"That's a no-brainer," he said from the Arizona Cardinals' locker room this week. "Is it even close right now?"
Year of the Quarterback
ESPN has dedicated 2011 to examining one of the most crucial positions in all of sports -- the quarterback. Year of the QB »
Aaron Rodgers tightened his grip on the top spot by becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 400 yards passing, four passing touchdowns and two rushing scores in the same game. By comparison, the entire Jacksonville Jaguars team has 550 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and one rushing score in their first four games.
"If the Patriots didn't lose one game, you might say Tom, but Aaron is playing lights out," Fitzgerald said. "And they're kind of doing it under the radar, too. It's as under the radar as you can be as a Super Bowl champion. You don't see them all over ESPN. You just see them going about their business."
Rank 'Em: NFL MVP Candidates
Who tops your ballot for NFL MVP heading into Week 4? Consider the candidates and submit your rankings for NFL MVP honors.
"Ed Reed is as important to that Ravens defense as a good quarterback is to any team," Fitzgerald said. "He has been playing great."
There wasn't quite room for defensive representation on the list this week. The Lions' Johnson joined Eli Manning and Philip Rivers as new from last week, pushing aside Buffalo's Fred Jackson, Dallas' Tony Romo and Houston's Matt Schaub. Jackson has not exceeded 74 yards in his past two games. Schaub's status took a hit with Andre Johnson's injury, and it was tougher finding room for teammate Arian Foster after the Texans' backup running back, Ben Tate, produced so well when Foster was out.
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 10/9 at ATL ... Last Poll: 1
Completing 74.2 percent of his passes with eight TDs and one INT against four or fewer pass-rushers, but good luck blitzing him. Rodgers is completing 71.2 percent with four TDs and one INT against five or more rushers. Pick your poison, in other words. Rodgers has been particularly effective working the middle of the field, completing 81.4 percent with 10 TDs, two INTs and league-leading totals in QBR (98.9) and NFL passer rating (146.2) when throwing between the yard-line numbers.
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 10/9 vs. NYJ ... Last Poll: 3
Brady's candidacy should gain momentum as that four-INT game against the Bills becomes a fading memory. Brady leads the NFL in passing yards, YPA (9.53) and TD passes. He's on pace for 6,212 yards and if he were to somehow reach 6,000 for a team with a winning record, it's tough to envision anyone else winning MVP honors. But with passing stats accumulating at an unprecedented rate around the NFL, Brady will not be the only QB with staggering numbers.
Quarterback | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 10/10 vs. CHI ... Last Poll: 4
The Lions are 4-0 for the first time since 1980, roughly eight years before Stafford was even born. Monte Clark was the head coach, Gary Danielson was the starting QB and Billy Sims was the leading rusher for that Lions team. How much have times changed? Stafford has nearly as many TD passes through four games (11) as Danielson managed through a full season (13). That Lions team finished 9-7, a reminder that the season remains young.
Quarterback | New Orleans Saints ... Next Game: 10/9 at CAR ... Last Poll: 2
Brees has 88 pass attempts and 721 passing yards in his last two games. He'd rank higher on this list, most likely, if the schedule makers hadn't sent the Saints to Green Bay in Week 1. This is the second season in a row Brees has thrown no INTs in the first two games. Then as now, however, the picks are starting to accumulate. He had 10 over a five-game period beginning in Week 3 last season. He has four in Weeks 3-4, but now faces a Carolina team with only two picks this season.
Wide Receiver | Detroit Lions ... Next Game: 10/10 vs. CHI ... Last Poll: NR
Let's go back to that 1980 Lions team for a moment. Freddie Scott was that team's leading receiver with 53 receptions for 834 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson has 24 receptions for 321 yards and eight TDs through four games. That puts him on pace to finish the regular season with 96 receptions for 1,284 yards and 32 TDs. "Eight touchdowns in four games? That's unheard of," Fitzgerald marveled.
Quarterback | Tennessee Titans ... Next Game: 10/9 at PIT ... Last Poll: 7
After a few rough seasons to end his Seattle tenure, Hasselbeck is flourishing behind an improved line. He's on pace to complete 352 of 528 passes for 4,608 yards with 32 TDs and 12 INTs. He has never passed for more than 3,966 yards or 28 TDs in a season, although he likely would have piled up more TDs with the Seahawks if Shaun Alexander hadn't been a scoring machine for five seasons. The biggest question is whether Hasselbeck can start 16 games in a season for the fourth time in his career and the first time since 2007. Getting Chris Johnson going should help.
Running Back | Oakland Raiders ... Next Game: 10/9 at HOU ... Last Poll: 7
A disappointing game for the Raiders against New England could not stop McFadden from putting up decent numbers, thanks largely to a 41-yard run. McFadden already has three runs covering at least 40 yards, one shy of his total for last season. He's leading the NFL in rushing by nearly 20 yards per game and is the only player with more than 32 carries to average at least 6 yards per attempt. Upcoming games against Houston, Cleveland, Kansas City and Denver appear manageable.
Quarterback | New York Giants ... Next Game: 10/9 vs. SEA ... Last Poll: NR
Manning is completing a career-best 64 percent of his passes with a career-best 8.5 YPA. His NFL passer rating to this point (105.6) would also be a career best by a wide margin. His sacks are up, but so far Manning is avoiding the INTs that muddied up his stat line last season. He's on pace for 32 TDs with eight INTs. That would be one more TD with 17 fewer INTs, progress by any measure. Manning's improved efficiency has helped the Giants win three in a row despite quite a few injuries, with comeback victories over Philadelphia and Arizona.
Quarterback | Buffalo Bills ... Next Game: 10/9 vs. PHI ... Last Poll: 5
In a season marked by inflated passing numbers, Fitzpatrick's stat line impresses me most for the absence of sacks -- only two in 147 drop backs. A little digging through Pro Football Reference revealed Fitzpatrick and former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau as the only players in the sack era (1982 to present) with at least 145 attempts in one season and no more than two sacks. Fewest sacks taken in a season for players with at least 300 attempts: Dan Marino (six in 606 attempts during the 1988 season) and Mark Rypien (six in 304 attempts in 1990). The leading QBs in this category are notable for their lack of mobility. Decision-making is key to avoiding sacks.
Quarterback | San Diego Chargers ... Next Game: 10/9 at DEN ... Last Poll: NR
The Chargers are 3-1 and Rivers has survived injuries to key targets in making sure San Diego remains competitive. Rivers is on pace for the first 5,000-yard season of his career, but with a TD-INT ratio of only 5-6, he'll need to start finding the end zone more frequently. The Chargers have yet to score more than 26 points in a game this season. They had two games with at least 38 points at this point last season. Rivers had a 9-4 ratio of TDs to INTs at that time, but the Chargers were only 2-2.