Brees reaches No. 1, deserves MVP talk
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 efficiency under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner on display. Pittsburgh ranks fourth in sacks (26), but Newton has gotten improved protection from his front and is difficult 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 offense 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 offered a boost, but Prescott, especially in a first-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 efficient 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 offense, Brees is a legitimate MVP candidate.
3. Matt Ryan, Falcons: He finally 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 five. 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 finished a game he started for the first 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.
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 first time all year.
2. Patrick Mahomes (1), Chiefs: He finally 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 field 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.
Cam Newton and the Panthers’ new offensive coordinator prepare for a thrilling Thursday night matchup against the Steelers.