There’s a lot of football left to be played — Tom Brady always says the NFL doesn’t get serious until November — but Josh Allen is the clear favorite for MVP at this point. If he does win it, you might look back on October as the month where he put his MVP candidacy over the top.
If the Bills take care of business against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday night — and they’re a 10.5-point favorite — they will have beaten the last four league MVPs over a stretch of four games during October. Rodgers won the award in both 2021 and ’22. Patrick Mahomes was the MVP in 2018, Lamar Jackson won it in 2019.
With a victory, Allen would become the first quarterback to beat three former MVPs in a four-game span since Troy Aikman did it in 1996 (against Dan Marino, Brett Favre, and Steve Young.)
But it was no surprise when Allen, the ultimate teammate, dismissed the idea that he gets extra motivation from competing against the former league MVPs.
“I play the defense,” he said with a sigh. “Our defense plays the quarterback. I know it’s a team game, but I’m not focused on who’s the quarterback over there. I’m just trying to do my job and be the best version of myself for this team.”
That’s a diplomatic answer, I said.
“Yeah,” Allen said with a grin. “But it’s the truth. It really is the truth. There’s nothing I can do but control what I can control. That’s where I put the football, and when I put it there. So it’s being on time and accurate with where the balls need to go and making the right decisions.”
Allen has certainly made his share of good decisions through the first six games. He leads the NFL in passing yards per game (330). His 2,237 total yards are the second-most ever through six games behind Kurt Warner’s 2,275 for the Rams in 2000.
Over his past eight games, counting last year’s stunning two-game playoff run, Allen has completed 208 of 301 passes (69.1%) for 2,617 yards, with 26 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also rushed for 391 yards in that span.
Of course, he has never beaten Aaron Rodgers (granted, they’ve played once), who was one of his boyhood idols and has become a friend, confidant, and occasional rival in golf.
In early June, Rodgers and Brady narrowly beat Allen and Mahomes in the latest installment of The Match, a made for TV charity event. Rodgers sank a 15-foot putt to win the match. Allen missed a putt that could have tied it on that hole.
Allen can be the perfect teammate and diplomat. That’s one thing that endears him to teammates and fans. But he’s famously competitive — you should see him playing cornhole in the locker room — and it’s hard to believe he doesn’t get a little more wired against a former MVP.
“I’d bet a lot of money he didn’t even know that (facing the last four MVPs),” said tight end Dawson Knox. “But there’s always going to be something a little extra on his mind, especially when we’re playing Aaron Rodgers.
“I know they’re buddies,” Knox said. “Just little things. I just had an interview about how the only time he was shut out in his career was in Green Bay his rookie year. So I’m sure he’s thinking about that a little bit.
“I know Aaron was chirping him a little during the golf match. So, there’s going to be a little extra fire under Josh’s cleats this weekend. Anytime you give him any kind of extra fuel, it’s going to be scary.”
Allen on prime-time can be scarier than Freddy Krueger on Elm Street. In 15 national TV games (night games, Thanksgiving and playoffs), he has completed 68.4% of his passes for an average of 283 yards, with 41 TDs and 7 interceptions.
Rodgers thrives on the big stage as well. He has won his last 13 prime-time games, the longest such streak since the merger in 1970. That streak will be tested on Sunday night at Highmark Stadium, where the Packers, losers of three straight, are the biggest underdogs of Rodgers’ career.
That makes for a compelling matchup. Rodgers is having a decent year, completing 66.8% of his passes for 1,597 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. But he’s not making many big throws. His yards per attempt (6.5) is 26th in the league, and it’s 5.75 during the three-game losing streak.
Coming to Buffalo on a Sunday night isn’t an ideal setting for Rodgers and the Pack to get the offense humming. The Bills lead the NFL in total defense, scoring defense and interceptions. They’re second in adjusted yards per pass and QB rating.
But Allen knows Rodgers well enough to understand that he’s a dangerous character in this spot. In 2016, the Packers lost four in a row to fall to 4-6. Rodgers told people to relax. He said they could run the table. They won six in a row, made the playoffs, and won two more games to reach the NFC championship game.
“He’s Aaron Rodgers, one of the best if not the best quarterback to ever play the game,” Allen said. “I think we understand that.
“I’m a big fan of his. What he’s done in his career has been awesome to watch. He’s so dynamic. There’s really no other quarterback who has done some crazy things, moving off platform, ball placement. It’s so impressive to watch him. He’s one of the quarterbacks that I looked up to.
“As a kid, that’s what you want to do,” Allen continued. “You want to move and throw on the run like he does. You talk about a quick release. I mean, sometimes they’ll pan to him warming up and from where his hand starts to where it finishes, it’s like an instant. It’s super impressive to watch and sometimes it really doesn’t look like it makes sense to me, how quickly the ball can get out and how accurately it can get there.”
The respect is there. Still, we might be looking at a changing of the guard. Rodgers is having a rough time and caused a stir this week by saying that his teammates were making mental mistakes on 20% of the plays and that “guys who are making too many mistakes shouldn’t be playing.”
The Packers have never won in Buffalo in six games. In 2014, Rodgers came to Buffalo with a 10-3 team and had statistically the worst game of his Hall of Fame career in a 21-13 loss.
Allen had the worst game of his career in a 22-0 loss at Lambeau Field in his rookie year in 2018. He threw two interceptions that day and was sacked seven times. As Knox said, it was the last time the Bills were shut out in a game.
“I didn’t know left from right at that point,” Allen recalled, “just in terms of our scheme, blocking, our protection. It was all still a blur to me.”
Four years later, things are crystal clear for the Bills’ franchise quarterback and league MVP favorite. Never more so than under the bright lights of a nationally televised game.
“I think everyone on this team loves prime-time,” Knox said. “Knowing the eyes are on us gets us a little extra hyped up. I think with prime-time, there’s a little extra juice, too, so it’s easier to get yourself going.”
As Allen reminds us, it’s a team game. But if you think it doesn’t matter who’s playing QB for the opponent, think again. It can’t be a coincidence that Allen turns into the very best version of himself when a former league MVP is on the opposite sideline.