Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Mike Sando's MVP Watch
By Mike Sando
Drew Brees threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort at Green Bay last Thursday.
Aaron Rodgers was looking like the 2011 MVP favorite coming off his Week 1 performance for Green Bay on national television Thursday night.
It was tough to imagine a quarterback making a bolder statement than the one Rodgers fashioned while completing 77.1 percent of his passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns against New Orleans.
Tom Brady made sure there would be no imagining necessary. Punctuating his 517-yard, four-touchdown night against the Miami Dolphins with a 99-yard scoring strike to Wes Welker, the New England quarterback reminded "Monday Night Football" viewers why he was the unanimous MVP choice last season.
Rank 'Em: NFL MVP Candidates
Who tops your ballot for NFL MVP heading into Week 2? Consider the candidates and submit your rankings for NFL MVP honors.
The race is on, and for the first time in more than a decade, Peyton Manning isn't among the favorites. The Indianapolis Colts said they expect Manning to recover from his latest neck surgery, though.
Watching our top MVP candidates lead their teams up and down the field could qualify as physical therapy for anyone with neck trouble. Brady, Rodgers and the third man in our MVP Watch, Drew Brees, combined for 1,248 yards and 10 touchdowns in Week 1.
There was room for less-established players on the list this week, including a few coming off strong opening performances.
When Manning won the 2003 and 2004 awards, his combined Week 1 stats from those seasons were relatively modest: 467 yards passing with two touchdowns and three picks. Brady has fared better in openers during his two MVP seasons, combining for 555 yards and six touchdowns with no picks in those games.
Two of the last three running backs to win the award started slowly. Shaun Alexander carried 14 times for 73 yards in the 2005 opener. Marshall Faulk carried 14 times for 78 yards to open the 2000 season. LaDainian Tomlinson, with 31 carries for 131 yards in the 2006 opener, was an exception.
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 9/18 vs. SD ... Last Poll: 1
His 517 yards in the opener exceeded what Peyton Manning (211) and the late Steve McNair (269) combined for during their openers in 2003, the year they shared MVP honors. With Manning out of the race, Brady has a better shot at becoming the first player since Brett Favre to win at least three MVP awards in five or fewer seasons. Favre won three in a row.
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 9/18 at CAR ... Last Poll: 2
Rodgers appeared on his way to even greater things against the Saints until a return touchdown disrupted the flow of the game. That play and the Saints' improved offensive efficiency forced Rodgers to watch from the sideline for an extended period. Three first-quarter TD passes had to resonate with MVP voters. Brett Favre opened his 1996 MVP season with four TD passes, including three to Keith Jackson, but only one was in the first quarter.
Quarterback | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 9/18 vs. CHI ... Last Poll: 4
Putting up 419 yards with three TDs padded Brees' MVP credentials, even though other factors -- sacks, trouble in the red zone and a fourth-down failure -- prevented him from upstaging Rodgers. INTs dragged down Brees' candidacy last season. He had none in the opener and none in the Saints' playoff game last season, his first two-game stretch without a pick since the first two weeks of the 2010 regular season.
Quarterback | Baltimore Ravens ... Next Game: 9/18 at TEN ... Last Poll: NR
This spot is arguably too high for Flacco given his overall credentials, but beating the division-rival Steelers so convincingly in the opener had the potential to become a watershed moment. Flacco tossed three scoring passes without an INT or fumble. He completed third-down passes of 14, 25 and 11 yards, the final one for a touchdown, during the drive that staked Baltimore to a 21-7 lead.
Quarterback | San Diego Chargers ... Next Game: 9/18 at NE ... Last Poll: 5
The stats will be there for Rivers over the course of the season, even though his opening-week line could not compare to those for the top three players on the list. That's right, Rivers lost ground to the leaders after passing for 335 yards and two scores. He tossed two INTs while defeating a lesser opponent by an underwhelming margin. A game against New England in Week 2 gives Rivers a bigger stage.
Quarterback | Philadelphia Eagles ... Next Game: 9/18 at ATL ... Last Poll: 3
The Eagles won their opener by a lopsided final score, but if you watched the game closely, you realized Vick wasn't all that efficient. He could not connect with open receivers more than once. St. Louis harassed him into completing only 14 of 32 passes, the 14th time since at least 1960 that a Rams opponent had completed so few passes in so many attempts, according to Pro Football Reference. A trip to Atlanta in Week 2 should energize him.
Quarterback | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 9/18 vs. KC ... Last Poll: NR
A highly impressive preseason wasn't going to mean much if Stafford faltered when the games started counting. He did not. Completing 72.7 percent of his passes for 305 yards and three scores was good enough for Stafford to claim a road victory over Tampa Bay. This was Stafford's first victory as a starter away from home. Overall, the Lions have won three in a row on the road after failing to win away from home since Week 8 of the 2007 season.
Running Back | Oakland Raiders ... Next Game: 9/18 at BUF ... Last Poll: NR
If only McFadden could play the Denver Broncos every week. He's owned them, and that continued Monday night. The question is whether McFadden can produce consistently enough to keep Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and other top backs from charging past him as the season continues. As noted, MVP running backs haven't always started quickly. We can be reasonably certain Peterson will produce consistently. He had 98 yards in the Vikings' opener.
Linebacker | Baltimore Ravens ... Next Game: 9/18 at TEN ... Last Poll: NR
No defensive player has won MVP honors since Lawrence Taylor back in 1986. Suggs' three sacks were instrumental in the Ravens' victory over the Steelers in Week 1. Suggs reached double-digit sacks last season for the first time since 2004. Collecting three in the opener gives him a very good shot at reaching that milestone in back-to-back seasons for the second time in his career.
Quarterback | Carolina Panthers ... Next Game: 9/18 vs. GB ... Last Poll: NR
Newton has no realistic shot at winning MVP while playing for a team expected to struggle. Then again, who thought Newton would pass for 422 yards while showing excellent accuracy and command during his very first game as a pro? The performance was striking enough to land Newton a spot on the MVP Watch list for at least a week. Can he remain on the list after facing Green Bay in Week 2?