Not often does a 37-year old player get a chance to ride off into the sunset on the heels of a great season, but if Kurt Warner decides to hang up the cleats after this season, he may walk away clutching an MVP award as well.
Warner, a two-time league MVP, has been phenomenal this season in leading the Cardinals to a 4-2 record. His 1,708 passing yards rank second in the league, and he is one of only five passers in the league with a passer rating over 100.0 (102.8). While we have come to expect those kinds of numbers from Warner, his performance this season has been nothing short of amazing considering his journey from veteran backup to unlikely starter.
"He has been unbelievable," said an AFC scout. "If he continues to stay healthy, he should garner all kinds of postseason honors."
Warner entered training camp expected to back up the team's anointed franchise quarterback (Matt Leinart), but wound up winning the job after outplaying the youngster during the preseason. Though Warner had played exceptionally well in guiding the team to a 8-8 record last season after taking over for an injured Leinart, few expected the 11-year veteran to be under center when the Cardinals opened this season against the 49ers.
"It seemed unlikely that he was going to be the guy," said an NFC personnel director. "But he is showing that he was the right guy to lead their team."
The gamble to go with the veteran has paid off for the Cardinals as Warner has directed the league's second-ranked scoring offense with impressive efficiency. Warner has completed 70 percent of his passes and tallied 12 touchdowns through six games. Those numbers become more remarkable when you consider he is playing without one of his Pro Bowl receivers (Anquan Boldin) in the lineup.
In the two games since Boldin's injury, Warner has completed over 76 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and only one interception. In true MVP fashion, Warner has not only raised the level of his game, but gotten his teammates to play at a higher level. Second-year receiver Steve Breaston has emerged as a star. The former Michigan standout has 24 receptions in the past three games, including 15 in the past two games. In addition, the Cardinals have put up over 30 points in back-to-back wins over a pair of playoff contenders (Bills and Cowboys).
With Warner playing some of the best ball of his career, the Cardinals have gotten off to their best start since 2002 and have a legitimate chance to capture their first-ever NFC West division title. If the three-time Pro Bowler can pull off that unlikely feat for a perennially downtrodden franchise, he deserves to be recognized as the league's most valuable player.
1. Trent Edwards, QB, Bills (Last week's ranking: 5): The Bills' budding superstar has rallied the team in three of their four victories. With a looming showdown with the Chargers, the Bills need Edwards to pick up where he left off prior to his concussion.
2. Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins (3): The league's leading rusher has topped the century mark in three consecutive games. His re-emergence as a premiere back has ignited the Redskins' surprisingly hot start.
3. Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos (1): The Broncos star quarterback has cooled off in recent weeks, but his solid play under center is the primary reason the team leads the AFC West.
4. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (NR): After passing for more than 300 yards for the fifth time in six starts, Brees is on track to surpass Dan Marino's single-season passing record of 5,084 yards.
5. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals (NR)
1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (1)
2. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals (2)
3. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (NR): The brash signal caller has passed for three touchdowns in four games and leads the league with a 109.1 passer rating.
4. Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins (3): The versatile playmaker didn't play a starring role in the team's "Wildcat" package, but he scored for the fourth consecutive week and finished with 93 yards total offense.
5. Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins (NR)
1. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Titans (1): The most dominant interior defender in the game spearheads a defense that ranks first in points allowed.
2. John Abraham, DE, Falcons (2): The explosive pass rusher has been ultra-productive in the Falcons' new defensive scheme. His seven sacks lead the league, and his knack for creating game-changing turnovers keeps offensive coordinators awake at night.
3. James Harrison, LB, Steelers (3): The bye week doesn't diminish Harrison's impact as an edge rusher. With six-and-a-half sacks and three forced fumbles, he is, arguably, the game's most disruptive force off the edge.
4. Charles Woodson, CB, Packers (NR): Remember when the three-time Pro Bowler was regarded as the league's top cover corner? With four interceptions, including two returned for scores, Woodson is making a strong statement that he may still be the game's best at the position.
5. Antoine Winfield, CB, Vikings (NR): Readers took me to task for excluding the statistical marvel off the list last week. Although I typically don't cave to outside opinion, I was wrong not to include Winfield on the list after viewing his impact on the Vikings' season.
1. Jeff Fisher, Titans (1): The Titans are the best team in the AFC, led by a suffocating defense and powerful ground attack. Imagine how good they would be with a stud receiver in the lineup.
2. Tom Coughlin, Giants (2): The defending world champions didn't play well in Cleveland, but their 4-1 record still makes them the team to beat in the NFC.
3. Mike Smith, Falcons (NR): The first-year coach has pushed all of the right buttons in guiding his team to a surprising 4-2 start. From tabbing Matt Ryan the opening day starter to making John Abraham more productive by playing less (see the What I Learned... section), Smith deserves recognition for the outstanding job he has done in Atlanta.
4. Dick Jauron, Bills (NR): He has the team perfectly positioned to win its first division title since 1995.
5. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals (NR): Things are looking up in the desert as the Cardinals sit atop the NFC West. With an explosive offense and a gritty D, the Cardinals may finally wrest the division crown from the Seahawks.
1. Matt Forte, RB, Bears (1): The rookie sensation continues to impress with his versatile array of skills. Although he's fifth in the league in rushing, his receiving skills have kept the Bears' offense afloat in recent weeks.
2. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles (3): The flashy speedster continues to excel as the Eagles' top target. With Brian Westbrook nursing a rib injury, Jackson becomes their most explosive offensive weapon.
3. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans (2): After taking the league by storm the first few weeks, Johnson has run into a few defenses that were intent on limiting his impact. With the Chiefs and Colts on deck, Johnson should return to form against soft run defenses.
4. Steve Slaton, RB, Texans (4): The Texans' diminutive workhorse is averaging almost five yards a carry this season. As Andre Johnson reclaims his spot as the Texans' top offensive weapon and forces more defense to stop him, expect Slaton's rushing totals to surge.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (NR): After watching the rookie torch the Bears for over 300 yards in an improbable come-from-behind win, I don't doubt that the Falcons got it right by nabbing this franchise quarterback on draft day.
1. Keith Rivers, LB, Bengals (1): While it would be easy to classify Rivers as a star on a bad defense, it would diminish the consistency that he has displayed since the beginning of the season.
2. Curtis Lofton, LB, Falcons (2): The first-year stalwart has anchored the middle of the Falcons' defense with surprising effectiveness. Lofton leads all rookies in tackles (39) and is one of the reasons the Falcons defense is exceeding expectations.
3. Chris Horton, S, Redskins (4): The unheralded rookie has not only produced a handful of game-changing turnovers, but also has become a force as a box defender in the 'Skins eight-man front.
4. Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots (3): The rookie's stellar play has been one of the bright spots on an otherwise disappointing unit.
5. Alex Hall, LB, Browns (NR): The small school star has recorded sacks in three consecutive games while boosting the Browns' woeful pass rush. Although Hall's alma mater (St. Augustine's College) is located in my hometown of Raleigh, N.C., I promise that his inclusion is based solely on his performance.