Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Packers May Be as Good as We Thought They Were

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterDecember 21, 2016

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 18, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers—with help from Ty Montgomery—is Aaron Rodgers again, skipping bowl games and the owner fight club.

     

1. The Packers Are Back (or Maybe They Never Left)

In a season full of surprises, here is one more. I asked five general managers, three from the AFC and two from the NFC, who they thought was the league MVP. The answer was unanimous and, to me at least, highly surprising:

Aaron Rodgers.

Not Dak Prescott. Not Tom Brady. Not Ezekiel Elliott. But Rodgers.

In addition to their choice, I also asked them for their explanation.

The first GM, who has been in the NFL for several decades, said: "Rodgers is the MVP. Maybe the best football player I've ever seen."

Said the second GM: "I can't vote for someone who missed one-quarter of the season. [Tom Brady was suspended four games because of Deflategate.] It's Rodgers. He's better than everyone else."

The third acknowledged: "I was wrong. I thought he was done for this season. Shown me a lot of courage and fight. Rodgers for me."

The fourth GM also expressed some early-season regret, saying: "Got him all wrong [he believed Rodgers' skills were eroding]. Best quarterback I've ever seen. He's my MVP. Dak has a lot more around him, and Brady missed [four games]."

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The fifth general manager also voted Rodgers but had an interesting caveat, which touched upon a key plot twist in Rodgers' MVP story.

"[Rodgers] is my MVP," he said. "Probably the best quarterback in league history. But it's no coincidence his game has risen [after a slow start] once Montgomery started doing what he's doing."

Rodgers and Montgomery have become the Prescott and Elliott of the NFC North, said one of the executives, except that as good as Prescott is, Rodgers is in another stratosphere.

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18:   Demontre Hurst #30 of the Chicago Bears grabs onto  Ty Montgomery #88 of the Green Bay Packers in the third quarter at Soldier Field on December 18, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

What we are seeing with the Packers is what we've seen before with Rodgers. He hits a slump, tells everyone to relax and they finish fine. Maybe not Super Bowl-winning fine but one-of-the-best-teams-heading-into-the-playoffs fine. Now, Rodgers says the Packers will "run the table," and with games remaining against the Vikings and Lions, he could be right. That also would likely make him MVP.

And no team will want to face the surging Packers with Rodgers under center if they make the playoffs. They will be a nightmare out, and Rodgers is a big reason why.

But we are also seeing something special with Montgomery. No one in league circles can remember the last time a wide receiver converted to running back (during the seasonnot after being drafted as a wideout and then converting) and was this good at it.

"I'm a football player; that's the way I was raised," Montgomery told the NFL Network this week. "No matter where I'm at, find a way to get the job done, beat the man in front of you.

"I had 17 foster brothers; my mama taught me how to play football...I grew up a running back. I grew up watching Walter Payton and just the way they finish runs, and Earl Campbell—it's just in me."

Against Chicago on Sunday, Montgomery rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries. Most impressive may have been a 61-yard run that should have been a loss. Montgomery recorded the most first-half rushing yards (123) for a Packers running back since Ahman Green had 133 yards 15 years ago, reported ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky.

Rodgers is proving everyone wrong (again), and he's been helped by one of the most unique running backs in recent NFL history.

Rodgers is still the key here. We continue to see him do things only men like Joe Montana or John Elway or Johnny Unitas have done.

Just like an MVP.

     

2. Hey, Packers Fans, It's Time to Give Mike McCarthy a Break

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 11:  Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers walks on the sideline before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field on December 11, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

One last thing on the Packers. Those same GMs who were raving about Rodgers had some strong words regarding the growing criticism of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.

"Any criticism of him is foolish," one executive said. "If he was fired, he'd be at the top, or near the top, of every team's search. He's smart and adaptive, and he deals well with a strong personality in [Rodgers]. He hasn't been given a lot to deal with on the defensive side of the ball. He's one of the best coaches in the league."

    

3. Risky Business

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 18: Tom Savage #3 of the Houston Texans rolls out to pass in the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

A final thought from this group of GMs—this one on the benching of Brock Osweiler for Tom Savage. One said the move by head coach Bill O'Brien was one of the gutsiest he's ever seen, adding, "That took big balls."

There's also a belief among the team executives that if O'Brien gets this call wrong, and Savage, now the starter, plays poorly in the team's final games, it could lead to O'Brien's losing his job.

    

4. To Skip or Not to Skip?

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 22:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers warms up before a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Tiger Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Both Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette plan to skip their respective bowl games. I don't know exactly how each NFL team feels, but I think it breaks down into two camps, based on interviews with team officials and several assistant coaches.

The first view: Some teams are happy players might skip bowl games, which means less wear and tear on their bodies when they're drafted.

Second view: It's a missed opportunity because you want to see how a player performs in a big setting. The people who hold this view acknowledge, though, that many of the bowl games are meaningless.

These people think the phenomenon will only mushroom from here. More players will skip bowl games, possibly rendering the bowl system, these people think, a relic of the past. Then, from there, players might start skipping conference championship games. Yes, they said conference championship games.

The executives didn't mention the idea of an NFL minor league, but if more and more players start skipping key games, an extensive, and expensive, minor league system would likely be in play.

    

5. Prescott Responds

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18:  Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys looks to pass during the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After a pair of dicey performances against the Vikings and Giants, the Cowboys rookie quarterback made a statement against a solid Tampa defense, connecting on 32 of 36 pass attempts for 279 yards and no interceptions. For the season, Prescott has 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

No rookie quarterback in memory has ever played this efficiently for a full season. It's possible we may never see anything like this again.

Any talk of Tony Romo's starting (beyond injury concerns) is dead. It's over. Prescott likely is the leader of this team for the next 10 years.

And Romo will be playing elsewhere next season.

    

6. He Keeps Going and Going and Going...

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 18:  Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the football in NFL game against the New Orleans Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The New Orleans Saints
Norm Hall/Getty Images

It's unclear if Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald is coming back next season. He'll make that decision in a few weeks or so.

What is clear, however, is how Fitzgerald continues to make his mark on the league's history books.

The latest record to fall came by way of the seven catches Fitzgerald had against the Saints on Sunday. That gave him 1,116 receptions in his career, and according to the NFL, he now holds the league record for most catches in a player's first 200 games, eclipsing Jerry Rice's 1,115 by one reception.

    

7. And Speaking of Greatness

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 18:   Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants returns a punt for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions which was called back on a holding penalty during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 18, 2016 in East Rutherford,
Al Bello/Getty Images

The best player in football, to this writer's way of thinking, is Rodgers. Second is Brady. Yet an argument can be made (even if it's not one I agree with) that Odell Beckham Jr. is better than both of them.

Per the NFL: "Beckham, who has 85 catches for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, is the first player in NFL history to record at least 80 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons."

The NFL also noted: "Beckham is one of three players in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches in each of his first three seasons, joining John Jefferson (1978-1980) and Randy Moss (1998-2000)."

    

8. A Cracked Helmet Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

It's difficult for me to look at Jake Ryan's battered, chipped helmet and not wonder what happened to the brain underneath it.

That's the part we don't discuss much when we see helmets like this. It's compelling to examine, but there remain people under those helmets. And that's something we all need to remember when celebrating the brutality of the game.

      

9. Sports As They're Meant to Be

This was pretty fantastic—and pretty much the only time anyone should read a message board. It's a beautiful piece of appreciation from a fan to his team. Nicely done.

That's all.

    

10. Power Ranking the Owners' Fighting Abilities

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 14: Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam looks on before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 14, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Browns 30-0. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Imag
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I was intrigued by a tweet from an excellent ESPN.com reporter named Eric Williams, who covers the Chargers. He tweeted that Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis had an "animated" conversation at midfield prior to Sunday's game.

Because I'm a bit quirky, I wondered what would happen if you ranked each NFL owner's fighting capabilities. We power rank everything else, so why the hell not?

32. Jerry Jones, Cowboys—All talk.

31. Jed York, 49ersWould pull hair.

30. Zygi Wilf, VikingsOnly fights in domes.

29. Stephen Ross, DolphinsGlass chin.

28. Benson family, SaintsBayou tough.

27. Glazer family, BuccaneersJon Gruden will be in their corner.

26. Paul Allen, SeahawksKeyboard warrior.

25. Dan Snyder, WashingtonWould lose the fight, then sue the winner.

24. Adams family, TitansUnable to scout. No one knows who they are.

23. Jeffrey Lurie, EaglesWould train to Rocky soundtrack.

22. Robert Wood Johnson, JetsWould get knocked out with one punch.

21. Stan Kroenke, RamsWill only fight in Beverly Hills, California.

20. Jim Irsay, ColtsWould win, then tweet about it.

19. Steve Bisciotti, RavensFueled by crab cakes and guts.

18. John Mara/Steve Tisch, GiantsWould win, then Tisch would shoot a documentary on it.

17. Dean Spanos, ChargersUnderrated.

16. Dan Rooney, SteelersWill drop the Steel Curtain on you.

15. Clark Hunt, ChiefsOld-school fighting style.

14. Bob McNair, TexansAfter Osweiler signing, fights angry.

13. Packers board of directors, PackersIf game is outdoors, in cold weather, automatic win.

12. Pegula family, BillsAbout to kick Rex Ryan's ass.

11. Bill BidwillGym rat.

10. Bowlen family trust, BroncosKnows how to win.

9. Martha Ford, LionsStill got it.

8. Shahid Khan, JaguarsSleeper pick.

7. Mike Brown, BengalsSeems like he might know Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

6. Jerry Richardson, PanthersHe's a badass.

5. Jimmy Haslam, BrownsMight fight dirty.

4. Arthur Blank, FalconsI hear he does Pilates.

3. Virginia Halas McCaskey, BearsDon't let the classy outward appearance fool you.

2. Mark Davis, RaidersMight be tough like his dad.

1. Robert Kraft, PatriotsPure savage.

   

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.