What an amazing year it's been for the quarterback position in general. Did you know that Matt Stafford threw for 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns this year? Probably not. I know I didn't. Normally, those are MVP types numbers paired with the fact that his team made the playoffs, but he'll get no love this year from the voters because that's just how good Rodgers/Brees have been this year.
For awhile, I was all aboard the Aaron Rodgers bandwagon. He was the MVP, no questions asked. But then I thought back to the 2009 season where our old friend Chris Johnson, some of you may have forgotten about him, but he was pretty good back in the day, was running all over everybody. He ended the season having produced a staggering amount of yardage, but for what? His team missed the playoffs. Chris Johnson wasn't the MVP that year, but it wasn't because the Titans missed the playoffs, it was because everyone in the league recognized how much more important Peyton Manning was to the Colts. Looks like they made the right call, two years later Manning goes down with a season ending injury and the Colts win two games, Chris Johnson is hit with a sudden bout of poor play and the Titans come one win short of making the playoffs.
In short, it is ultimately the player most directly connected to his teams' success that wins the award, not the one with the best numbers.
Fortunately for Brees, he's got a slight case for better numbers while also being infinitely more valuable than Rodgers. It's true that Rodgers would probably have ended up with better numbers in New Orleans' offense. The amount of throws they ask Brees to make is ridiculous and any quarterback would benefit from having all of that talent around them, but let's not forget where Rodgers is coming from. Green Bay is absolutely loaded at the skill positions, so it's hard to make an argument that player X has a lot more to work with than player Y.
Earlier, I said that Brees' case for having better numbers was slight. Hard to believe someone who set the record for most passing yards in a season and completed more than 70% of his throws doesn't have the statistical edge here, but that's the reality of it when Aaron Rodgers only throws six interceptions all year and throws a touchdown on almost 10% of his passes. For the advanced stats crew, Brees posted a healthy 133 rate+ this year, making him roughly 33% better than the average NFL QB. Rodgers was in a whole different galaxy with a rate+ of 147. No doubt that it's a tough call between the two. Rodgers was the more efficient quarterback, but Brees was more prolific.
In the end, it's all about value to the team. It's becoming a bit overdone to say that Matt Flynn cost Rodgers the MVP award, and I don't think it's necessarily true, but it sure doesn't help your case when your backup shreds a team that's still playing for playoff positioning in the final week of the season without his top receiver in the game. The final question I had to ask myself was "What would the Packers/Saints look like without Rodgers/Brees respectively?" In the end, there's a lot of speculation and guesswork involved, but you have to think that maybe Green Bay still hits double digit wins with Flynn as their quarterback. Again, this has a lot to do on whether or not you think Matt Flynn is a good player or not, but I also think that even though Green Bay's defense was porous in terms of giving up yards, their penchant for coming up with big turnovers was good enough to bail them out of a lot of rough spots. The Saints, without Brees, have no running game, no defense, and no passing game. Question: do you have more faith in Matt Flynn than you do in Chase Daniel? Chances are, you do, and for good reason.
So there you have it, a little look at the 2011 MVP race. When it's all said and done, I don't think there's really a "wrong" answer to the great debate. There will be dissenters either way, but it's going to be really hard to argue that either of these players don't deserve the award.