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:
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]."
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.
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 season—not 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
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
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?
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
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...
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
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.
10. Power Ranking the Owners' Fighting Abilities
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, 49ers—Would pull hair.
30. Zygi Wilf, Vikings—Only fights in domes.
29. Stephen Ross, Dolphins—Glass chin.
28. Benson family, Saints—Bayou tough.
27. Glazer family, Buccaneers—Jon Gruden will be in their corner.
26. Paul Allen, Seahawks—Keyboard warrior.
25. Dan Snyder, Washington—Would lose the fight, then sue the winner.
24. Adams family, Titans—Unable to scout. No one knows who they are.
23. Jeffrey Lurie, Eagles—Would train to Rocky soundtrack.
22. Robert Wood Johnson, Jets—Would get knocked out with one punch.
21. Stan Kroenke, Rams—Will only fight in Beverly Hills, California.
20. Jim Irsay, Colts—Would win, then tweet about it.
19. Steve Bisciotti, Ravens—Fueled by crab cakes and guts.
18. John Mara/Steve Tisch, Giants—Would win, then Tisch would shoot a documentary on it.
17. Dean Spanos, Chargers—Underrated.
16. Dan Rooney, Steelers—Will drop the Steel Curtain on you.
15. Clark Hunt, Chiefs—Old-school fighting style.
14. Bob McNair, Texans—After Osweiler signing, fights angry.
13. Packers board of directors, Packers—If game is outdoors, in cold weather, automatic win.
12. Pegula family, Bills—About to kick Rex Ryan's ass.
11. Bill Bidwill—Gym rat.
10. Bowlen family trust, Broncos—Knows how to win.
9. Martha Ford, Lions—Still got it.
8. Shahid Khan, Jaguars—Sleeper pick.
7. Mike Brown, Bengals—Seems like he might know Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
6. Jerry Richardson, Panthers—He's a badass.
5. Jimmy Haslam, Browns—Might fight dirty.
4. Arthur Blank, Falcons—I hear he does Pilates.
3. Virginia Halas McCaskey, Bears—Don't let the classy outward appearance fool you.
2. Mark Davis, Raiders—Might be tough like his dad.
1. Robert Kraft, Patriots—Pure savage.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.