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Aaron Rodgers the MVP? You bet, but the Packers' postseason awards shouldn't stop there.


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GREEN BAY - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a Pro Bowl edge rusher in Shaq Barrett, a Pro Bowl left tackle in Tristan Wirfs and an ascending young defensive back in safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

Imagine the Bucs going basically all of 2021 without any of them.

Or the Kansas City Chiefs playing all season without defensive lineman Chris Jones, safety Tyrann Mathieu and left tackle Orlando Brown.

Or the Los Angeles Rams without cornerback Jalen Ramsey, edge rusher Leonard Floyd and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The Dallas Cowboys without defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, cornerback Trevon Diggs and left tackle Tyron Smith. Or the Arizona Cardinals without edge rusher Chandler Jones, safety Budda Baker and whomever you deem as their best offensive lineman.

With the Green Bay Packers, there’s no imagining. They played almost the entire 2021 season without three blue-chippers at premium positions: cornerback Jaire Alexander, edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and left tackle David Bakhtiari.

Last season, Bakhtiari was first-team All-Pro, and Alexander and Smith second team. The three have combined to play but five games this season — four for Alexander, one for Smith. Yet the Packers go into the regular-season finale with the best record in the NFL (13-3).

That’s why the Packers stand a real chance of coming away with three major individual awards for the 2021 season: MVP, coach of the year and executive of the year.

Will the Packers sweep the NFL's top awards?

It wouldn’t be a first. The NFL’s official MVP and coach-of-the-year awards are chosen by AP going back to the 1950s, and the oldest executive-of-the-year award is given out by The Sporting News, which since 1972 has named a winner after every season except 2013.

A team has swept the awards four times: Washington in 1982 (Mark Moseley, Joe Gibbs and Bobby Beathard) and ’83 (Joe Theisman, Gibbs and Beathard); Carolina in 2015 (Cam Newton, Ron Rivera and Dave Gettleman); and Baltimore in 2019 (Lamar Jackson, John Harbaugh and Eric DeCosta).

The Packers very well might have the front-runner for all three awards going into the regular-season finale.

According to Oddschecker, Aaron Rodgers has an 80% chance of winning his fourth MVP. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor have the next-best odds, though if I were a voter the only other player worth considering is Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

Burrow in his second season has turned one of the NFL’s worst franchises into a playoff team. But Rodgers has the better record (13-2 to 10-6) and passer rating (111.1 to 108.3) and is a huge reason the Packers are where they are even without Alexander, Smith and Bakhtiari. He’s the MVP favorite for good reason.

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Matt LaFleur has strong case to win coach of year

For coach of the year, the Bengals’ Zac Taylor is actually a slight favorite over LaFleur (plus-150 to LaFleur’s plus-200). Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel is just behind them (plus-400), and nobody else is within shouting distance.

Oddsmakers favor Taylor because voters often lean toward a coach whose team made a huge jump from the previous year. The Bengals went from 4-11-1 in 2020 to 10-6 heading into the finale this season.

But a couple of factors could sway enough of the AP’s 50 voters (one media member from each of the 32 teams’ markets plus 18 at-large) to vote for LaFleur.

First, his success over his three seasons as an NFL coach — LaFleur is 39-9 in the regular season and been to two NFC championship games — could have a cumulative effect. Some voters might feel they overlooked him the last two seasons, and this year is a good time to honor his body of work.

Also, while he most assuredly benefits from having Rodgers as his quarterback, LaFleur this season was stuck in the middle of the minefield that was Rodgers’ offseason war on general manager Brian Gutekunst and the Packers’ front office. But LaFleur has cultivated a strong relationship with his quarterback and kept that going during a season that could have easily unraveled.

That figures to count for something with at least some voters. All NFL coaches faced roster turmoil this season because of the coronavirus. But on top of that LaFleur managed Rodgers plus the big injuries and came out with the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

General Manager Brian Gutekunst has made one successful move after another, navigated Rodgers situation

Then there’s Gutekunst. Since the NFL doesn’t have an official award for executive of the year, there are no odds on it. But his chances have to be as good as anyone’s.

The Rams’ Les Snead orchestrated a bold trade for Matthew Stafford in the offseason and made in-season splashes by acquiring Von Miller and Odell Beckham. It has yielded a 12-4 season and has his team in Super Bowl contention.

Bill Belichick, who is New England’s coach and GM, retooled his roster with a spending spree in free agency and drafted a promising quarterback (Mac Jones) in the first round. His 10-6 team has clinched a playoff spot after going 7-9 last season.

Cincinnati’s turnaround could get its head of player personnel, Duke Tobin, some votes. Some voters might consider Dallas’ Jerry Jones or his top personnel man, Will McCray, for drafting phenom Micah Parsons in the first round and building a roster that’s 11-5. And some voters might consider Tampa Bay’s Jason Licht because he kept a Super Bowl-winning roster together in tough salary-cap times.

But Gutekunst’s case is tough to match. He held his ground and wouldn’t even consider trading Rodgers in the offseason. Then he played his part in ensuring Rodgers showed up for camp on time by shaving a year off the quarterback’s contract and acquiring Randall Cobb, a trade the GM otherwise wouldn’t have made.

It’s hard to understate how important it proved to be that Rodgers reported to camp on time. I was sure he’d skip a couple of days just to drive home his point, but showing up on Day 1 went a long way toward defusing things.

Since then Gutekunst has kept his most important player happy by soliciting his opinion about roster moves during the season. Outside looking in, relations between Rodgers and the front office have warmed dramatically.

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And then there were the roster moves. Gutekunst drafted an excellent cornerback prospect (Eric Stokes) late in the first round (No. 29 overall) and a starting center (Josh Myers) in the second. The guard he picked in round four (Royce Newman) came out of nowhere to beat out several veterans for a starting job.

And do we really need to say anything more about what the bargain signing of De’Vondre Campbell and finding Rasul Douglas on Arizona’s practice squad have meant to this team?

Now, even executives of the year don’t get everything right. Gutekunst, for instance, still has failed to acquire a good punt and kick returner. But it says a lot that late this week, former NFL GM Randy Mueller, who was the league’s executive of the year in 2000, endorsed Gutekunst on his blog. He cited Gutekunst’s handling of the Rodgers’ hot seat as a major reason.

“Having sat in this seat,” Mueller wrote, “I can tell you that the job is part mediator, part peacemaker, part psychiatrist, and a lot of managing egos and personalities.”

Mueller also cited the drafting of running back AJ Dillon (widely panned two years ago) and offensive line depth that has allowed the Packers to weather losing their second-best offensive lineman (Elgton Jenkins) midseason on top of Bakhtiari’s absence.

“There have been other moves from a team-building standpoint for which Gutekunst can be credited as well,” Mueller wrote, “but this is about managing your team, especially this year, and nobody has done it better.”

There are plenty of ways to make strong cases for Rodgers, LaFleur and Gutekunst being the best in their business this season. But one point trumps all: The Packers are the NFC’s top seed even without three bona fide stars.

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