If you wanted to argue entering the 2020 season that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in for another down year, the evidence was there. The two-time NFL MVP’s completion rate declined for a third straight year in 2019, dragging his passer rating down as well. It looked like a decline typical of quarterbacks in their late 30s and one that justified the Packers’ selection of Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 draft. Instead we have seen a renaissance, with Rodgers performing in such stellar fashion that it has raised the question of whether he is indeed at the end of his career and, perhaps, whether the Jordan Love era will begin in Green Bay at all.

Through 11 weeks, Rodgers has completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 2,889 yards, 29 touchdowns and four interceptions. He leads the league in passer rating (115.8); only one quarterback over the age of 36 has done so for an entire season since 2002, the year the league expanded to 32 teams. (That was 39-year-old Drew Brees in 2018.) Rodgers is also the second-most-valuable passer of 2020 per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (83.8) and according to Pro Football Focus, which subjectively reviews every play. In other words, no matter how you look at his performance, Rodgers is at the top of his craft.

Rodgers has a number of factors working in his favor. Green Bay’s offensive line is the league’s second-best pass-blocking unit, per Pro Football Focus, keeping his hits to a minimum, which is good for his production and his health. He also benefits from having a world-class wide receiver in Davante Adams. The two have connected 68 times on 90 targets for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions, producing a 133.5 passer rating. In addition, Allen Lazard returned to the Packers’ lineup Sunday. He has caught 15 of 21 targets for 272 yards and two touchdowns in four games, resulting in a 150.0 passer rating. That pair, plus Marquez Valdes-Scantling, gives Rodgers one of the best receiving corps in the NFL.

While the twilight years for Brees and Tom Brady may make you think such success is the norm, it’s important to remember it is not. Quarterbacks typically peak around 29, maintain that level for a few years and then start to slide around 35 with an even steeper decline as they enter their 40s. Rodgers, who has been an above-average quarterback for his age since taking over the starting job from Brett Favre in 2008, appeared to finally succumb to Father Time over the past several seasons. His 97.6 passer rating in 2018 was five points higher than the league average, on par for a quarterback of his age. Last year it was 4.4 points higher than average, again right in line with the aging curve. This year his passer rating is almost 22 points higher than the rest of the NFL, a massive departure from what we would expect.

So can he keep it up? Now that he has shown he can reverse the trend, a look comparing him to his Hall of Fame-worthy peers suggests Rodgers should continue to shine. His stats outshine Brees’s and Brady’s at this age, suggesting he could sustain a high level of play into his 40s. Plus, Rodgers is scoring 26 more points per 100 plays (passing and rushing) than expected this year after accounting for the down, distance and field position of each opportunity, per TruMedia. Brady scored 17 more points per 100 plays than expected in 2014 at 37, and Brees managed 16 more points per 100 plays at that age in 2016.

Age-37 season
Completion rate
Yards per attempt
Passer rating
EPA per 100 plays
Tom Brady (2014)
64 percent
7.1
97.4 (+8.5)
+17
Drew Brees (2016)
70 percent
7.7
101.7 (+12.4)
+16
Aaron Rodgers (2020)
68 percent
8.2
115.8 (21.6)
+26

With statistics like these, it’s worth wondering whether Love will ever get a shot to be Green Bay’s starting quarterback. Rodgers’s four-year, $134 million contract expires after the 2023 season — unless he exercises his opt-out clause in 2022 — potentially paving the way for a change under center. Love is under contract through 2023 with a club option for a fifth year in 2024 that must be exercised in Year 3. In other words, it’s possible the Packers will face a decision on Love without him ever taking a meaningful snap. And it’s hard to turn away from a quarterback of Rodgers’s caliber, even at a relatively advanced age, because Love’s future as a top-tier quarterback isn’t a slam dunk.

This year’s rookies, as a group, are managing eight more points than expected per 100 plays, but that’s an anomaly. Rookie quarterbacks, taken together, have been worth no better than two points more per 100 plays since 2016, and they were, as a group, scoring as many as seven points fewer than expected per 100 plays over the past three years. In other words, if Love was as good as this year’s rookie class, he would still be one-third as valuable as Rodgers has been.

And look at what happened in New England. The Patriots moved on from Brady after a 20-year run only to find themselves 4-6 and in third place in the AFC East, putting their streak of 11 consecutive postseason appearances in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Brady is helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vie for the NFC South crown. That alone should give Green Bay pause about starting the Love era too soon at the expense of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.