GREEN BAY – With one month left in the regular season, the talk is legitimate.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is very much in the running for his third NFL Most Valuable Player award.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur has certainly endorsed his candidacy, even if he didn't reference the award specifically, calling him an "MVP player" and saying he's never seen anybody play better after his four-touchdown outing against the Bears last week.
Wide receiver Davante Adams, far and away his No. 1 target and a big reason for his eye-popping numbers this year, deflected any potential credit this week, saying Rodgers "has lived in that MVP category" and deserves the attention to be on him and him alone.
"That's all 12," Adams said.
There's still a ways to go, but the field seems to have whittled down to three top candidates, all quarterbacks – Rodgers, Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes and Seattle's Russell Wilson.
At the moment, Rodgers has the most TD passes (33) and highest passer rating (117.6) while Mahomes leads in passing yards (3,497) with the fewest interceptions (two).
Wilson was a front-runner earlier in the season until a rough four-week stretch in which he threw seven interceptions in three Seahawks losses. But he still has the highest completion percentage of the three (70.7) and is certainly capable of a monster final month. He had 14 TD passes in the first three games of the season.
If there's a non-QB to keep an eye on, it's Titans running back Derrick Henry, who's working toward his second straight NFL rushing title. If he keeps up his current pace, he'll finish with more than 1,800 rushing yards and at least 16 TDs, numbers that couldn't be ignored.
But back to Rodgers. Six years removed from his second MVP, he's on track for one of his best statistical seasons ever in just his second year in LaFleur's offense.
With four cold-weather games in his last five, Rodgers will be challenged to continue producing the numbers he has. If he can, though, he would set a new career-high with 48 TD passes, topping the 45 from his first MVP season in 2011. His current completion percentage of 68.5 is also a career best.
In addition, he's on pace for the second-most completions in his career and a second 4,500-yard season, behind only the 4,643 of '11.
Perhaps most crucial to his MVP chances, if he can do all that and not add any interceptions to his total thus far of four, he would finish with a passer rating around 119, just off his NFL single-season record of 122.5 from '11.
"You're seeing the Aaron Rodgers of old when he was rolling," said Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson, the Packers' opponent this week. "That's what he's doing now."
How this happened so quickly in his partnership with LaFleur is a multi-faceted answer. Over the past few weeks, Rodgers has detailed mental, physical and schematic reasons for his impressive play.
Mentally, he has embraced LaFleur's offense and all its differences from what he knew, such as jet motions and bunch formations, and his comfort level in running it is night and day compared to a year ago.
Physically, he's always taken great care of his body but made specific mention this week of putting extra emphasis on his legs, always heeding former coach Mike McCarthy's words that the legs will go on a quarterback before his arm does.
He also focused on his own during the offseason on his fundamentals, learning after Year 1 with LaFleur that his system required some different fundamentals he needed to sharpen.
Schematically, he was involved in countless Zoom meetings in the offseason with LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, passing-game coordinator/QB coach Luke Getsy and others, breaking down the offense and examining what worked in 2019, what didn't, and where to go from there.
"I think that was a growth opportunity for everyone on those calls to chime in and be creative," Rodgers said.
The result is a more simplified, streamlined scheme that maintains LaFleur's "illusion of complexity" to defenses while not being overly voluminous or complicated for the players running it.
Throw in the continued emphasis on defining specific roles for non-star players who may not play 60 snaps a game but will be called upon repeatedly in certain situations, and the buy-in has risen across the board in Rodgers' eyes. The examples in that vein set by players tight end Marcedes Lewis and running back Jamaal Williams are invaluable.
"I'm really proud of those guys who bought into their specific roles and do it unselfishly and for the betterment of the team," Rodgers said. "When they do that, the entire squad is lifted up. I think that's when you know that you've got a bunch of guys pulling in the same direction."
It's all helped Rodgers play as well as he ever has, and it could make him just the sixth player in league history to win three Associated Press MVPs, one more than Bay Area childhood idols Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Peyton Manning tops the list with five, followed by Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas with three apiece.
Having turned 37 a couple of days ago, Rodgers wouldn't be the oldest within this select company to add an MVP trophy. Manning turned 37 prior to his fifth MVP season in 2013, and Brady was 40 when he won his third in 2017.
But this year more than any other, whether he wins his third MVP or not, Rodgers really has made age just a number.
"You beat anything that Father Time comes at you with experience, and then with really playing in rhythm and on balance," he said. "And I think that's what's helped me, especially this year, is finding that balance and that rhythm."