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Brees or Rodgers?
Rodgers or Brees?
When it comes to deciding who should win the 2011 NFL MVP award, there is no wrong answer between Saints QB Drew Brees or his Packers counterpart, Aaron Rodgers. Both players had record-setting seasons for winning teams and have their teams primed for playoff success. The past two winners of the Super Bowl MVP award each have valid arguments that they had not only the best seasons of their careers, but also the best seasons for any quarterback in league history.
Brees set the all-time record for passing yards in a season (5,476), shattering Dan Marino's mark from 1984. Rodgers eclipsed Peyton Manning's 2004 record for passer rating with a 122.4 mark. Rodgers started the season on a 13-game winning streak; Brees ended it winning eight in a row. Each finished in the top five all-time in touchdown passes for a single season and carried their clubs to improbable victories throughout the course of the season.
So who is the most valuable? By the narrowest of margins, it has to be Rodgers.
The Packers' QB started out the season brilliantly — 312 yards and three touchdowns against Brees' Saints in Week One — and never let up. He threw two or more touchdowns in 14 games this season, and in his one start where he failed to accomplish that, Rodgers threw one touchdown and ran for another. In no games did he toss multiple interceptions. Although Brees set the record for passing yards in a season, it was Rodgers who led the league in passing yards per attempt, his 9.25-yard average well above Brees' 8.33.
All of that helped the Packers go 14-1 with Rodgers under center, the best record in football.
The list of Brees' accomplishments this season is equally long, and placing him second is no slight to what he's done. It's just that Rodgers' season was a bit better, making him more valuable player to the NFL's best team.
(Preseason ranking in parentheses)
1. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (No. 2) — Remember when Packers fans were worried about Rodgers not being able to escape Brett Favre's shadow? There is no doubt that after tying Favre in Super Bowl rings last year and now posting a season that would top Favre's best year, Rodgers is well on his way to creating his own legacy in Green Bay.
2. Saints QB Drew Brees (No. 5) — Few figured that when the season was all said and done, it would be RB Darren Sproles and TE Jimmy Graham that would help Brees the most in posting his best individual season. Both players hauled in more than 85 passes this season, and their speed and ability to create yards after the catch helped the QB set the single-season record for passing yardage.
3. Patriots QB Tom Brady (No. 1) — At some point after he retires, fans will debate which was Brady's best season. Valid arguments could be made for both 2007 and '10, when Brady won MVP awards, but his '11 campaign stacks up pretty well against both of them, especially considering the lack of support he had from his defense. Brady had a career high in yards and won 13 games working alongside the NFL's 20th-ranked run game and 31st-ranked defense.
4. Giants QB Eli Manning (NR) — After leading the NFL in interceptions last year with 25, few pegged Manning to be a candidate for this award. Yet he turned in his best season to date, throwing for a career high in yards and leading the NFL with five fourth-quarter comebacks. Manning also brought the Giants back to the playoffs, something few expected after the offseason buzz the rival Eagles made in free agency.
5. Lions WR Calvin Johnson (cusp) — Other skill-position players flashed brilliance, but nobody was as dominant from start to finish as the Lions' wideout. From catching multiple touchdowns in each of his first four games to gaining over 100 yards in each of the final three weeks of the season, Johnson was the hardest player for opposing defenses to cover in the league.
6. Texans RB Arian Foster (cusp) — Foster finished fifth in the NFL in rushing with 1,224 yards, but he is more valuable than the four players in front of him for a variety of reasons. By averaging more than 11 yards per reception, Foster became an impact in the passing game, as well as on the ground. And with fellow Texans stars Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson missing a good amount of time because of injuries this season, Foster was a key to leading Houston to its first-ever playoff appearance.
7. 49ers RB Frank Gore (NR) — The star player for the league's most surprising team deserves plenty of praise. Gore bounced back from a down season in 2010 to return to his Pro Bowl level, improving his yards and touchdowns, all while cutting down on his fumbles.
8. Lions QB Matthew Stafford (NR) — During his first two NFL seasons, the knock on Stafford was his inability to stay on the field, playing just 13 games in 2009 and '10 combined. He completely erased those issues this season, playing in all 16 games and showing why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft three years ago. He became just the fourth QB in league history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season and helped the Lions reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
9. Cowboys QB Tony Romo (NR) — He couldn't reach the playoffs, but questions of whether Romo was an elite QB or not have been put to rest. With 31 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, the Cowboys' quarterback showed he can make plays, even with injuries impacting not only him, but also his offensive line, running backs and receivers.
10. Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs (NR) — In a close call between Suggs and Baltimore teammate Ray Rice, the founder of Ball So Hard University emerged as the most valuable Raven. The AFC North champions win because of their defense, and nobody made more plays this season on that side of the ball than Suggs, who finished with 14 sacks, two interceptions and seven forced fumbles.
Five to watch in 2012 (in alphabetical order) — Bengals WR A.J. Green, Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray, Panthers QB Cam Newton, Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul, Steelers WR Mike Wallace