Why Josh Allen’s MVP case is closer to Aaron Rodgers’ than you think

Aaron Rodgers is almost certainly going to win NFL MVP. It may even be in a landslide after he closed the regular season stronger than Patrick Mahomes.

That’s what it was all about down the stretch: Rodgers vs. Mahomes. That was after Russell Wilson had made an early-season run at the award before falling off. Lamar Jackson entered the year as a potential repeat winner after claiming the honor in 2019, but his start pushed him out of the running, too. But the second-place MVP finisher when the award is announced the night before the Super Bowl is someone who was never realistically considered by the public to win the award: Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

In his third NFL season, Allen took major leaps across the board, becoming a more accurate passer while limiting mistakes and leading Buffalo to a 13-3 record. The Bills closed the season red hot, winning nine of their last 10 regular season games, with the only loss coming on the Cardinals’ miraculous “Hail Murray.” Allen quickly became the face of a franchise that had been lacking one since the days of Jim Kelly.

None of that is to say Allen should win the award over Rodgers, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time who may have just had the best season of his career. But no matter what the vote totals say at NFL Honors, Allen deserves a long MVP look of his own. It’s a lot closer between Allen and Rodgers than one might think.

Josh Allen vs. Aaron Rodgers stats

(Getty Images)

Josh Allen vs. Aaron Rodgers perception

There are two layers of public perception working against Allen. Let’s start with the broader one, team and market affiliation.

Allen is quarterbacking the Buffalo Bills, one of the NFL’s consistent losers over the past two decades, and in one of the league’s smaller media markets, too. Rodgers leads the historic Green Bay Packers, having taken over for Brett Favre and starred for more than a decade at Lambeau Field. While Green Bay is an unusual market by NFL standards, it’s also a major player in the public eye because of how good the Packers are.

That doesn’t help Allen garner the type of mainstream notoriety he probably deserves. It came by the end of the season because Allen made himself impossible to ignore, but he basically balled out from day one in 2020 whether anyone was watching or not. 

In the season’s first four games, Allen threw 12 touchdowns compared to one interception, and he ran for another three scores in those games. But because he’d yet to become a full-on superstar and is in a less-noticed market, it was easier to pay attention to the numbers of Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson without acknowledging that Allen was playing just as well as them.

That starts to get to the second perception issue, timing. Allen had the bad luck of never being at first during any point of the race. Prescott was on pace to shatter the NFL’s single-season passing yardage record before his season-ending injury. Wilson brought on the “Let Russ Cook” refrains. Mahomes and Rodgers both had their moment in the sun. But at least based on mainstream conversation, Allen was never in first. That meant he never had his case examined as fully as that of Prescott, Wilson or Kyler Murray early on or Mahomes and Rodgers down the stretch.

If Allen had broken out to an early lead in MVP talks and kept playing how he did, maybe he would’ve stayed in first for the whole season. But instead he was forced to come from slightly behind in a race where he’d face more obstacles than more established players. It likely made it slightly too difficult to catch up. 

The MVP case for Josh Allen over Aaron Rodgers

If any one season of Rodgers’ career deserved an MVP award, which he’s already won twice, it’s this one. The statistics above speak for themselves. He had career-bests in both completion percentage and passing touchdowns this season, and if anything, MVP awards occasionally trend toward the “career achievement award” when a veteran player has an amazing year.

That’s all fine and dandy, but think for a second about what Allen accomplished this year. He led the Bills to their first 13-win season since 1991. He vanquished the AFC East’s mighty Patriots (albeit with some help from shaky GM Bill Belichick). Allen threw for one fewer touchdown than Patrick Mahomes, ran for one more touchdown than Lamar Jackson, threw for more yards than Rodgers, had a better quarterback rating than Wilson, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

The question of what “valuable” means in MVP is always a sticking point, and the “How would their team play without them?” argument can get silly. Of course the Packers would be much worse without Rodgers, and the Bills would be much worse without Allen.

The point here is that Allen had nearly as good a year as Rodgers, by the numbers, and he did it in a place much less used to winning. Allen grew up before the NFL’s eyes, turning from a raw, inaccurate passer at Wyoming to a dominant force in his third year. Any questions about Stefon Diggs fitting in were answered when Allen made him the league’s leading receiver in multiple categories. Slot man Cole Beasley’s had a career revival with Allen. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will likely be a head coach elsewhere in 2021 thanks to how Allen executed his system.

Just look at the packed Buffalo airport that greeted Allen and the Bills after they clinched the AFC East. Green Bay loves Rodgers, yes, and he loves his city back. But Allen was working against two decades of incompetence and the question of whether he had been worth trading up for in 2018. Allen’s magical season just meant so much.

It’s almost eerie the things Allen and Rodgers have in common. Two California kids who had to go first to junior college to prove themselves, eventually breaking through in the NFL because of incredible arm talent and high-level mobility. One, Allen, is still near the start of his pro journey, while the other, Rodgers, is on the down slope. 

They, of course, would both tell anyone that they’d rather hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champion than the MVP award, and maybe one will at Super Bowl 55 in Tampa, Florida. But the night before that, one of them, likely Rodgers, will be named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player. It could just as easily be Allen, no matter what the final vote totals say.

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