concluded. “And I don’t think a bad guy can be the most valuable at the same time.”
(We’d hate to sully the sanctity of an award that has been given to O.J. Simpson and Lawrence Taylor, among others.)
So … that’s that.
In terms of actual arguments made against Rodgers’ worthiness of the MVP Award, Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo made an information-based evaluation that determined the award should belong to Brady — without much question.
Using PFF’s calculation for WAR, Brady (4.7) has had the best season by far in the NFL. Joe Burrow ranks second at 4.05, while Rodgers ranks sixth at 3.11.
The crux of Palazzolo’s case is that Brady has been able to maintain a level of excellency on par or better than Rodgers while being asked to throw a whole lot more. Or more shortly, Brady is carrying his team like nobody else in the league.
That much is evident from his 682 passing attempts through 16 games. That’s 68 more passes than Patrick Mahomes, who ranks second. It’s 74 more than Justin Herbert (third), 81 more than Josh Allen (fourth), and a whopping 169 more than Rodgers, who’s thrown the 13th-most passes in the NFL this year.
Despite that heavy volume, Palozzolo noted that Brady threw turnover-worthy passes on just 1.9 percent of his passes — a tick better than Rodgers at 2.0 percent. He laid out the numbers: Brady had 14 turnover-worthy plays on 743 dropbacks while Rodgers had 12 turnover-worthy plays on 587 dropbacks.
Such information — and plays like these four — might help voters who are hung up on Brady’s 12 interceptions compared to Rodgers’ four.
If you're into the MVP "moments," Brady had the walk off overtime 53-yard TD against the Bills AND last week's 93-yard drive with no time outs capped by this throw to Cyril Grayson for another game winner pic.twitter.com/f799lr7hqu
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) January 5, 2022
Brady also leads the league in touchdown passes with 40. Rodgers has 35. According to PFF, Brady’s league lead should be even greater, as apparently eight passes have been dropped in the end zone. (Surely, one or two of those might have come just before a touchdown was thrown on another play. Still. The point stands.)
In any event, with a week left in the season, it’s still not clear who will take home the MVP Award. Clearly, there are some very different ways to approach voting, so trying to predict a winner would be a fool’s errand.
Either way, it’ll make for a fascinating story.
On the Rodgers side, there’s an all-time great talent who skipped the whole offseason while publicly bickering with his organization and not-so-subtly trashing his head coach on “Jeopardy!” — there’s a sentence that’s definitely never been written before — potentially proving himself to be the best player in the league, despite missing a game while also becoming a bit of a public enemy in the eyes of many who felt he lied about a rather serious matter.
(Don’t forget: Rodgers could tack on some easy stats on Sunday to close the gap with Brady if he plays the majority of the game against the Lions, who smell.)
On the other side, you’ve got a man who is 44 years old — forty-frickin-four years old! — leading the league in pass attempts and somehow still being excellent. This is … not normal. For comparison’s sake, 44-year-olds had combined to a throw a grand total of 323 passes in the history of the NFL prior to this year; Brady has more than doubled that.
That quartet of 44-year-olds combined to go 2-6 as starters, with 13 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and a 66.2 passer rating. Brady is 12-4 with 40 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a 100.5 passer rating.
In some ways, that historical case may be a difference-maker for Brady when voters sit down to make their selection. But either way, with two of the all-time greats slinging strikes all over the field from September through January to entertain the lot of us, the 2021 MVP race remains as fascinating as can be.
We’ll find out the winner in February. For now, let’s just hope more voters decide to share their reasoning with us. You can’t deny it gives us something to talk about.