SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ NFL insider Lindsay H. Jones previews three intriguing matchups for the upcoming week.
USA TODAY Sports
From Week 1 through Week 17, USA TODAY Sports’ NFL staff will be handicapping the race for league MVP. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote is worth three, and a third-place vote is worth one.
Our MVP tracker after Week 1’s games:
1. QB Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (13 points): He threw for a league-high 368 yards and four TDs on opening weekend and leads the NFL with a near perfect 148.6 passer rating. But more impressive, Smith managed this while making the New England Patriots look as helpless as they ever have under Bill Belichick. The 13-year vet also served notice to the other 31 teams that, yes, he can strike deep downfield and is much more than the proverbial game manager. Even if the Chiefs wanted to play first rounder Patrick Mahomes (which they don’t), Smith looks like a man who’s going to keep the rookie on the pine all year.
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2. RB Kareem Hunt, Chiefs (12 points): Has any rookie come out of the blocks better? While Smith was busy dismantling the Patriots through the air, Hunt, a third-round pick out of Toledo, was doing the same with his feet and hands. His 148 yards on the ground were the most gained by any player in Week 1. Hunt also caught five passes for 98 yards and scored three TDs overall (1 rushing, 2 receiving). Looks like Kansas City is going to be just fine without Spencer Ware and Jamaal Charles moving forward.
3. WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (11 points): He caught 11 balls for 182 yards, pacing all players on opening day and helping Pittsburgh survive the Cleveland Browns. Oh, and if you didn’t feel like doing the math, Brown is officially on track for a 176-reception, 2,912-yard season.
4. QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (6 points): After setting an NFL record with eight fourth-quarter comebacks in 2016, Stafford started 2017 with another one thanks to a pair of TD tosses to rookie Kenny Golladay that enabled Detroit to overtake the Arizona Cardinals. Stafford’s four TD passes Sunday allowed him to match Smith for the league lead. Pretty much what you’d expect from a $135 million player, right?
5. QB Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings (4 points): He rewrote the NFL record book last year by completing 71.6% of his passes. Bradford was even better Monday night, connecting on 27 of 32 throws (84.4%) while racking up 346 yards and three TDs as the Vikes cruised past the New Orleans Saints. Nobody’s rooting against Teddy Bridgewater, but it sure does seem like Bradford might be Minnesota’s long-term answer under center.
Others receiving votes: Derek Carr (3 points), Ezekiel Elliott (3), Calais Campbell (1), Aaron Rodgers (1)
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
PHOTOS: NFL power rankings after Week 1