Aaron Rodgers is back, hobbled calf and all. The last eight games have seen the All-Pro and two-time MVP quarterback complete 67% of his passes and throw eight touchdowns for every interception.
Sunday’s game pitted Rodgers against Russell Wilson. Seattle’s talented young quarterback is considered by many to be an equal to Rodgers. They both extends plays with their legs, can make accurate throws anywhere on the field and rarely make mistakes.
In Green Bay’s drubbing of Seattle, Rodgers and Wilson went in opposite directions. Rodgers’ sparkling 150.8 passer rating ranks as the highest against Seahawks in the Pete Carroll era, while Wilson tossed a career-high five interceptions.
Aaron Rodgers hasn’t thrown five interceptions in a game; he’s never thrown more than three. He has the lowest interception rate in NFL history, throwing an interception on 1.6% of attempts.
NFL reporters, local newspapers and blogs like ours lambasted Rodgers’ 2016 as recently as a few weeks ago. Poor performances on national stages against the Vikings and Cowboys created a narrative that Rodgers was no longer an elite or clutch quarterback.
Now, he’s being heralded a dark horse MVP candidate, and Pro Football Focus calls Rodgers the NFL’s best quarterback this season.
Rodgers’ final three games are all against familiar divisional foes. The 33-year-old quarterback is not only 10-2 against the NFC North in December, but he also has his highest quarterback rating against the NFC North (108.3) than any other division.
Let’s evaluate Rodgers against each of the NFC North teams and check in with the state of their defenses.
Up next, the Chicago Bears
In seventeen contests against Chicago, Rodgers has posted a completion percentage and quarterback rating above his career averages. Earlier this year, Rodgers had extreme success against the Bears on dropbacks lasting 2.5 seconds or less; he completed 80% of those passes with a 117.4 passer rating.
The Bears defense has quietly improved in 2016. Rookie edge defender Leonard Floyd recorded a strip-sack fumble and recovery for a touchdown against the Packers, and last week brought nine pressures against Matthew Stafford and the Lions.
Ultimately, the biggest difference between the Bears in week seven and this upcoming week is the steady improvement of the defensive line. Besides Floyd, interior defender Akiem Hicks has morphed in his fifth season from a steady starter to one of the NFL’s top-ten defensive linemen.
Eddie Goldman, a second-year lineman who injured his ankle Sunday, is also having a solid year. Unfortunately, a tender ankle has kept Goldman from seven games this season. He is questionable for Sunday’s game.
After that, the Minnesota Vikings
Mike Zimmer is wearing an eyepatch after his emergency retina surgery, so all eyes will not be on Rodgers when Minnesota travels East to Lambeau Field. Rodgers’ staggering late season success becomes even more unprecedented when you consider just his December starts at Lambeau Field. Since 2008, he has not lost a home game in December.
Aaron Rodgers has recently been handing the ball off more than in weeks prior. For the season, Green Bay has passed on 63% of downs, but during their three-game winning streak, only 52% of plays have resulted in a pass.
The strength of the Vikings defense in recent weeks has been its ability to stop the run. In a win against the Jaguars last week, Minnesota was content to play a base defense without blitzing, and Jacksonville averaged just 3.5 yards per rush.
Second-year pro Danielle Hunter has ascended on the defensive line in recent weeks, dominating the Jaguars against the run. Hunter has primarily played on passing downs, but the third-round draft pick has in recent weeks shown to be a more complete player.
Finally, the Detroit Lions
The departure of Ndamukong Suh has affected Detroit’s secondary more than their defensive line. In Suh’s last year with the team in 2014, Detroit’s defense held opposing quarterbacks to a stifling 83.0 passer rating.
The heir to Suh on the line, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, is in his fourth season with the Lions and sixth season of organized football. After breaking out in 2015 with 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, Ansah has yet to record a sack in 2016 and has missed four games due to injury.
The Lions now allow quarterbacks to be ultra-efficient, ranking 31st in opposing passer rating this year and 28th in 2015. Even the presence of the elite Darius Slay at corner hasn’t helped Detroit slow down quarterbacks.
Rodgers is 12-3 in his career against Detroit (including 2010’s loss at Ford Field where Rodgers was forced to leave early with a concussion). The season finale against Detroit will be Rodgers’ eighth time playing in the final game of the season. In those contests, he’s completed 70% of his passes and averaged 280 passing yards and two touchdowns.