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NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers or J.J. Watt?

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium on Dec 21, 2014 in Tampa, FL, USA. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium on Dec 21, 2014 in Tampa, FL, USA. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Who was the NFL's MVP this season -- Aaron Rodgers or J.J. Watt?

As the league's 95th regular season concludes Sunday, with all 32 teams in action to determine the final two playoff participants and conference seedings, it seems the MVP debate has boiled down to the above two candidates.

It shouldn't even be a contest.

The MVP award ought to go the Texas tornado that wears No. 99 in Houston and bears the form and name of one J.J. Watt. No player in the NFL is so clearly the best at his position as Watt is at 3-4 defensive end.

Some proof:

* The most respected analytics website, ProFootballFocus.com, gives Watt a grade of 101.0 as a 3-4 defensive end. The next highest grade is Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets at 38.2.

* PFF credits Watt with 18 sacks. No other 3-4 DE has more than eight.

* PFF credits Watt with 43 quarterback hits. The next five ranked 3-4 DEs -- Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson of the Jets, Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox, Arizona's Calais Campbell and Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward -- have 43 combined.

And on you can go.

But while Watt is most certainly a legit MVP candidate, is he a likely one? ProFootballTalk.com's Michael David Smith tweeted Saturday that no NFL defender has received a single MVP vote since James Harrison in 2008.

But Watt isn't just a defender.

In his cameos at tight end, the fourth-year pro has caught three touchdown passes, on all of three catches. Combined with his pick-six against Buffalo and fumble-six against Indianapolis, Watt has scored five touchdowns in 2014 -- more than most running backs and receivers in the league.

Barring a major shift in historical voting preference, however, the MVP award almost will go to an offensive player. The likeliest recipient on that side of the ball, picked here in the preseason to win it, is the Green Bay Packers quarterback, Rodgers.

The 10th-year pro is in position to finish with a passer rating above 100 for the sixth consecutive season, which would be an NFL record.

Entering Green Bay's season finale against Detroit -- a showdown for the NFC North title and first-round playoff bye (Sunday 4:25 p.m. EST, on CTV from Saskatchewan eastward) -- Rodgers has a 36-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

That's better than 7-1. Next best in that regard is Tony Romo of Dallas, with a 4-1 ratio. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson all have ratios between 3-1 and 4 -1. No other passer, including Peyton Manning (at less than 3-1) ranks as high in this telling measurable.

Even though Rodgers has had a few clunker performances in road games -- most recently at Buffalo on Dec. 14 -- he's the most worthy offensive performer for the one-man MVP.

It would be Rodgers' second win in four years.

CO-MVPS?

If the NFL changed its top individual award from MVP to co-MVPs, which tandem on which team would win it this year?

Tough call.

No MVP operates alone. Not only does he make his teammates better -- the basis for the award -- but in most cases he would not be, nor look, nearly as good without at least one star player shining with him in tandem.

And in some cases, such as last year when Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was named MVP, several star players in concert all raised each other's games.

Who are this season's most dynamic duos?

The only asterisk we'll place on this "co-MVP" award is that candidates must play on the same side of the ball, for such complementary purposes.

Top candidates this year are:

* QB Rodgers and WR Jordy Nelson, Green Bay.

* QB Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski, New England.

* QB Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown or RB Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh.

* QB Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch, Seattle.

* QB Romo and RB DeMarco Murray, Dallas.

Touch choice, huh?

I'd eliminate Rodgers/Nelson right off the top. Nothing against Jordy and his impressive abilities at wideout, but theirs is a slanted partnership. It's mostly Rodgers.

Brady and Gronk formed the league's most lethal and impactful QB/TE partnership in 2014. We saw in virtually every game Gronkowski missed in the previous three seasons how less dangerous Brady and the Patriots offence can become.

The Pittsburgh dilemma is whom do you partner with Big Ben? Brown at WR and Bell at RB have been as prolific at their positions as any players in the league. Brown probably should get the nod here, if only because his and Big Ben's successes this year were more integrally connected than Roethlisberger's and Bell's.

And what of Wilson and Lynch? The moment a defence pays too much attention to one, the other makes it pay dearly. Lynch doesn't receive nearly enough acclaim as a receiver, either. But Wilson's stats actually were more impressive before the Seahawks got hot in late October (they've won 7-of-8 since), when he completed a higher percentage of passes, threw fewer interceptions and was sacked far less often.

Which leaves, as your 2014 NFL co-MVPs: Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys.

Romo is the league's highest-rated passer (114.4) with the best completion percentage (70.3).

And since missing one game after cracking two bones in his back in an Oct. 27 loss to Washington, Romo arguably -- and incredibly -- has never been better: he has completed 74% of his throws for 17 touchdowns against only two interceptions.

Murray, meantime, has been the league's best running back this season, full stop. With 1,745 yards he's 404 yards ahead of second-place rusher Bell of Pittsburgh. Murray furthermore is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (12) and runs of 20-plus yards (14).

Murray has fumbled only three times in 372 carries. And now he's playing with a broken hand.

THE 3 BIG MATCHUPS

Aaron Rodgers vs. Matthew Stafford

We all know the Packers QB makes fewer mistakes at home than Indiana Jones in hot pursuit. The Lions QB has to raise his game for Detroit to win. Can't blow hot-and-cold anymore in big games. It's time, Matt.

Bengals pass rush vs. Big Ben

Even after Monday's win vs. Denver, Cincinnati's defence ranks dead last in the NFL in sacks per play. Behind QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers rank second in passing yards per game. In the first meeting between these teams on Dec. 7, the Bengals didn't sack Big Ben once. They've got to get to him.

Chase Daniels vs. Everything

Told late in the week he's the emergency replacement starter for Chiefs QB Alex Smith (who learned on Christmas Day he has a perforated spleen), Daniels has to battle inexperience, rustiness, having had few snaps in practice this week as well as the Chargers, who the Chiefs must beat to have a hope of making the playoffs.

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(DECODER)

Quick-hit items to whet your Week 17 appetite:

How hot is Giants rookie WR Odell Beckham Jr.? He's on a streak of eight consecutive games with 90-plus receiving yards. Never mind just rookies. Only Hall of Famer Michel Irvin has had nine straight games of 90-plus receiving yards, a mark Beckham can match against the Redskins.

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If Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin catches a TD pass at Atlanta, he'll have 10 on the season. As Beckham and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans both already have 11 TD grabs, those two and Benjamin would become the first rookie trio in NFL history with at least 10 touchdown catches in the same season.

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Here are the numbers from Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' incredible roll at Lambeau Field.

He has now gone 396 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, dating back 25 months. In that span he has thrown 34 touchdown passes.

What's more, with a good game against Detroit, Rodgers can become the first NFLer ever to have six consecutive seasons with a 100-plus passer rating.

Against Detroit at Lambeau, Rodgers has a 111 passer rating.

But beware, Mr. Rodgers. Lions safety Grover Quin leads the NFL with seven interceptions.

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The Carolina Panthers have won 11 of their past 12 December games, dating back to 2012.

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THE BIG NUMBER

10,000/100

If Chargers tight end Antonio Gates catches 53 yards worth of passes at KC, he'll have 10,000 in his career. If he catches one TD pass, he'll have 100 in his career, second most among TEs in NFL history.

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THIS JUST IN

Saturday's news updates:

The Cleveland Browns suspended Josh Gordon for their Sunday finale at Baltimore for a "violation of team rules," the club announced Saturday afternoon.

It is the third suspension for the troubled but immensely talented third-year wide receiver since the summer of 2013.

The NFL suspended Gordon for the first two games last season for violating the league's drug policy. Then for followup transgressions, including a DUI arrest, the league suspended Gordon for all of this season, before reducing it to 10 games with the implementation of a new drug-penalties policy.

In five games since his return this season, Gordon has caught 24 passes for 303 yards.

He'll be replaced by receiver Phil Bates, whom the club promoted from the practice squad.

The chances that the Browns might beat the Ravens drop all the more, what with undrafted rookie Connor Shaw starting and seeing his first pro action. Johnny Manziel is out with a bad hamstring injury, and Brian Hoyer has a shoulder injury.

* * *

The Dallas Cowboys won't have Rolando McClain in the lineup Sunday at Washington.

Per NFL.com, the team announced on its website that the linebacker has an illness and wouldn't make the trip.

McClain fully participated in Thursday and Friday practices but became ill late on Friday, the team said.

THE FOUR BIG GAMES ON SUNDAY:

1. Detroit Lions (11-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-4)

Lambeau Field: where the Packers haven't lost all season, where Aaron Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception in more than two years, and where the Lions haven't won in more than two decades. NFC North title and first-round bye are on the line. The loser takes the wild-card road route, starting next weekend.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)

If you've got the Bengals figured out, please let the world in on your secret. Expect Andy Dalton to try to hurt the Steelers defence with read-option runs, as he did to unsettle Denver's defence Monday. But if Pittsburgh shuts it down, Dalton has to do it with his arm. Eek.

3. Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9)

How do you think the 9-6 Philadelphia Eagles are looking at this game? They're already out of playoff contention, but these two losers are 'battling' for the NFC South title. The Falcons play much better at home, but the Panthers have been sharper lately. Tough call.

4. San Diego Chargers (9-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7)

The only other game Sunday featuring two teams with playoff aspirations, although KC's chances are slim, and slimmer yet with QB Chase Daniel having to play now in place of Alex Smith. The Chargers just need to win and they're in. Expect the Chiefs' vaunted pass rush to try to tee off on Phil Rivers and his sore back and ribs.

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MUST-WIN SUNDAY

The teams that must win, or else

Atlanta, Carolina, San Diego, Baltimore, K.C., Houston

Of these six teams, four aren't going to the playoffs. The Falcons and Panthers play for the NFC South title; the loser is out. And the Chargers, Ravens, Chiefs and Texans are battling for the last wild-card spot in the AFC. All play in early games.

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WEEK 17 SCHEDULE & CANADIAN TV TIMES

***1 pm EST games

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (CTV Vancouver, CTV Alberta, CTV Winnipeg, CTV Saskatchewan)

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots (TSN)

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins (CTV Ontario, CTV Montreal, CTV Atlantic)

***4: 25pm EST games

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (TSN)

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (CTV Ontario, CTV Montreal, CTV Saskatchewan, CTV Winnipeg, CTV Two Atlantic)

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks (CTV Vancouver, CTV Alberta)

***8:30 pm EST game

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (TSN/NBC)

(No Monday Night game, no byes this week)

NOTE: Local American Fox and CBS affiliates carry games as well, which might be in addition to the above.

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/


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