Aaron Rodgers’ legacy on the line as playoffs loom and more

Aaron Rodgers is a Hall of Famer, but how he’s viewed in the history of the game could hinge on the Packers’ postseason success this year.

This postseason has the chance to define Aaron Rodgers’ legacy.

If the NFL regular season ended today, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC would run through Lambeau Field for the second consecutive season, and the third time since Rodgers won his lone Lombardi Trophy following the 2010 season.

Since Rodgers stood on the podium at AT&T Stadium as gold and green confetti swirled, the Packers have made the NFC Championship Game five times and failed to go any further.

Playing in a division that has been Green Bay’s for the taking for nearly 20 years, winning eight NFC North championships since Rodgers’ arrival, it’s fair to wonder if Rodgers has come up small. Especially given all the resources of a star-studded roster, winnable division, and one of the sport’s most legendary of home field advantages That Rodgers has been surrounded by.

To date, Rodgers has losses in the title game on his resumé at home to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers this past January, at home, along with a 37-20 steamrolling by the San Francisco 49ers in 2019 which was preceded by the Atlanta Falcons dismantling Rodgers and Co. 44-21 in 2016, two years earlier Rodgers and the Packers collapsed in overtime against the Seattle Seahawks, and in 2011 even Eli Maning and the Giants escaped Lambeau with a win.

Of those losses, only Brady’s Buccaneers and Manning’s Giants wound up winning the Super Bowl.

Rodgers, of course, is the proud owner of a Super Bowl Ring, so he will avoid the ignominy Dan Marino and Jim Kelly enjoy as arguably the two greatest quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl.

But, with this being the sixth very realistic chance for Rodgers and the Packers to win a Super Bowl since their most recent title at the turn of the decade, how might another postseason collapse impact how Rodgers is viewed in the annals of history?

“I think last year didn’t help him because of the way that game unfolded against Tampa,” Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Bob Glauber tells FanSided. “The Packers should have won that game … He’s great, but if he doesn’t get there or win it this year, I think it will definitely impact on the conversation. It won’t take away from his greatness of being an unbelievable and transformative quarterback.

“But, we count championships a lot in this business. To have one, for all the chances he’s had, and good teams he’s had, I think it would take away a bit from his legacy.”

This season might represent Rodgers’ best chance yet to win his second ring.

Green Bay is peaking, while the NFC’s top contenders seemingly are facing mounting issues each week; Tampa will now be without star receiver Chris Godwin for the rest of the season and were just shutout at home by the New Orleans Saints, the Cowboys’ offense has been stuck in neutral since Thanksgiving, and Kliff Kingsbury’s Arizona Cardinals are losers of two straight, including a horrendous 30-12 drubbing by the lowly Lions.

Rodgers is likely the runaway MVP favorite, passing for 3,487 yards with 30 touchdowns and counting to just four interceptions with comeback wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals already tucked way this season.

Much like a fifth late January disappointment has the potential to sully Rodgers’ resumé, if he brings a fifth Lombardi Trophy home to Titletown and wins his second ring, he’s elevated into a different stratosphere.

“I don’t think it affects his Hall of Fame status at all [if the Packers come up short again],” Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Paul Domowitch tells FanSided. “I think he’s a lock to go into the Hall of Fame, because his numbers are so overwhelming, particularly his touchdowns to interceptions, that it’s a no-brainer.

“But, from a public perception standpoint, guys that win multiple Super Bowls are viewed differently. It would certainly help his status and how he’s viewed long into the future if he wins another Super Bowl.”

As this postseason looms, Rodgers boasts a 12-9 playoff record, and now has the opportunity in front of him to strengthen his passage in league history.

Rodgers’ status as a first ballot Hall of Famer has long been cemented. A second Super Bowl victory would strengthen Rodgers’ standing as one of the greatest to ever play the sport.

But, a second ring would put him in the elite company of just 12 other quarterbacks who have won multiple Super Bowls, including the greatest of the great — Brady, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman John Elway, the Manning brothers, and the forerunner of Green Bay Success, Bart Starr, among others.

“It would elevate him to a large degree,” Glauber says of Rodgers. “I kind of look at him in a similar way to John Elway, after he won his two Super Bowls … That puts the finishing touches on it. The difference between winning just the one, compared to two, is huge. It makes a huge difference.”

Brandon Staley and John Harbaugh driving an analytics revolution

If it seems like NFL head coaches are being more aggressive than ever … They are.

With analytics as a guidepost, including experts in the field on most coaching staffs offering data-driven situational analysis on fourth down and two-point conversion opportunities, how the game is coached — and played — is evolving before our eyes.

With Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley as a trailblazer and Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh an aggressive disciple, fourth down attempts are way up across the league.

“At Football Outsiders, we have a metric called ‘aggressiveness index,” Football Outsiders Editor In Chief Aaron Schatz tells FanSided. “That looks at how often teams go for it on fourth down, compared to a historical average.

“While we don’t have it updated for this year yet, I can tell you that the league, as a whole, had an aggressiveness index of 1.6. The historical average is 1.0.”

So, teams in general, are historically aggressive in today’s NFL.

Harbaugh, of course, went for two points and failed Sunday when backup quarterback Tyler Hundley led a furious comeback, scoring a touchdown to pull the Ravens to within one of Aaron Rodgers’ Packers with :46 remaining. Earlier in the same weekend, Thursday night, Staley went for it on fourth down five times, passing up multiple field goal tries.

Both coaches lost their games, but a strong argument can be made that they are trendsetters in the modern NFL, perhaps ahead of their time, even.

To find out what’s driving this analytics revolution, where it’s going, and what situations fans should most expect their favorite team to err on the side of aggressiveness, FanSided sat down with the Editor in Chief of Football Outsiders, Aaron Schatz for a brief Q&A, including a situational viewing guide you might want to keep handy:

Fansided: What do you think is driving this aggressiveness and these coaches finally seemingly embracing analytics in their decision-making?

Aaron Schatz: “What’s driving the aggressiveness is the analytics. The coaches are embracing analytics. A large part is that teams are hiring people who can do the analytics and present them to the coaches in a way that makes sense. And, younger coaches. It’s not a shock that the most conservative coaches in the league right now tend to be the oldest coaches; Bruce Arians, Pete Carroll, and Bill Belichick, and the most aggressive coaches are the younger ones like Brandon Staley and Kevin Stefanski.”

FanSided: Why do you think that there’s such a struggle for in-game commentators to grasp analytic concepts and present them to fans as these situations are unfolding? Especially end of game and end of half situations like when we saw John Harbaugh go for two against the Packers and Brandon Staley going for it on fourth down at the end of the first half against the Chiefs?

Aaron Schatz: “I’ll point out that Harbaugh’s decision was not an analytical call. What’s happening is, aggressiveness is becoming tied to analytics, and every aggressive call is being blamed on analytics when in actuality, they’re not all about analytics. Harbaugh going for two, most analytical models suggest he should have gone for the extra point, but it was really a gut-decision based on his defense being shredded against Aaron Rodgers and feeling he needed to win right now. That’s not an analytics thing. When it comes to Staley, I’d think anyone in the analytics world would be happy to explain to the TV commentators why it’s better to be aggressive. Not always, Staley has had situations where he should have kicked. In many ways, it comes down to the importance of possessing the football. With offenses more prolific than they used to be, you just don’t want to give the football to the other team, if you can help it.”

FanSided: What’s the cliffs notes, viewers guide for people like my 65-year-old father who has watched football his whole life, or the 12-year-old new fan trying to get a grasp of where things are heading … What’s one example or two that screams coaches going for two rather than kicking the extra point?

Aaron Schatz: “The analytics are usually very clear about what to do on fourth down. Going for two after a touchdown is a little less clear, with one exception, the famous touchdown that brings you to within eight points. This has been modeled numerous times. If you are down in the fourth quarter, not necessarily earlier in the game, and you score a touchdown to bring you within eight, you should always go for two. Because, if you make that, and score another touchdown, the extra point wins the game in regulation. Whereas if you miss it, and you score another touchdown, you get another chance to go for two. A big lesson that needs to be taught is NOT to get to overtime. The goal is to win. A lot of times, coaches coach like, and commentators commentate like the goal of the game is to stay close, as long as possible, rather to win at the end. The goal, for coaches, is to win the game.”

Fansided: What do you think is the moment that mainstreamed coaches using analytics?

Aaron Schatz: “I think the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl opened it up for the rest of the league to do it. When you look at when Aggressiveness Index start going up, the answer is 2018. Doug Pederson winning a Super Bowl by being aggressive in Philadelphia, really opened it up for a lot of coaches not feel scared to be aggressive.”

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Quotable

“It was in the best interests of our football team. Both those guys have served their time and we welcome them back.”

– Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians on bringing back Antonio Brown, Mike Edwards despite their falsifying vaccination cards

Arians did what he had to do for the Buccaneers’ playoff and Super Bowl chances.

Make no mistake, what Brown and Edwards did was selfish, reckless, immoral, and potentially even criminal. The NFL suspended each three games for their transgressions.

But, after the Buccaneers los Chris Godwin for the season, and Mike Evans was injured in Sunday. night’s loss that dropped the defending champions to the NFC’s No. 4 seed, the calculous between competing and punishing changed.

This is a dramatic softening of Arians’ stance on Brown’s off the field woes, and a hardline on COVID vaccination (the Buccaneers are 100 percent vaccinated). But, it shouldn’t be an unexpected one in competitive sports and especially in the NFL.

Brown is a handpicked superstar and teammate by Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are reeling in their defense of the Lombardi.

If Godwin and Evans were fully healthy, there’s a chance that Arians might have drawn his line in the sand and stuck with it, when it comes to Brown. But, Godwin and Evans aren’t healthy. Tampa isn’t firing on all cylinders. Much like the NFL’s softening on testing for the virus, this is a move made by Arians and the Buccaneers with winning in mind over culture. Time will tell if Arians made the right decision.

Final thought

Enjoy your Christmas and holiday season.

Even as the Omicron variant is taking foot across the country, we all have so much to be thankful for, compared to where we were last Christmas as most families exchanged gifts over Zoom or worse yet spending the holiday praying for a loved one hospitalized for COVID-19.

I lost both grandmothers in the span of three weeks after last Christmas, one of whom to COVID-19. I understand and can empathize with the pain many families have suffered through over the past 24 months.

But, with the arrival of vaccines that are wildly effective at preventing severe disease by the COVID-19 virus, and at-home rapid testing, we have the tools in our toolbox to make this Christmas feel more normal and be demonstrably more safe.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas, a happy and healthy holiday season, with a weekend filled with good cheer, unbridled joy, and hopefully some great football.

https://fansided.com/2021/12/22/aaron-rodgers-legacy-playoffs-packers/ Aaron Rodgers’ legacy on the line as playoffs loom and more

James Brien

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