Anyone who has followed the NFL MVP conversation knows that the award is Aaron Rodgers’ to win for the 2020 season. The Green Bay Packers quarterback led the NFL in most passing efficiency categories, finishing first in QBR, DVOA, passer rating, completion percentage, touchdown and interception rates, and adjusted yards per attempt.
It was truly a dominant season from #12, and one that should end with him earning his third MVP award. But it’s easy to forget just how recently he took his commanding lead in the race for that award, as he trailed Patrick Mahomes and others for much of the 2020 campaign.
A look back at the MVP odds throughout the 2020 season, however, shows the Packers’ Week 16 victory over the Tennessee Titans as the biggest turning point in Rodgers’ favor. In that game, the Packers earned one of their best wins of the season, defeating a Titans team that would eventually win the AFC South. In doing so, Rodgers threw for four touchdowns, completing 21 of his 25 pass attempts on the day. The game also featured another MVP candidate, Titans running back Derrick Henry, whose hopes for the award were dashed in the Packers’ 40-14 victory.
The fact that this game came in prime time on Sunday Night Football helped as well, as Rodgers and the Packers had all eyes on them during their dominant performance. But another factor was at play here: Mahomes’ struggles in the last month of the season, and in particular in the Chiefs’ week 16 game.
Although Mahomes and Rodgers were running neck and neck statistically through about three-quarters of the season, the numbers for the Chiefs’ quarterback started to dip at the start of December. He still posted impressive volume numbers, but his interceptions jumped, his completion rate dropped, and his yards per attempt also plummeted steadily over the final month. Meanwhile, the Chiefs looked less and less impressive, eventually culminating in a narrow 17-14 victory at home over the lowly Atlanta Falcons in week 16.
On the afternoon before Rodgers and the Packers demolished the Titans, Mahomes put up a stat line of 24-44 for 278 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, his worst game of the season. Kansas City locked in the AFC’s top seed, however, thanks in part to Pro Bowl kicker Younghoe Koo missing a game-tying field goal with seconds left on the clock, and that allowed Andy Reid to sit his star quarterback in week 17.
Before that game, Mahomes was still odds-on favorite, with SportsBettingDime putting his composite MVP odds at -344 to Rodgers’ +331. But at the next update, the two flipped positions, with Rodgers getting favored heavily at -376 to Mahomes’ +301. With Mahomes sitting in week 17 and Rodgers throwing for another four touchdowns against the Bears to help the Packers clinch the NFC’s top seed, it was all over.
Of course, one of these two quarterbacks will play in the Super Bowl a week from Sunday, and it’s not the presumptive MVP. Rodgers would surely rather have a chance at a second ring and a second Super Bowl MVP than a third league MVP award, but that will have to wait until the 2021 campaign.
But what are Rodgers’ early chances of repeating as league MVP?
It’s an uncommon occurrence for a player to win MVP in back-to-back seasons. Since the award was formalized for the 1961 season, there have only been four back-to-back winners: Joe Montana in 1989-90, Brett Favre in three straight years from 1995-97, and Peyton Manning twice in 2003-04 and 08-09. So from looking back at history, it would seem unlikely that Rodgers would pull it off, particularly in the later stages of his career.
Still, if anyone can do it, Rodgers should be up at the top of the list. He mentioned this week that his leg strength was a major reason for his success and accuracy in 2020, and he should be as healthy as ever heading into 2021. This year, Rodgers took the fewest sacks of any season since he became a starter, even including two seasons that were shortened by injury. Additionally, the Packers appear set to bring back their entire offensive coaching staff, while most of Rodgers’ receiving weapons from this season should return as well.
Look for opening odds to come out on the 2021 MVP shortly after the 2020 award is announced next weekend. Rodgers might not have the shortest odds — that honor will probably go to Mahomes — but there’s every reason to think he will be firmly in the running once again.