(1). Is Aaron Rodgers having the most impressive quarterback season of all time? Through eight games, his numbers are just ridiculous: 2,619 total passing yards, 24 touchdown passes, three interceptions, a completion percentage of 72.5, and a QB rating of 129.1. Oh yeah, and 127 rushing yards, plus two rushing TDs. His team is undefeated, with a point differential of +96. At this rate, the Green Bay signal-caller (and reigning Super Bowl MVP) will finish 2011 with arguably the greatest QB season of the modern NFL era. At the very least, it will be a season comparable with the following: Dan Marino in 1984 (5,084 passing yards, 48 TD passes, QB rating of 108.9, league MVP); Joe Montana in 1989 (completion percentage of 70.2, QB rating of 112.4, league MVP); Steve Young in 1994 (completion percentage of 70.3, QB rating of 112.8, seven rushing TDs, league MVP); Kurt Warner in 1999 (4,353 passing yards, 41 TD passes, QB rating of 109.2, league MVP); Peyton Manning in 2004 (4,557 passing yards, 49 TD passes, QB rating of 121.1, league MVP); Tom Brady in 2007 (4,806 passing yards, 50 TD passes, completion percentage of 68.9, QB rating of 117.2, league MVP); Drew Brees in 2009 (4,388 passing yards, completion percentage of 70.6, QB rating of 109.6); Peyton Manning in 2009 (4,500 passing yards, completion percentage of 68.8, league MVP); and Tom Brady in 2010 (36 TD passes, four interceptions, QB rating of 111, league MVP). According to ESPN’s new Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), Manning’s 2009 campaign represents the best individual QB season of the past three years. The ESPN formula puts his 2009 QBR at 82.3 (on a scale of 0 to 100). Halfway through the 2011 regular season, Aaron Rodgers has a QBR of 88. Amazing.
(2). What is the second-best team in the NFL? This Sunday’s matchup at Candlestick Park may provide an answer. The 6–2 Giants will have to avoid a letdown after their emotionally charged comeback victory over New England. The 7–1 49ers, meanwhile, have a chance to solidify their status as the best team that doesn’t play its home games at Lambeau Field. San Francisco doesn’t have a sexy, high-flying passing offense, but they do have the NFL’s sixth-ranked rushing attack and its No. 1 run defense. As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted prior to Week 9, “In each of their first seven games, the 49ers have scored a rushing touchdown while not allowing a rushing touchdown by their opponent. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the first team with such a seven-game streak in 18 years.” While the Niners did not score a rushing TD last week against Washington, they racked up 138 total yards on the ground while holding the Redskins to just 52, and their defense did not concede a rushing TD.
(3). Has Gang Green’s defense recovered its 2010 form? For the better part of three straight games, opposing defenses have made Tom Brady look quite ordinary. The New England QB has a chance to regain his mojo in a nationally televised showdown with the archrival Jets, a team he hates. Gang Green boasted the NFL’s top-ranked defense in 2009 and its third-ranked defense in 2010. This year, the New York defense is ranked seventh, having conceded 390 total yards to Dallas in Week 1, 383 yards to Oakland in Week 3, and 446 yards to Brady and the Patriots in Week 5. But the Jets have held each of their last two opponents (San Diego and Buffalo) to fewer than 290 yards overall and fewer than 100 on the ground.
(4). Will Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis continue to look like a candidate for Coach of the Year? At 6–2, the surprising Bengals are tied with Baltimore for the AFC’s best winning percentage, thanks in large part to their second-ranked run defense and the solid performance of rookie QB Andy Dalton. True, their six wins have come against teams (Cleveland, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Tennessee) with a combined record of 16–33. But if Cincinnati can beat the 6–3 Steelers at home this Sunday, it will be impossible to deny that the young Bengals are a legitimate playoff contender.
(5). Will the Ravens avoid losing their trap game in Seattle? They’re a curious team, these 2011 Ravens. Their 35–7 Week 1 thumping of the Steelers was followed by a three-turnover loss to Tennessee. Their impressive Week 6 victory over Houston was followed by a dreadful offensive performance against Jacksonville and a disastrous first half against Arizona. Now Baltimore is coming off its most significant regular-season win in years, a last-minute comeback victory at Pittsburgh. Weeks 11 and 12 will see the Ravens play hugely important home games against the Bengals (who are tied with Baltimore atop the AFC North) and the NFC West–leading 49ers (who are coached by the brother of Baltimore skipper John Harbaugh). In other words, their Week 10 visit to Seattle (2–6) has all the makings of a trap game.