NFL Magazine recently voted Peyton Manning as the league MVP, despite him never taking a single snap this season. Their reason was simple: Manning means more to his team than any other player in the league, and we can judge that value based on his absence this season.
Without him this year, the Indianapolis Colts are 0-13. And for the first time in nine straight years, they will not make it to the postseason. So, it’s hard to argue against Manning’s value to the team. However, seeing as how he has not played one single minute of football this season, he cannot be the Most Valuable Player. Therefore, this vote is absurd; and yet, the mentality behind it is pretty intriguing.
Right now, Aaron Rodgers is considered the runaway MVP of the league. And that's because he’s having a remarkable season with mind-blowing numbers; and his Packers are on their way to an undefeated season. Rodgers is, without a doubt, the best quarterback in the league. But that does not necessarily make him the most valuable player.
There’s no doubt that the Packers' numbers would decline without Rodgers under center. But the difference between Green Bay and Chicago is that the Bears cannot win games without their starting quarterback.
They may say that defense wins championships; but after watching the Chicago Bears over the past three weeks, we know that a great defense cannot win any games by itself.
After news broke of Cutler’s injury, Brian Urlacher said that the defense needed to step it up and play better in order to win. And they’ve done that, almost to perfection. But the wins are not coming. Since Cutler went down with an injury, Chicago has only given up three total touchdowns, and one of those touchdowns was a fluke—a Hail Mary toss at the end of the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs. And in the past three weeks, only five teams in the NFL have allowed fewer points.
Based on those stats alone, one would assume that the Bears are on a three-game winning streak. But they’re not. They’ve lost every single one of those games, and that is a direct result of Cutler not being able to play. Since Caleb Hanie took over at quarterback, only two teams have scored fewer points than the Bears, and it seems to only be getting worse for the Chicago offense.
With Cutler, the Bears were averaging 26.8 points per game. Without him, that average has dropped down to 11. Under Hanie, the Bears are averaging 134.3 passing yards per game, which is a little skewed, because Hanie hasn't thrown for more than 89 yards in his past two games. With Cutler, the Bears were averaging nearly 100 more yards through the air per game (231.9) and were on a five-game winning streak and in the driver seat of capturing the NFC Wild Card.
Now the Detroit Lions control that spot, and the Bears are dangerously close to falling below .500.
But Cutler’s value to the team is not just measured in the wins column—it can also be seen in the productivity of his wide receivers.
In Cutler's last game before surgery, Earl Bennett had three catches for 75 yards. In the three games since, Bennett's had just two catches for 10 yards, despite being widely considered the most reliable receiver in the Bears' offense. When he returned from injury in Week 9, Bennett became the x-factor for Chicago. But without Cutler, Bennett is now just running routes with practically zero targets and is a complete non-factor during games.
So, yes, Rodgers might be the best quarterback in the league. But his value to his team is not any stronger than Cutler’s value to the Chicago Bears. Which is why Cutler should be recognized and tossed into the conversation as the NFL's MVP.