Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Mike Sando's MVP Watch
By Mike Sando
The 49ers' Alex Smith showed again in Week 1 that he can do more than just manage a game.
The NFL has become a game of frequent substitutions.
Some of them don't make much sense on the surface.
For example, the San Francisco 49ers removed from the field Patrick Willis, arguably the NFL's best linebacker, for roughly one-third of the defensive snaps against Green Bay in Week 1. That will not be the norm for the 49ers, but it made sense for one game.
The MVP Watch list is making a few short-term substitutions this week. The list, always part snapshot and projection, leans toward the snapshot side at this early point in the season.
Drew Brees earned the benefit of the doubt following a rough opener. That is one reason the current list favors quarterbacks to an unusual extent. Here is another: Buffalo's C.J. Spiller was the only running back or receiver to exceed 135 yards in an opener. His team lost big.
Non-quarterbacks have a tough time measuring up even when they dominate.
Peyton Manning won MVP honors for the 2009 season even though Chris Johnson topped 2,000 yards rushing. Speaking of Manning, he's moving up the list and should only improve as he shakes off the rust and gets more familiar with his new teammates. How will his aging bones fare when the weather turns? Manning plays his only dome game of the season in Week 2, when the Broncos visit Atlanta.
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 9/16 vs. ARI ... Last Poll: 2
It was notable to see Brandon Lloyd play considerably more snaps than Wes Welker at wide receiver in the opener. While one game does not make a trend, Welker's inability to command a long-term contract already invites questions about his future in New England. Brady figures to keep producing even if the personnel usage evolves. Brady completed 3 of 4 passes for 52 yards with two TDs when New England had three tight ends on the field. He always had at least two on the field against the Titans.
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 9/13 vs. CHI ... Last Poll: 1
Rodgers passed for 303 yards and completed 68.2 percent of his passes against the 49ers. That type of production won't remove a quarterback from MVP consideration. It was just strange watching Rodgers playing from a 16-point deficit at home. Getting the Bears at home on a short week should help the Packers refocus quickly. That one isn't a sure bet, and neither is Rodgers for MVP.
Quarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 9/17 vs. DEN ... Last Poll: NR
There were rumblings before the season that the Falcons would hand over more of their offense to Ryan. Seeing was believing in Week 1. Ryan posted the NFL's highest Total QBR (97.5 out of 100) while becoming the only player in the opening week to pass for three TDs without an interception. The Falcons had 17 passing first downs, another league high.
Quarterback | Denver Broncos ... Next Game: 9/17 at ATL ... Last Poll: 10
Manning hovered around the fringes of MVP Watch a week ago. Sure, the four-time winner had made progress during the preseason. He proved during the opener he could operate at high efficiency despite what seems to be diminished arm strength. Manning even hurt the Steelers with his legs, scrambling for a 7-yard gain on second-and-6 (that gave him more scrambling yards than Cam Newton in Week 1, by the way). Manning gets an indoor game against the Falcons on Monday night this week. The MVP stage will be his.
Quarterback | Washington Redskins ... Next Game: 9/16 at STL ... Last Poll: NR
Young quarterbacks with excellent mobility sometimes rely too heavily on their legs. Griffin impressed as a pocket passer in his stunning debut. He completed 17 of 21 passes for 267 yards and two TDs from inside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His completion percentage on these throws (81.0) led the NFL, as did his NFL passer rating (150.5). Griffin benefited from 192 yards after the catch, most in the league by 42 yards. He was good enough to receive strong mention here 'til further notice.
Quarterback | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 9/16 at CAR ... Last Poll: 3
Brees' resume is strong enough for him to retain a prominent listing despite a rough opening week. He completed only 46.2 percent of his passes against the Redskins. That was Brees' third-lowest completion percentage in a game. He completed 8 of 19 (42.1 percent) for San Diego against the New York Jets in 2004. He completed 13 of 32 attempts (40.6 percent) for New Orleans against the New York Giants in 2006. Look for the Saints to help him with the ground game against Carolina.
Quarterback | San Francisco 49ers ... Next Game: 9/16 vs. DET ... Last Poll: NR
The 49ers think Smith does as much as any quarterback to get his team in position before the snap, but with only 17 TD passes last season, Smith wasn't a serious contender for the Pro Bowl, let alone for MVP honors. The way he played against the Packers served notice that Smith can, at his best, outplay the dreaded "game manager" label. His big-play ability was the difference for San Francisco against the Saints in the playoffs last season as well.
Quarterback | Baltimore Ravens ... Next Game: 9/16 at PHI ... Last Poll: NR
The 10.3 yards per attempt Flacco averaged in the opener was his third-highest total for a single game, and the most for Flacco with more than 23 pass attempts. He has made brief appearances on the MVP Watch in previous seasons. Can he sustain it this time? Philadelphia's defense could pose a tougher test for him this week. It's an intriguing game with MVP Watch alum Michael Vick trying to bounce back from a four-pick game.
Quarterback | Dallas Cowboys ... Next Game: 9/16 at SEA ... Last Poll: NR
Romo returns this week to the scene of his notorious botched field-goal hold during the Cowboys' road playoff loss to Seattle following the 2006 season. It's his first game in Seattle since then. Romo has 32 career games with at least 300 yards passing. His 307-yard game against the Giants last week marked the second time he has hit 300 yards while completing better than 75 percent of his attempts. He threw two TD passes with no INTs in a victory against Seattle last season.
Receiver | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 9/16 at SF ... Last Poll: 9
What's this, a non-quarterback on our list? It's true, and it's arguably unfortunate, but quarterbacks keep winning this award. Johnson topped 100 yards against St. Louis last week and opened up opportunities for teammates with the game on the line against the Rams. Johnson has 671 yards in his past four regular-season games. With teammate Matthew Stafford tossing three INTs in the opener, Johnson stood out as the worthiest representative from the Lions.
Week 1 vs. STL
Editor's note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this post.