Each year, I publish my vote for NFL awards, the ballot I send to the Associated Press. The notable vote each year, usually, is for MVP, and it is this year too. I’ll start with why I chose Aaron Rodgers over Tom Brady, Joe Burrow and Cooper Kupp. That ended up being my 1-2-3-4.
Comparing Rodgers and Brady, this year, is a little like comparing apples and pomegranates. Brady did throw for 1,201 more yards than Rodgers, yes. Brady also threw 11 more passes per game. Brady played 1.5 more games than Rodgers; that includes the Covid game Rodgers didn’t play Nov. 7 at Kansas City, plus Rodgers sitting the second half in Week 18 at Detroit.
Green Bay was 13-3 in games Rodgers started, with one clunker—an opening day debacle at New Orleans. Tampa Bay was 13-4 with Brady starting, with two clunkers—a 9-0 loss to the Saints and a 29-19 loss at Washington. Games of 100-plus passer rating: Rodgers 11 of 16, Brady 10 of 17.
The factors that weighed on my decision:
• Watching the games. The late Paul Zimmerman used to say in Hall of Fame meetings when stat after stat about a candidate was being quoted by voters, “You watched him play. Was he dominant? Was he a Hall of Famer?” (With a few other words of color mixed in.) This season, when I watched Rodgers, I thought he was an absolute virtuoso. The position couldn’t be played better. Brady was tremendous too. And Brady’s comeback at the Meadowlands to beat the Jets in the midst of the Antonio Brown melodrama was an all-time rally by the all-time greatest. I just thought Rodgers played the position at the highest level I’ve seen. Dropping the 25-yard dime to Davante Adams between four Niners in Week 3, on the way to a winning last-second field goal . . . The 59-yard bomb he dropped out of the sky perfectly to Adams at Cincinnati in that OT win . . . Play-action darts, off-schedule throws, back-foot strikes, owning Chicago, completing 75 percent with a 14-0 TD-pick ratio after Dec. 1, with one dome game and temperature/wind speeds of 37/10, 43/12, 35/10 and 11/8 in those four non-dome games, all played with a broken toe. Sublime.
• Efficiency. Rodgers in 16 games: four interceptions, zero lost fumbles. Brady in 17 games: 12 interceptions, three lost fumbles. Brady was highly efficient with the offense relying on him so heavily. Rodgers—37 touchdowns, two turnovers in his last 15 games—was historically efficient.
• The Covid lie. This bothered me a lot. Aaron Rodgers chose not to get vaccinated and ended up missing an important game when he tested positive. Moreso, he misled the public by implying he was vaxxed. A quarterback and team leader should be there every week he’s not hurt badly. Brady was there for 17 full games, and Rodgers missed one—that’s on him.
• The case for Brady. It’s a strong one. Pro Football Focus analyst Steve Palazzolo made it eloquently. When Brady made the perfect throw to Cyril Grayson to beat the Jets in the final seconds, capping a 93-yard drive with no timeouts, it was a wow moment. As Palazzolo writes, four of the Brady picks this year were either drops by his receivers or a Hail Mary, all fluky. Palazzolo makes great points.
When you cast an MVP vote, the first reaction is: What’d you have against Brady? The answer: Nothing. Sometimes the body of work just makes one guy a hair better. And that’s why I picked Rodgers in almost a photo finish over Brady.
The rest of my 2021 all-pro team and awards:
WR: Cooper Kupp, Rams; Davante Adams, Packers; Deebo Samuel, 49ers
TE: Mark Andrews, Ravens
LT: Trent Williams, 49ers
LG: Joel Bitonio, Browns
C: Creed Humphrey, Chiefs
RG: Zack Martin, Cowboys
RT: Tristan Wirfs, Bucs
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
RB: Jonathan Taylor, Colts
Edge: TJ Watt, Steelers; Maxx Crosby, Raiders
Interior: Aaron Donald, Rams; Jonathan Allen, WFT
LB: Micah Parsons, Cowboys; De’Vondre Campbell, Packers; Darius Leonard, Colts
CB: A.J. Terrell, Falcons; Jalen Ramsey, Rams
S: Kevin Byard, Titans; Adrian Phillips, Patriots
Kicker: Nick Folk, Patriots
Punter: Michael Dickson, Seahawks
Kick Returner: Braxton Berrios, Jets
Punt Returner: Devin Duvernay, Ravens
Special Teamer: Ashton Dulin, Colts
Long Snapper: Morgan Cox, Titans
Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Coach: Mike Vrabel, Titans
Assistant Coach: Jeff Stoutland, OL, Eagles
Comeback Player: Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals
Defensive Player: T.J. Watt, Steelers
Offensive Player: Cooper Kupp, Rams
Defensive Rookie: Micah Parsons, Cowboys
Offensive Rookie: Creed Humphrey, Chiefs
• Very tough to leave Justin Jefferson off the team, but I just had to have Deebo Samuel (6.2 yards per rush, 18.2 yards per catch, 14 touchdowns, vital for a needy playoff offense) on the club.
• I don’t recall the last time I felt this good about a pair of tackles—Trent Williams and Tristan Wirfs—as I did this year.
• Never thought I’d leave off Trevon Diggs at corner, but the combination of the excellent year by A.J. Terrell for Atlanta and Diggs giving up an NFL-high 1,016 yards in coverage (Terrell allowed 200 yards) clinched it for me.
• Justin Tucker and Daniel Carlson are both deserving at kicker, to be sure. But Folk was 29 of 29 on kicks inside 50 yards—Tucker was 29 of 31, Carlson 34 of 36 on such kicks—and I can’t forget the 34- and 41-yarders he made with the wind gusting up to 40 mph in Buffalo last month.
• Mike Vrabel over Matt LaFleur was not an easy call, but Vrabel survived with an NFL-high 91 players in uniform, and Derrick Henry missing nine games, and earned home-field in the AFC. That’s quite an accomplishment.
• Jeff Stoutland, the Eagles offensive line coach, helped the Philly offense take a hard pivot to a run-dominant game plan when the Eagles were struggling in midseason; the Eagles led the league in rushing over the last 10 weeks. It took Stoutland’s great performance to surpass the terrific job Dan Quinn did as the Dallas defensive coordinator.
• T.J. Watt (21.5 sacks in 15 games) and Maxx Crosby (NFL-best 101 pressures, per PFF) edged Myles Garrett, but I don’t feel good about leaving off Garrett and his 78 pressures.
• I realize a center for offensive rookie feels odd, especially after Ja’Marr Chase was second in football with an 18.0 yards-per-catch average. But I thought Chiefs center Creed Humphrey—the highest-rated center in football overall, and best run-blocker, per PFF—deserved it.