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Week Under Review: How Aaron Rodgers edged his way back into MVP conversation

The Packers were all but left for dead after four straight losses dropped them to 4–6, then a far cry behind the Vikings and the Lions. But since, Aaron Rodgers has singlehandedly kept Green Bay in playoff contention.

Fifteen weeks of the season is (almost) in the books and aside from the Cowboys’ offensive line and Bill Belichick’s elite scheming, there is little we can say with conviction—I can’t even decide if the uncertainty is a good thing. Usually by this point in the season, a few teams have dominated for months; right now, the only current streaks of note belong to the Browns and 49ers and their ladders of losses.

While we wait for the NFL stars to align and bring clarity, let’s examine the exhilarating oddity that was Week 15. From the MVP race to quarterbacks who get the job done to a little idea session, here are some musings as we sprint to the finish line…

NFL Week 15 Blanket: The playoff-bound Oakland Raiders are officially back

Aaron Rodgers is more and more deserving of hardware every week. In Week 15’s tougher-than-it-should-have-been win over Chicago (let’s be real: the Packers should have blown out the Bears), his numbers were less flashy—19-of-31 for 252 and no scores or interceptions—but stats don’t tell the whole picture. Mistakes came in droves from others, particularly in two drops in the end zone by WR Davante Adams. But Rodgers played well, and dropped the mic with a 60-yard beauty to Jordy Nelson to set up a game-winning field goal.

With Green Bay winning five straight, Rodgers has crept into the MVP conversation, with good reason. There’s no official criterion for the award, but usually it starts with a playoff-contending team, and then eyes shift to the quarterback and determining how valuable he is. As I noted last week, the leading MVP candidates all come with flaws. Most are great players—some having career years—but none have been transformational on a weekly basis.

But for five weeks Rodgers has been transformational, and he’s the overwhelming reason the Packers will now likely be playing for the NFC North title in a tilt against the Lions Week 17. When Rodgers is in the zone, he reminds me of the great gymnasts. To the naked eye, he and his fellow QB brethren are generally playing with the same ability utilizing the same basic concepts. But Rodgers is set apart by his ability to make completions with a high degree of difficulty with little error. That is why the Pack have morphed from laughingstock to playoff contenders this season, all while their quarterback has been interception-free since Week 10. Rodgers is also the only MVP candidate without another unit boosting him. If the Packers do sneak in, Rodgers should be the MVP.

Fantasy Week 15 lessons: Packers' Ty Montgomery is a must-start for title games

• If Rodgers doesn’t win MVP—and clearly there’s a more than decent chance it goes to Tom Brady or Ezekiel Elliott—how about Comeback Player of the Year? I know, I know. Talk about a formula. Player suffers season-ending injury (or in the frightening case of Eric Berry two years ago, Hodgkin’s lymphoma or in a polar opposite case, gets sent to prison for dog fighting a la Michael Vick). Player plays well the next year, wins award. Given how injury rates have spiraled out of control, next year’s field from Rob Gronkowski to Teddy Bridgewater to J.J. Watt—runs deep. This year, the frontrunner is Miami’s Cameron Wake who has been a sack machine after recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon. Wake is deserving, though I wouldn’t mind bending the rules and awarding it to Berry for a second-straight year.

But what if we completely turned the award on its head?  Currently the award rarely goes to a player coming back from a poor performance. Titans’ running back DeMarco Murray has been peppered with questions about his candidacy after a down year in Philly in which he was schematically misused.

What if we really got progressive and kept the criteria to same season, awarding a like Rodgers who played so poorly and endured so much noise but found some inner strength mid-season? There is something to be said about coming back with the same personnel group after being completely written off. 

Tom Savage brought a much-needed spark to Texans' offense that Osweiler lacked

• The Giants defense put in another baller performance Sunday, holding (former) MVP candidate Matthew Stafford and the Lions to just six points. In fact, the Giants’ defense has held their opponents to 20 points or fewer since the Eagles hung 23 points on them in Week 9. As long as Janoris Jenkins’s back injury is minor, this is unquestionably a Super Bowl-caliber defense. (And more importantly, coach Ben McAdoo< has a Super Bowl mustache.)

Odell Beckham Jr. is the most electrifying player on the roster and you put up with selfish, bone-headed plays from time-to-time to reap the benefits, of which there are many. But here’s a particularly bad one from yesterday, a play Beckham could have made if he wasn’t so hell-bent on being a one-catch Johnny.

Of course it was Beckham’s one-handed catch for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that got all the buzz. But come playoff time, McAdoo or Eli Manning or someone needs to have serious chat with team’s most talented player because it would be a shame if one of these highlight reel quests cost the Giants.

• Gus Bradley getting fired was as shocking as any Bachelor contestant breaking up with his or her chosen. Jeff Fisher’s situation was much more odd, given his recent contract extension and Stan Kroenke’s history of accepting mediocrity. Collectively, the firings beg the question: better to dump with game/s remaining or wait until the more traditional Black Monday (in this year’s case, Jan. 2)?

Situations vary but I’ve long been a proponent of taking action as soon as a firing has been deemed inevitable. Players may have loved Bradley and Fisher but there is a general toxicity and malaise that comes with so much losing. With a change, players are forced to examine their own performances and maybe step up. From a management perspective, you delay weeks of awkward conversations about the future (or in some cases, such as 49ers brass and Jim Harbaugh, sheer avoidance). Perhaps there’s an assistant you want to give a trial run before making such a crucial decision—and I approve of Doug Marrone being named the interim coach in Jacksonville.

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• What is the more attractive coaching gig: Jaguars or Rams? The common consensus here seems to be Los Angeles, strictly because of Jared Goff. But I’d take Jacksonville because that roster from Jalen Ramsey to Allen Robinson to Malik Jackson is stacked with young playmakers. Blake Bortles is less attractive than Goff, but he is still in a moldable phase of his career. Jacksonville also happens to play in the NFL’s worst division. But what really makes them intriguing is the realization that with some better schematics (ahem, coaching) this team could be on a much different trajectory. This year alone, seven of their losses have been by less than a touchdown. This team is absolutely ripe for a turnaround under the right guidance.

• Bill O’Brien is far from a hot seat after his gutsy benching of $72 million man Brock Osweiler. What a call, one that seems like it was a long time coming.  After Week 5, CBS’s Jason LaCanfora reported that Osweiler and O’Brien had a spat after the quarterback openly objected to some playcalling after reviewing film. (O’Brien denied this.) It is also believed Texans management, and not O’Brien, pushed for the Osweiler signing. When Tom Savage guides the Texans to their first-ever Super Bowl, at home, every team with the exception of New England, should be giving O’Brien $72 million to come coach 

• Speaking of the Patriots, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is again a hot coaching candidate. But why does everyone assume he’s so antsy to leave New England. If I’m McDaniels I ride the last couple of years with possibly the best head coach and quarterback and go anywhere I want.

• At some point around 4:45 ET Sunday, the 49ers down 21–0 at that point my two-year-old pulled a move I will never forget. He walked into my office (also known as the living room), picked up the TV remote, changed the channel from the game to the Holiday Movie Skating Spectacular on ABC and walked out.  Who knows if my kid will have any social skills or be a success, but he knows quality football or lack thereof. I couldn’t be more proud.

• Sorry Bears fans, but Matt Barkley is not your long-term solution at quarterback. He’s put up nice performances since taking over for Jay Cutler, but he doesn’t have the arm strength or mobility to succeed as a starter. But boy do the Bears have an awesome back-up.

• Can we please keep the Seahawks off Thursday Night Football? Their color rush jerseys bring back painful memories of that time in Mexico when I mistakenly believed the asparagus I bought had been prewashed.

• The Cowboys were up by three points late in the fourth quarter deep in Buccaneers territory. On fourth-and-one, Jason Garrett decided to kick the field goal instead of relying on his NFL-best offensive line and NFL-best running back to try and seal the game. Garrett notoriously plays the percentages, and this one worked out considering his defense easily held Tampa on two ensuing possessions. But man, how do you not go for it with that weaponry?

• And finally some breaking news: Dak Prescott isn’t getting benched.