The Great Debate: Rodgers or Watt for MVP?

2 Jan
Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt are the frontrunners for the NFL MVP award.
Credit: si.com

It was perhaps the most immediate silence following a Packers touchdown I had ever heard at Lambeau Field. Forget about the 4-yard score to Randall Cobb in the second quarter. Aaron Rodgers was hurt. And he wasn’t getting up. Nearly 80,000 Packers faithful held their breath as Rodgers collapsed to the ground clutching his left leg. They might as well have been lying on the field beside their quarterback.

It’s a special connection, this Lambeau thing. All who don green and yellow on Sundays are family – those on the field, those in the stands and those screaming frantically at the television.

Although this time there were no screams, no cheers, no rejoice.

Just silence.

I, for one, became misty-eyed as I watched the center of the Packers family get carried off the field and escorted to the locker room on a cart, as chants of “MVP” echoed throughout Green Bay.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for sentiment.

But it was the regular-season finale with a division title and first-round bye on the line. Would Rodgers be named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player at season’s end if he was forced to leave a game of this magnitude due to injury?

I tensely watched as the NFC North showdown between the Packers and Detroit Lions continued. My mind was set on the bigger picture. I knew where the path led without Rodgers.

Halftime came and went. The Packers’ 14-point lead evaporated and hope vanished.

Until a camera shot revealed someone stretching in the tunnel during the third quarter.

It was Rodgers, clad in green and yellow armor with a cape fluttering behind him. OK, it wasn’t that extreme, but you wouldn’t know it the way the crowd reacted as he emerged onto the field.

This man is Green Bay’s hero and perhaps the best quarterback to ever play in the NFL.

Hope had returned. It was showtime.

On one leg, Rodgers completed 17-of-22 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 30-20 victory.

With a performance for the ages, he may have earned himself a second MVP award.

THE DEBATE

The battle for MVP will most likely come down to Rodgers and another one of Wisconsin’s finest, Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who is seeking the first MVP by a defensive player since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. This season, Watt became the first NFL player to record 20 or more sacks in two separate seasons.

His numbers speak for themselves: 78 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 10 batted passes, four forced fumbles, five total touchdowns and one intimidating bloody nose. But here’s why Watt won’t win the MVP this season:

While Watt recorded 20.5 sacks, 14 of them came against AFC South opponents, so he did a majority of his damage during six games within the division, including six sacks alone in two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Every game in which Watt recorded two or more sacks was against the AFC South as well. Talk about feasting on your division.

When talking about Rodgers in terms of why he won’t win the MVP, people point to three losses against opponents with top-tier defenses: the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills – all road games.

Go ahead and hold those three games against Rodgers, but don’t be naïve to the fact that a majority of Watt’s success took place against mediocre opponents. He didn’t do a whole lot against elite competition either.

Rodgers’ 2014 campaign goes beyond the numbers, which aren’t anything to sneeze at: 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns, just five interceptions and a passer rating of 112.2. Of his five interceptions, four of them went off his intended receiver’s hands.

While the stats are impressive, there’s one word with far more substance in terms of Rodgers’ MVP-worthy season:

R-E-L-A-X.

Following the loss to the Lions in Week 3, Rodgers famously spelled out and repeated the word, placing additional pressure on himself and the Packers’ offense to perform, and perform quickly.

He owned it and delivered one of the best 10-game stretches in NFL history. He’s the primary reason why the Packers have won their fourth consecutive NFC North title and are one of the favorites in the playoffs.

Rodgers is the MVP this season because he plays the most important position in football and excels at it more than his counterparts. Not to mention there were a number of games this season in which Rodgers put the Packers so far ahead he didn’t have the opportunity to play in the fourth quarter and improve his stats.

Still unsure about the MVP? Consider this:

If the Texans offered Watt for Rodgers in a trade, would the Packers accept it?

Now, what if the Packers offered Rodgers for Watt? I’d be willing to bet the Texans would accept that trade faster than a New York second.

Additionally, the Packers would be in worse shape without Rodgers than the Texans would be without Watt.

Take Watt out of the Texans lineup. What happens? They go from a non-playoff team to… a non-playoff team.

Take Rodgers out of the Packers lineup. What happens? They go from the No. 2 seed to most likely missing the playoffs.

The MVP debate is so difficult this year because it’s between two players who play drastically different positions. At the end of the day, give me Rodgers.

Watt will have to settle for a consolation prize as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and a front row seat to watch the playoffs from home.

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