Aaron Rodgers for (his third) MVP? Packers QB squarely in the race now

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Matt LaFleur knows an MVP season when he sees one. He served as Matt Ryan’s position coach in 2016, when the Atlanta Falcons quarterback won the NFL's Most Valuable Player award.

So listen up, MVP voters, to what LaFleur had to say late Sunday night after another four-touchdown game from Aaron Rodgers in the Green Bay Packers41-25 win over the Chicago Bears.

"This is as good as I've ever seen anybody play," LaFleur said. "Just his ability to go out there and get us in the right looks and -- shoot, even, you know, when I make a bad call he definitely makes us look good. So that's a credit to him. He is playing, in my eyes -- he's an MVP player. No doubt about it. And I wouldn't want any other quarterback on our football team."

With five games to go -- four of them against teams with losing records -- Rodgers still has plenty of time and opportunity to pile up numbers. And he might have to in order to prevent Patrick Mahomes from winning his second MVP in three seasons.

There's more to Rodgers' candidacy than just numbers, but let's start there:

  • Touchdowns: Rodgers has 33 -- Mahomes and Russell Wilson each have 30. It's the first time in NFL history that three players have had at least 30 touchdown passes through Week 12.

  • Total QBR: Mahomes leads at 86.2, but Rodgers is just barely behind at 85.3. Wilson, meanwhile, is ninth at 73.0.

  • Four-touchdown/No-interception games: Rodgers had his fifth game of the season with four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. That's tied for the most such games in a season in Packers history. Rodgers also did it in 2011, his first MVP season. Brett Favre did it in 1996, his second of three MVP seasons. The only player with more games of four touchdowns and no interceptions in a season is Peyton Manning (with six) in 2013. He won the MVP for the season too. Rodgers has only four interceptions on the season, but Mahomes has just two. Wilson has 10.

There are non-quarterback MVP candidates to consider too: Titans running back Derrick Henry, Saints running back Alvin Kamara and even Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

But what better story of redemption is there than Rodgers winning his third MVP in the same season that the Packers drafted his potential replacement?

When the Packers traded up to take Jordan Love in the first round of the draft, one NFL source said at the time: "There's nothing wrong with lighting a little fire under his ass."

Even if that wasn't general manager Brian Gutekunst's intent, he may have ignited a wildfire.

Or maybe this was always going to be the offensive evolution between Rodgers and LaFleur in Year 2.

Rodgers threw three of his four touchdowns on play action, giving him an NFL-leading 16 play-action touchdown passes this season (to go along with no interceptions on such plays), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Play action is a staple of LaFleur's system, and Rodgers has excelled in it.

"I just feel like he's settled into his role as head coach," Rodgers said. "Him and I have been really on the same page all season. There's just a beautiful trust that I think has blossomed even more this year between him and I, and I think that's an important part of us being successful is the QB and the coach being on the same page."

Rodgers won his Super Bowl in his third season (2010) as a starter and his MVPs in his fourth (2011) and seventh (2014) seasons at the helm.

"I played in that other offense for so long; I knew it just inside and out," Rodgers said. "I think the beauty in this year is the subtleties of simplicity that I feel like Matt implemented in the offseason. It's really allowed me to feel super comfortable with the plan every week, with my responsibilities, with my checks. I think that's why I've been playing well."

There's Rodgers' health too.

In 10 of the 11 games this season, Rodgers has been sacked either zero or one time.

"For a soon-to-be 37-year-old, that's my dream," Rodgers said. "That's an amazing feeling to go home and not be feeling like an almost-37-year-old. I've been feeling really, really good all season, so I appreciate those boys up front."

It was evident again Sunday, even after center Corey Linsley (back) and right guard Lucas Patrick (toe) dropped out, and the Packers' shuffled line didn't miss a beat.

And if everyone thought the Packers handcuffed Rodgers by not getting him any weapons either in free agency, through the draft or at the trade deadline, then doesn't it make what he's done this season even more remarkable?

"I see him pretty dialed in all the time, but obviously when you're executing at a different level, I think it's a little bit more obvious," said receiver Davante Adams, who was a rookie in Rodgers' first MVP season. "But that's what he does. That's the way that he is. And especially this year, that's what we expect from him, and we're going to need to make a push at this thing."