Brees reaches No. 1, de­serves MVP talk

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Lorenzo Reyes

Each week dur­ing the NFL sea­son, USA TO­DAY is as­sess­ing ev­ery­one’s fa­vorite topic: quar­ter­backs. Who’s hot? Who’s not? Who has the most ex­cit­ing matchups?

Here’s this week’s QB Hot Sheet.

Three to watch this week

1. Cam New­ton, Pan­thers: A thrilling Thurs­day night matchup against the Steel­ers will be New­ton’s lat­est chance to put his in­creased efficiency un­der new offen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Norv Turner on dis­play. Pitts­burgh ranks fourth in sacks (26), but New­ton has got­ten im­proved pro­tec­tion from his front and is difficult to take down.

2. Tom Brady, Pa­tri­ots: Not only do the Ti­tans have the NFL’s top scor­ing de­fense (17.6 points per game), but head coach Mike Vra­bel — who was Brady’s team­mate from 2001 to 2008 — is very fa­mil­iar with New Eng­land. Brady and the Pats offense have found their stride in re­cent weeks, but Ten­nessee is fresh off of an im­pres­sive per­for­mance in which it al­lowed the Cow­boys to con­vert just one of four trips to the red zone.

3. Dak Prescott, Cow­boys: The ad­di­tion of re­ceiver Amari Cooper to the of­fense offered a boost, but Prescott, es­pe­cially in a first-quar­ter in­ter­cep­tion in the end zone, too of­ten forced the ball. Dal­las’ play call­ing re­mains in­con­sis­tent, and with a huge Sun­day night show­down against the di­vi­sion-ri­val Ea­gles, Prescott will need to shine.

Three trend­ing up

1. Nick Mul­lens, 49ers: Mak­ing his de­but as an un­drafted free agent who had never taken a reg­u­lar-sea­son snap, Mul­lens posted a record-set­ting Thurs­day night against the Raiders. But the Nin­ers in­vested in Jimmy Garop­polo as their fran­chise quar­ter­back, so Mul­lens has only so many games left as the starter. But he could con­tinue to hold the role over backup C.J. Beathard if his efficient and pro­duc­tive play con­tin­ues.

2. Drew Brees, Saints: He carved up a star-stud­ded Rams de­fense for 346 yards and four TDs. As the man at the cen­ter of the NFL’s No. 2 scor­ing offense, Brees is a le­git­i­mate MVP can­di­date.

3. Matt Ryan, Fal­cons: He finally con­nected with re­ceiver Julio Jones in the end zone and posted 350 yards, four TDs and one in­ter­cep­tion against the Red­skins while help­ing keep At­lanta in the play­off race. Over his last six games he has a 17:1 TD-to-in­ter­cep­tion ra­tio.

Three trend­ing down

1. Sam Darnold, Jets: Al­ready there’s talk about whether Gang Green would be bet­ter off bench­ing Darnold af­ter a four-in­ter­cep­tion day against the Dol­phins. His 14 in­ter­cep­tions are the most of any player in the NFL, with no one else hav­ing more than 10.

2. Joe Flacco, Ravens: Bal­ti­more keeps skid­ding and has lost four of five. A big rea­son: Flacco just isn’t mak­ing plays that he ex­e­cuted in the be­gin­ning of the year. The Steel­ers lim­ited him to 206 yards and no scores.

3. Nathan Peter­man, Bills: Two of the three in­ter­cep­tions weren’t his fault, but when the high­light of an in­ept loss to the Bears is that Peter­man finished a game he started for the first time in his ca­reer, it’s pretty bad. It’s al­most a shock the Bills don’t go to an­other op­tion, though their choices are lim­ited.

Sea­son rank­ings

1. Brees (last week: 2): An 18:1 TD-toin­t­er­cep­tion ra­tio, ca­reer-high 76.3 per­cent com­ple­tion rate and 120.6 passer rat­ing, which is just short of Aaron Rodgers’ NFL-record 122.5 mark from 2011, puts Brees in the No. 1 spot for the first time all year.

2. Pa­trick Ma­homes (1), Chiefs: He finally slips out of the top spot, but the mar­gin is mi­nus­cule. His league-lead­ing 29 TD passes and 2,901 yards could chal­lenge sea­son all-time records.

3. Philip Rivers (4), Charg­ers: His 50 per­cent com­ple­tion rate in a vic­tory against the Sea­hawks was a sea­son low, but Rivers re­mains ag­gres­sive in tak­ing shots down the field and is on pace to eclipse his ca­reer-high passer rat­ing by 11 points (cur­rently at 116.5).

4. New­ton (5): He is on pace to sur­pass ca­reer bests in com­ple­tion rate (67.3 per­cent) and passer rat­ing (100.8) while shred­ding op­pos­ing de­fenses.

5. An­drew Luck (3), Colts: With Indy on bye, Luck falls two spots.

BOB DONNAN/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Cam New­ton and the Pan­thers’ new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor pre­pare for a thrilling Thurs­day night matchup against the Steel­ers.

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