What next for the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player?
Now in his 12th season, there is very little Tom Brady could do for an encore that would surprise football fans—except become a game-breaking runner, perhaps.
After three Super Bowls, two MVP awards, two Super Bowl MVP awards and several individual records, Brady will rightly be remembered as one of the greatest signal callers to play the game.
I'll let history—and countless other articles—determine where he sits in the all-time top 10.
Of more immediate interest is his form this season: Is he still the best quarterback in the league right now?
Make no mistake—Brady is playing near to his very best right now. However, even if he merits a third MVP award this year, I believe Rodgers will take home the hardware for the first time. Here are five reasons why.
If the season ended today, Aaron Rodgers would win the award hands-down.
Even if Brady keeps pace with him over 16 games, I still see the Associated Press writers giving it to Rodgers.
The Packers' signal caller has been in other-worldly form over seven games, completing 71 percent of his passes for 2,372 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Brady isn't that far behind, but with 2,163 yards and 16 touchdowns over six games, he would have to turn it up another notch to stand out, as absurd as that sounds.
Rodgers has been playing at an elite level for about two seasons now, and after taking home the Super Bowl MVP in February, he became the new darling of the media.
He handles his commitments with a wide smile and a laid-back approach. He responds to any lingering controversy from the Brett Favre fallout with a quiet dignity that enhances his reputation. In short, he is a seriously likeable character—one who ought to secure a ton of votes.
Don't get me wrong, there's no Patriots conspiracy theory here. The AP made Brady its first unanimous MVP last season, securing all 50 votes from the panel for the first time. Bill Belichick was voted Coach of the Year, too, so the voters are unafraid of showing their love for New England.
The way Rodgers is playing, though? It would take a Herculean effort from Brady to convince the AP to hold off the coronation of its new king for another year.
Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. These are the four men who have secured back-to-back MVP crowns since the award was first presented in 1957.
If Brady won the 2011 version, he would be the fifth name to join that list, but much as he belongs in such company, the feat is rare. Don't expect a repeat this season.
Being the best player in the league year in, year out doesn't necessarily equate to being the most valuable. It requires a perfect storm of statistical achievement, team success and irreplaceable contributions to the cause.
Jerry Rice was arguably the best player in the NFL for years, yet he never won an MVP award, and no wide receiver has before or since.
Brady has certainly qualified as the best player and the most valuable player at times over the past decade, but this year, he is currently neither.
History shows that the AP likes to nominate its MVP from the team with the league's best record. This has been the case in four of the past five seasons.
It's the clearest indicator it has of dominance and success that defines "most valuable".
Chris Johnson's personal milestone of 2,000 rushing yards meant nothing in 2009 without team victories. The Titans went 8-8 and missed the playoffs—where's the value in that?
The Patriots are in pole position to claim the AFC East crown with their 5-1 record, but their upcoming schedule is tricky.
Road visits to the Steelers, Jets and Eagles and a hosting of the Giants over the next five weeks mean a 13-3 record is the best they can hope for this season. Records of 12-4 or 11-5 may be more realistic, given the Patriots own the worst-ranked defense in the league.
The Packers, on the other hand, have a serious chance at going 16-0. They probably won't make it, of course, but right now they look unstoppable. And if Rodgers maintains his current level to the end of the season, he will be the reason why they conquered all comers.
If you told me during the preseason that Brady would be on track to demolish Dan Marino's passing yards record after six games and wouldn't be the team's leading performer, I would have laughed in your face.
Wes Welker as a downfield threat? Please. Yet that is exactly the situation. He has a record of his own in his crosshairs.
Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yards record of 1,848 yards is under threat, in part due to Welker's re-invention as a deep-ball catcher to go with his slot receiving talents.
The Patriots in the post-Randy Moss era were supposed to be a dink-and-dunk offense, never stretching the field but finding the open receiver through quick releases, short routes and screen passing.
Welker still finds separation from the slot receiver position, perhaps more so than ever before, but Brady hasn't been afraid to send him on "go" routes and beat his coverage.
He's no Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, and will never be able to compete with the taller, more natural athletes that occupy the league's cornerbacks outside of the hash marks, but Welker has been smart, sharp and sure-handed this year.
As impressive as Brady has been, he barely stands out among his own teammates.
With all the attention focused on the dominance of the quarterback this year, there is a real buzz around the league over the chase of numerous long-standing records.
I do believe Dan Marino's 5,084 yards record is under serious threat—but Tom Brady won't be the man to break it.
One of the key reasons the Patriots are 5-1 is the balance of their offensive output. Following the Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Brady has mixed the pass and run games evenly, forcing teams to respect the run and exploiting one-on-one matchups where they arise.
As a result, New England rank 10th in rushing yards per game, and the carries handed out to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead will eat into Brady's passing attempts.
As the weather turns and the snow falls, establishing the run in Foxborough will take on added importance through December and into the playoffs, so don't expect offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien to abandon the balance anytime soon.
With over half of his games played under a roof this season, Drew Brees could well be the man to do it. His 2,477 yards in seven games project to an eye-popping 5,661 over a full season, so he can afford an off-day and still remain on course for the record.
If Brady doesn't reach 5,000 and someone else does, the argument to send the MVP to New England weakens considerably.