Mike Sando's MVP Watch

Drew Brees threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort at Green Bay last Thursday. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers was looking like the 2011 MVP favorite coming off his Week 1 performance for Green Bay on national television Thursday night.

It was tough to imagine a quarterback making a bolder statement than the one Rodgers fashioned while completing 77.1 percent of his passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns against New Orleans.

Tom Brady made sure there would be no imagining necessary. Punctuating his 517-yard, four-touchdown night against the Miami Dolphins with a 99-yard scoring strike to Wes Welker, the New England quarterback reminded "Monday Night Football" viewers why he was the unanimous MVP choice last season.

The race is on, and for the first time in more than a decade, Peyton Manning isn't among the favorites. The Indianapolis Colts said they expect Manning to recover from his latest neck surgery, though.

Watching our top MVP candidates lead their teams up and down the field could qualify as physical therapy for anyone with neck trouble. Brady, Rodgers and the third man in our MVP Watch, Drew Brees, combined for 1,248 yards and 10 touchdowns in Week 1.

There was room for less-established players on the list this week, including a few coming off strong opening performances.

Cam Newton (422 yards), Terrell Suggs (three sacks) and Darren McFadden (15o yards) stood out. Their inclusion this week at the expense of mainstays Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson might be temporary, because MVP winners haven't always started quickly.

When Manning won the 2003 and 2004 awards, his combined Week 1 stats from those seasons were relatively modest: 467 yards passing with two touchdowns and three picks. Brady has fared better in openers during his two MVP seasons, combining for 555 yards and six touchdowns with no picks in those games.

Two of the last three running backs to win the award started slowly. Shaun Alexander carried 14 times for 73 yards in the 2005 opener. Marshall Faulk carried 14 times for 78 yards to open the 2000 season. LaDainian Tomlinson, with 31 carries for 131 yards in the 2006 opener, was an exception.