The Lord of Lambeau: Aaron Rodgers for MVP
Turn back the clock to American Thanksgiving. The Green Bay Packers have lost four in a row; they look inept and sluggish. At 4-6, they saw the playoffs slipping away, and people were calling for head coach Mike McCarthy’s head. Then, on November 23rd, Aaron Rodgers stood at his locker, ahead of a huge game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and said “I feel like we can run the table, I really do.” The face of the franchise, confronted with, adversity remained optimistic, believing that his Packers could win six in a row. Many saw it as a prediction, Rodgers later went on to call it “a feeling”. Rodgers’ feeling proved correct, as the Packers did just that and ran the table. The Packers are now set to host the Giants this weekend at Lambeau in the NFC Wild Card round.
Through those final six games, Aaron Rodgers’ stat-line stood as such: 15 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 1,667 passing yards, a QB rating of 120.98 and, most importantly, six wins. These stats were not only efficient, but downright scary for opposing defenses. Let us also visit how clutch Rodgers was for the Packers: the Packers converted 47% of their third down attempts, the second best percentage in the NFL. Rodgers and the Packers consistently came up big when it mattered, all despite the team’s mediocre defense. In almost every major defensive category the Packers defense was bottom 10, or at least in the bottom-half in the league. Rodgers did not lean on anyone other than himself. Rodgers had seven teammates with over 200 yards in receiving. There were 115 players who had 200 receiving yards this season in the NFL. That means on average 3.59 players per team; Rodgers nearly doubled that for the Packers. Three of those seven reached career-highs (Adams, Montgomery and Allison). Adams had received criticism in past seasons for his drops; yet, Rodgers backed him, and targeted him 121 times. Adams caught 75 of those targets, which was 22nd best in the NFL. The season before Adams caught 53.76% of his targets, this season Adams caught 61.98%.
Now let us visit the Packers run game. Eddie Lacy came into the year as the #1 running back in Green Bay. Lacy started off the season very well, with 360 yards through his first five games. However, his injured ankle turned into ankle surgery, and an already weak backfield became abysmal. With back-up James Starks on the shelf, the Packers needed to experiment. Yet, their run game proved effective. The Packers ended up with 1,701 rushing yards (20th best in the NFL), with Rodgers himself having 369 of them. Of the top 50 rushers by yards in the NFL, only SIX averaged as many yards per carry as Rodgers, and nobody carried the ball less than Rodgers. The star pivot ran when he needed to and made it count, scoring four rushing touchdowns, the most by any player on the Packers. Green Bay’s poor running attack needed a boost, and the star of the team took it upon himself to help lead the way.
Jordy Nelson was the top wide receiver for Aaron Rodgers this season, which sounds standard for the Packers. Yet, last season Nelson did not play a down for the Packers after the pre-season. Rodgers’ favourite target had ACL surgery, and had been out of competitive football for over a year. Despite this, Rodgers eased Nelson back in, and helped get him back to elite status. Nelson finished the year with 1,257 yards receiving, 594 of those yards came in the final six game stretch. Rodgers’ chemistry with Nelson allowed the two to come to life when it mattered, as Rodgers helped Nelson return to his former self.
Statistically, Rodgers has had better seasons passing the ball. But, he had never taken it upon himself to carry the load like he did in 2016. The Packers have traditionally had offensive threats for Rodgers to rely on. This year he had to mould, nurture and create his weapons. He made Davante Adams into nearly a 1,000 yard receiver, he made himself into a strong and efficient runner, and he helped bring Jordy Nelson back to reality. Aaron Rodgers led the Packers offense to glory, all by himself. He made his teammates and himself better, and helped the defense through their own struggles. With all this considered, Rodgers had his most impressive regular season ever, as he took a 4-6 team and made them into NFC North champions. These same NFC North champions now have the 3rd best odds to win Super Bowl 51. You can bet Rodgers will be prepared to decimate whomever is on his path to another ring. Aaron Rodgers is this year’s NFL MVP.
NFL First Down and Three & Out
First Down: The Kansas City Chiefs took advantage of a poor Week 17 opponent, downing the San Diego Chargers 37-27. Over in Denver, the Oakland Raiders came up short without Derek Carr, meaning the Chiefs win the AFC West and have earned a bye. By taking care of business and getting some good fortune, the Chiefs will get at least one home-field game during the playoffs.
Three & Out: Kirk Cousins had the chance to prove his worth and send the Washington Redskins to the playoffs on Sunday. Instead, they came up short, losing 19-10 to the New York Giants. Cousins had another season with big numbers. But, in their biggest game of the year, he could not come through. Cousins had a single touchdown and threw two interceptions. In a contract year, for Cousins a playoff appearance and maybe even an upset win would have seriously helped his resume. This loss, conversely, will hurt contract talks for Cousins.
The Penalty Box
- The Florida Panthers wanted out of 2016. Outside of having Jaromir Jagr’s accomplishments, the team lost six games in either overtime or shootouts in December and only managed four wins in 14 games. Not to mention the front office turmoil, as Dale Tallon, an executive of the Panthers, was rumoured to be taking on even more responsibility. Current general manager Tom Rowe was rumoured to be stripped of some of his responsibilities. While that was not the case, there is uncertainty and tension aplenty in Florida.
- Detroit’s youth once their strong suit, has been struggling. Outside of Anthony Mantha they have had trouble scoring and Petr Mrazek has lost his coach’s trust. The playoffs look far away, as Henrik Zetterberg and Thomas Vanek are the only Red Wings’ players at 20 points this season. If the Red Wings have any interest in making the playoffs, their young guns will need to step up their efforts.
Stars of the Week
- It is hard to ignore Auston Matthews’ greatness. Matthews stole the show at this weekend’s Centennial Winter Classic. The Red Wings nearly spoiled the party, with three third period goals to tie the game. However, Matthews scored the game-winner in overtime, and the Leafs are now on a five-game win streak. They also find themselves just three points back of the reeling Boston Bruins, who have played four games more than them. Matthews has 20 goals this season, second best in the league. The only person ahead of him? Sidney Crosby. Elite company for young Matthews.
- Evgeni Malkin has reminded the NHL of his skill level. It is hard to ignore Malkin’s dominance, as the Russian superstar had 19 points in the month of December, second best in the league, and has the most points so far this season. When Malkin and Crosby are firing on all cylinders the Penguins can beat anybody in the NHL. Consistency and longevity will be key for Malkin this season. However, he is off to a terrific start.
The Weekly Rap
- Kyle Lowry looks like he is really hitting his stride. However, the Toronto Raptors had a tougher week. Their loss to the Golden State Warriors was their first double digit loss of the season. However, they did look great in rebounding from their terrible first quarter, they were outscored 42-17. All being said, they ended up losing to the Phoenix Suns, but got a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Coach Dwayne Casey will likely look for better results out of his Raptors through the next few weeks.
- Kyle Lowry averaged 30.7 points per game (PPG) and 7.7 assists per game (APG) through the three games this past week. If the Raptors can get this kind of play out of Lowry on a consistent basis they will stand a much better shot against the NBA’s elite. The team will need DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry leading the way, if they want to get over the Eastern Conference Finals hump this year.
Top 5 NBA Power Ranking
- Cavaliers (26-7)
- Nobody defends their home-court better than the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are 18-2 at Quicken Loans Arena this season. Due to their abundance of early home games, however, they will have some longer road trips in 2017. Kevin Love looks as close to his Minnesota-self as he ever has. He’s averaging 21.8 PPG and 10.9 rebounds per game (RPG), and he still managed a double-double on Monday evening despite having food poisoning. The Cavaliers are looking very good.
- Warriors (30-5)
- Golden State played some closer games than usual this week, but still managed to come out on top in all three of their games. They showed their scary offense off by reigning terror on the Raptors’ defense, dropping 121 points in their first game since their Christmas Day loss to the Cavaliers. Needless to say, the Warriors are motivated to not have a repeat of that Christmas Day loss come playoff time.
- Spurs (27-7)
- San Antonio had one blemish this week, falling in overtime to the Atlanta Hawks. However, that was only a 2 point loss, and LaMarcus Aldridge has continued to be strong on the court. The Spurs handled both the Trail Blazers and Suns with ease. On Tuesday, they face another test, hosting the Toronto Raptors.
- Rockets (27-9)
- James Harden is unbelievable. He and Russell Westbrook are carrying their teams, but this week he truly displayed his abilities. Against the New York Knicks, Harden posted a stat-line of 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists. This particular performance may have been the best individual performance of the NBA season. Harden has also recorded a triple-double in all four of his last games. Maybe the Rockets can actually make a run in the playoffs if James Harden continues his MVP pace.
- Raptors (23-10)
- Toronto has another big game this week. The Spurs are no easy opponent and a win for the Raptors would be a huge statement. They have lost to the Cavaliers, Clippers, and Warriors this season, and need to prove they can beat an elite team. If they can win on Tuesday night, a lot more chatter could be made about the Raptors.
What to watch this week?
- Tuesday: Jazz vs Celtics 7:30pm ET, Raptors vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Kings vs Sharks 10:00pm ET
- Wednesday: Rangers vs Flyers 8:00pm ET, Bulls vs Cavaliers 8:00pm ET, Grizzlies vs Clippers 10:30pm ET
- Thursday: Blue Jackets vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Jazz vs Raptors 7:30pm ET, Thunder vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Wild vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
- Friday: Grizzlies vs Warriors 10:30pm ET
- Saturday: Raiders vs Texans 4:35pm ET, Rangers vs Blue Jackets 7:00pm ET, Canadiens vs Maple Leafs 7:00pm ET, Lions vs Seahawks 8:15pm ET
- Sunday: Dolphins vs Steelers 1:05pm ET, Giants vs Packers 4:40pm ET, Rockets vs Raptors 6:00pm ET, Jazz vs Grizzlies 8:00pm ET
- Monday: Capitals vs Canadiens 7:30pm ET, Thunder vs Bulls 8:00pm ET
Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope everyone has a happy holidays, and remember to truly enjoy this time of the year! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.