The consensus 3 candidates for MVP seem to be Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, and JJ Watt. I’ll explain why I feel Rodgers has the edge on both of them. I’ll start with the two quarterbacks, Rodgers and Romo. Comparing the two, Romo had generally more efficient numbers. He completed 69.9% of his passes, as opposed to 65.6% for Rodgers, and averaged 8.52 yards per attempt, as opposed to 8.43 yards per attempt for Rodgers. Rodgers’ 38 to 5 touchdown to interception ratio was better than Romo’s at 34 to 9, but Romo still was #1 in the NFL in quarterback rating at 113.2, while Rodgers was slightly behind at 112.2 at #2.
However, Rodgers led the better offense, as they moved the chains at a 79.38% rate, best in the NFL. The Cowboys were very good offensively, moving the chains at a 77.30% rate that was 4th in the NFL, but the Packers were as good as it got offensively this regular season. Rodgers was a bigger part of his offense than Romo, with 520 attempts to 435 for Romo. Add in Rodgers’ superior rushing numbers (269 yards and 2 touchdowns on 43 carries, as opposed to 61 yards on 26 carries for Romo) and Rodgers actually had 103 more dropbacks than Romo.
Romo played on a team that ran 476 times (excluding quarterback runs), while the Packers ran 382 times. He also played with the strongest supporting cast. DeMarco Murray led a running game that not only carried the ball more times, but also averaged more yards per carry (4.6 to 4.4). Rodgers had a pair of great receivers in Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson and the best guard combo in the NFL in TJ Lang and Josh Sitton and Eddie Lacy is no slouch at running back, but Romo had arguably the best running game and offensive line in the game and Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are no slouches in the passing game.
The Cowboys ranked 4th in pass blocking grade, 2nd in run blocking grade, and 2nd in rushing grade on Pro Football Focus, while the Packers ranked 1st, 17th, and 7th in those 7 aspects respectively. Rodgers also had 32 dropped passes to Romo’s 10 and ranked #1 in adjusted QB rating (which takes into accounts yards after the catch, drops, throw aways, etc) by a decent margin over Romo (99.04 to 97.70). Rodgers was Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked quarterback on the season, while Romo ranked all the way down at #7, as they felt his numbers were really boosted by the play around him. At the end of the day, Rodgers led the better offense despite less supporting talent.
It definitely needs to be mentioned that Tony Romo missed one start with a back injury, a 28-13 home loss to the Cardinals in which the offense really struggled, moving the chains at a 67.86% rate. That’s part of why Rodgers had so many more drop backs and if you take out that game, the Cowboys moved the chains at a 77.85% rate on the season. However, that’s still worse than Green Bay and that rate of moving the chains looks a little better when you take into account that they were facing a very tough Arizona defense, which allowed opponents to move the chains at a mere 69.83% rate on the season, 3rd best in the NFL. Besides, the Packers felt Rodgers’ absence on a greater scale last season, as they went 2-6 in 8 games that Rodgers either missed or barely played in. Compare that to an 18-6 record with Rodgers at quarterback over the past 2 seasons. I know you can’t use things that happened in previous years to pick MVP, but it does provide some helpful context.
Now that Rodgers has been narrowed down as the top quarterback in the NFL, the argument is between him and the top non-quarterback in the NFL, who is almost definitely JJ Watt. Watt was Pro Football Focus’ top player this season by a wide margin, as has been the case in each of the last 3 seasons. I’ll get into what makes him so good in my Defensive Player of the Year write-up, but Watt is the only one in recent memory that I think can say he’s been the best player in football for 3 straight years. This is Reggie White in his prime type stuff and maybe even he couldn’t say that.
However, this award isn’t best player, it’s most valuable and it’s just so hard for a non-quarterback to be the most valuable player in today’s NFL. I would be fine with the NFL making a separate award for non-quarterbacks and if that existed Watt would be the heavy favorite. However, imagine if Watt and Rodgers switched places. Rodgers might not have quite the same amount of offensive supporting talent in Houston and the defense would suck without Watt, but Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Arian Foster, and that Houston offensive line are a good bunch so that would still be one of the best offenses in the NFL. Defensively they could easily struggle, but so did the Packers’ defense this year, ranking 27th in rate of moving the chains allowed and they still won 12 games because of how good their offense was. The Texans are a playoff team if they swapped Watt for Rodgers.
If the Packers swapped Rodgers for Watt, their defense would be a lot better, but their offense would be so much worse. Even if they still made the playoffs, there’s no way they’d be 12-win NFC North champions. That’s simply what it boils down to. If you switched Watt and Rodgers, the Texans would become a better football team and the Packers would become a worse football team. Rodgers deserves this award more than anyone else.