Breaking Down the NFL MVP Race

With the 2016 season approaching, many betting sites have already released their odds for a number of the NFL’s major awards. Today, I’ll take a look at the most notable one of all: Most Valuable Player.

Consider this as a gambler’s guide to the 2016 MVP race. For the record, I’m typically not a huge fan of placing long-term bets, mainly because it’s so damn hard to predict the future. Having said that, placing a small wager on a player or team at the start of the season may spice things up a bit. So if you’re in the mood for one of those bets, this article should be informative.

Here’s how this will work: I’ve made a list of 20 players who I feel have a remote chance to be the NFL MVP in 2016 and divided them into four categories. Those categories are:

  • The Best Bets
  • The Most Likely Non-QB’s
  • The Long-Shot Defenders
  • The Dark Horses

Each of those categories should be self-explanatory, so let’s begin by looking at the five best bets to win the MVP.

(All MVP odds courtesy of sportsbetting.ag)

The Best Bets

You’re going to notice a theme in this section: The best bets are all quarterbacks. That’s because thirty-nine of the sixty MVP awards (65%) have been given to signal callers. And in today’s pass-happy NFL, quarterbacks have even more responsibility now than, say, twenty years ago. That helps explain why quarterbacks have been taking home this award even more often over the past ten or so years. Simply put, you can’t go wrong with betting on one of the league’s best QB’s.

5 Ben Roethlisberger, QB Pittsburgh

Odds: 7/1 (t-2nd) 

Roethlisberger is certainly among the NFL’s elite. On the surface, his stats from last year may not look that great (only 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions). But he still finished second in Total QBR and fifth in defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR, explained here). Plus, he has arguably the best weapons in the NFL at his disposal in wide receiver Antonio Brown and a hopefully healthy Le’Veon Bell at running back. With Peyton Manning retired and Tom Brady suspended for four games, maybe Roethlisberger can finally become the best quarterback in the AFC. If he does, he’ll certainly be in the thick of the MVP race.

4 Russell Wilson, QB Seattle

Odds: 9/1 (5th) 

Thanks to a historic stretch at the end of last season in which he threw 24 touchdowns and 1 interception, Wilson finally shed that “game-manager” label. Admittedly, I kind of roll my eyes whenever the discussion shifts to either Wilson’s on-the-field greatness or off-the-field exploits, but even I won’t contend that he’s anything less than a superstar quarterback. I suppose the only reason why I can’t see Wilson winning MVP this year is because he faces stiff competition from some of his peers in the NFC…

3 Carson Palmer, QB Arizona

Odds: 10/1 (6th) 

There’s a school of thought that Palmer was the league’s best player in 2015, not Cam Newton. After all, Palmer did lead all quarterbacks in many of the most important passing categories, such as Total QBR, DYAR, and yards per attempt. Not only that, but Palmer led most of these categories by a mile, and he did it all for a 13-3 Cardinals team. It will be difficult, but if Palmer can replicate his 2015 season, I find it hard to imagine that MVP voters will neglect to honor the league’s best statistical quarterback once again.

 

2 Cam Newton, QB Carolina

Odds: 5/1 (1st)

Even though I still stand by my belief that Palmer was the league’s most valuable player in 2015, make no mistake: Cam Newton was still absolutely deserving of the award. Individual statistics aside, Newton almost led the Panthers to an undefeated regular season. Enough said!

Looking ahead to 2016, though, there are two reasons why I don’t believe Newton should be the favorite to win MVP again. One, he’s retiring the dab, and this worries me because I’m not sure it’s ever a good thing when a player retires a well-known touchdown celebration. I mean, what if Rob Gronkowski stopped doing the Gronk spike? Is he even Gronk anymore? Moreover, just look what happened to Jimmy Graham after they banned endzone dunks–the man’s never been the same!

On a slightly more serious note, I’m very confident that the Panthers will take a step backwards in 2016. Not necessarily a dramatic step backwards, but they sure as heck won’t be winning fifteen games again. This, along with the competition from other great quarterbacks in the NFC, will hurt Newton’s MVP chances unless he has an even greater statistical season.

1 Aaron Rodgers, QB Green Bay

Odds: 7/1 (t-2nd) 

Is Rodgers ever not the favorite to win the MVP? The man had an awful year by his standards in 2015 and he still posted a 31/8 touchdown to interception ratio. Plus, he looks poised to have a much better statistical season now that his boy Jordy Nelson (Go Jordy, Go!) is back after missing all of 2015.

Look, there are some things to be concerned with. For starters, I’m a little worried that Rodgers casually had no idea that his brother Jordan was not on the Bachelorette. Maybe he is so locked in on hoisting another Lombardi trophy that he has no time to acknowledge his family members? Either that or he’s locked in to Olivia Munn (giggidy), but nonetheless I’d bank on Rodgers as the safest bet to win this year’s MVP award.

 

The Most Likely Non-QB’s

We know non-quarterbacks are unlikely to win MVP. So why bother mentioning them? Well, there are those fluky years when a running back or some other position player takes this award. In fact, did you know that in 1982 a freaking kicker named Mark Moseley won MVP? So, yeah, weird things happen sometimes. Plus, even though a receiver has actually never won MVP (unless we count the Sporting News’s annual MVP awards), wideouts are putting up better numbers than ever. If one of them were to have an historic, Randy Moss-circa-2007-esque season, then they’ll certainly be in the discussion.

5 Rob Gronkowski, TE New England

Odds: 25/1 (t-9th) 

You might think that Gronkowski’s MVP odds would dip considering he won’t have Tom Brady throwing to him in the first four games. I actually think this might help his MVP-case. Do people realize how valuable Gronkowski is? The fact is that until last season’s AFC Championship loss to Denver, the Patriots basically wouldn’t lose when it mattered with a healthy Gronk. Not to indulge to much in what-ifs, but if Gronk was healthy in Super Bowl XLVI, we would’ve beaten the Giants. We probably wouldn’t have gotten our asses kicked by the Ravens the following year either if Gronk was able to play.

Simply put, Gronkowski has been and will continue to be one of the NFL’s most valuable players. If he ever helps lead the Patriots to a 4-0 start, then there might be some MVP chants in Foxboro for someone other than Brady.

 

4 Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota

Odds: 12/1 (t-7th) 

As NFL teams continue to emphasize, passing as the preferred means of moving the ball, it will become less and less likely with each passing year that a running back takes home the NFL’s highest individual honor. Even versatile backs like Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles probably won’t have the stats to realistically win this award.

There remains one hope for running backs, however, and that’s Adrian Peterson. He did it before back in 2012 when he reeled off a 2,000 yard season coming off ACL surgery. Don’t expect the 31-year-old Peterson to repeat that performance, but he should get enough carries on a Vikings team that actually runs first to set up the pass to lead the NFL in rushing for a fourth time. And if Minnesota can improve on last year’s 11-5 season on the back of another outstanding year from Peterson, he will find himself in the thick of the MVP race once again.

3 Julio Jones, WR Atlanta

Odds: 50/1 (t-24th) 

We know Jones is a stud–he led the league with 1,871 receiving yards, and if it weren’t for Antonio Brown no one else would’ve been close that mark. And as long as he is healthy, we know Matt Ryan is going to get him the ball: Last year he was tied with Brown for the league lead in receptions and was the most targeted wide receiver in the NFL as well. With that said, the main problem with Jones’ potential MVP case is that the Falcons don’t project to be that great. Yet this actually might work in his favor because if the Falcons were to breakthrough and win the NFC South, for instance, Jones will probably be the main reason why.

2 Odell Beckham Jr, WR New York Giants

Odds: 66/1 (t-36th)

I was surprised to find Beckham’s odds were so low. I mean, are guys like Derek Carr (25/1) and David Johnson (33/1) really more likely to win MVP over OBJ? I’d say no. Beckham might not have quite the stats of guys like Jones or Brown, but his numbers will probably be damn close to their’s this year. Plus, as I said with Jones, if the Giants were to have a great season by some chance, then Beckham will likely be the main reason why. So maybe there is some value on Beckham, who certainly could be the NFL’s best receiver by the end of 2016.

1 Antonio Brown, WR Pittsburgh

Odds: 50/1 (t-24th) 

Even though I’m high on both Jones and Beckham, Drew’s got it right: Antonio Brown, as of now, is the best receiver in the NFL. And of all the non-QB’s I’ve mentioned, I believe Brown’s odds represent the best value. At 50/1, he’s grouped alongside middling quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford and erratic running backs like Devonta Freeman and Eddie Lacy. Brown’s much better than that, right? Given the way Brown can make an impact in a variety of ways, his value to the Steelers certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. If he puts up another huge season with Big Ben throwing to him, I won’t be surprised to see Brown finish in the top five in MVP voting.

 

The Long-Shot Defenders

Lawrence Taylor. That’s it. He’s the one-and-only defender to ever win NFL MVP. But I guess if you’re feeling really lucky, here are five guys that at least could enter the race.

5 Aaron Donald, DT Los Angeles 

Odds: N/A

You may have a hard time finding a site that has odds for Donald as the league’s MVP, but if you’re actually considering betting on a defensive player, it might be worth it. Not only is Donald the league’s most underrated player, but he was arguably the game’s best overall defensive player in 2015. That’s right, even better than J.J. Watt, at least according to Pro Football Focus. Even though he’s an interior lineman, which usually makes it tougher to pressure the quarterback as opposed to rushing from the edge, Donald managed to get nearly as many pressures as Watt, who led the NFL in that category, and graded out as the top defensive player in the league. MVP-talk aside, Donald might be a good bet to win defensive player of the year.

 

4 Von Miller, OLB Denver

Odds: 40/1 (24th) 

If we include last year’s postseason, then Miller was far and away the NFL’s most impactful defensive player in 2015. However, I actually think Miller will a step backward this season for a few reasons. Because Miller was so dominant at the end of last year, teams will likely make it even more of a priority to neutralize him. While I could see this extra attention leading to more sacks from some of Denver’s other pass rushers, it could lead to a dip in some of Miller’s stats. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Miller lost a bit of an edge after winning Super Bowl MVP and signing a new $114 million contract extension. It’s only natural, anyways. So even though Miller will undoubtedly be a Pro Bowler once again, these factors, combined with the long odds defenders have to win this award in general, make Miller a bad bet to win MVP.

3 Khalil Mack, OLB Oakland

Odds: 50/1 (t-24th) 

Just watch this:

So if Mack does that most every game, he might be the next Lawrence Taylor.

2 J.J. Watt, DE Houston

Odds: 25/1 (t-10th)

Everything that’s needed to be said about Watt has already been said, so I’m not going to bore you with stats that show that Watt is already one of the most dominant players the NFL has ever seen. Having said that, you want to know why I don’t think Watt will ever win MVP? In short, if his 2014 season wasn’t good enough for him to win the award, I don’t know what is.

1 Luke Kuechly, ILB Carolina 

Odds: 50/1 (t-24th)

Statistics aside, I’d start my team with Kuechly over any other defender in the NFL. He’s a sideline-to-sideline player who consistently makes game-changing plays and can be counted on in the biggest stages. It might be difficult for him to have another season quite like last year’s, particularly from an interception standpoint (he had six of them), but if I’m putting my money on any defensive player to win MVP (which isn’t likely), I’m taking Kuechly.

 

The Dark Horses

5 Jordy Nelson, WR Green Bay

Odds: N/A

Green Bay’s best receiver returns after a torn ACL cost him all of 2015. As evidenced by how much their offense sputtered without Nelson, the Packers clearly need him in order to be one of the NFC’s best teams. Obviously, the fact that Nelson doesn’t even have MVP odds indicates that he isn’t a great bet to win this award; but you never know, if the Packers were to dramatically improve this year, people might look to Nelson as the main reason why.

4 Tom Brady, QB New England

Odds: 12/1 (t-7th) 

You’d think Brady’s odds would be lower considering that he’ll now officially be out for the first four games. But never doubt Vegas too much because I’m sure they have the same suspicion as me: If Jimmy Garoppolo were to falter, Brady’s return could spark an unusual MVP campaign. It’s unlikely, no doubt. But if it was that improbable, Brady wouldn’t have the 7th best odds.

3 Todd Gurley, RB Los Angeles

Odds: 33/1 (t-17th)

Why would I have Gurley ranked as a better MVP candidate over more-proven backs like Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles? Well, with Bell and Charles, we know what to expect from them in terms of production. Gurley, on the other hand, is only entering his second year and may have more room to grow. In essence, there’s a chance Gurley is the next Adrian Peterson, which means he could be an MVP candidate much sooner than we thought.

2 Andrew Luck, QB Indianapolis 

Odds: 8/1 (4th) 

I’m one of Luck’s biggest supporters, yet even I was surprised to find he has the fourth best odds of any player. That’s an overvaluation, but it’s not totally ridiculous. If Luck is healthy, then he’s a great bet to post huge numbers. However, he’ll probably need to lead Indianapolis to a 12 or 13 win season if he were to win this award.

 

1 Tony Romo, QB Dallas 

Odds: 20/1 (9th) 

What do the football gods have against Tony Romo? He’s been one of the league’s best quarterbacks for close to ten years now, yet he just can’t ever seem to break through in a way that others with similar talent (Eli Manning, Flacco, even Roethlisberger, etc.) have. Nonetheless, I’m confident that if Romo can stay healthy in 2016, which isn’t necessarily safe to assume, then he has another MVP caliber season in him. He has to be motivated after a frustrating 2015 season and he definitely has enough weapons around him for Dallas to be one of the league’s best offenses. It’s gotten to the point now where not much else can go wrong in Romo’s career, so why can’t this guy receive a reversal of fortune?

 

My Pick(s)

So, after all this analysis, who am I putting my money on? I hate to be boring, but I’m taking Aaron Rodgers to be the NFL’s MVP in 2016. He’s the safest choice to win MVP because he has consistently put together outstanding statistical seasons since 2010, so you know he’ll at least be in the conversation, which you can’t necessarily say for some of the other top quarterbacks I mentioned. Plus, as we know, he’ll have Jordy Nelson, his most trusted receiver, back in the fold. But here’s the real tipping point: The Packers project to play the league’s easiest schedule in 2016. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Packers will in fact play the league’s easiest schedule because this projection is based on 2015 win percentages, the Green Bay offense will likely face many mediocre defenses. They’ll probably only have their hands full against Seattle and Houston (maybe), but other than that, the average defensive ranking of the Packers opponents in 2016 is 20th based on last year’s Weighted DVOA. Simply put, I expect Rodgers to have perhaps his best statistical season and lead the Packers to 12-14 wins.

While my official pick is Rodgers, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with hedging bets and/or making things a little more interesting. That’s why I’m also going to put a little bit of money on Tony Romo. I think if Romo is healthy, the Cowboys will win the NFC East; and given the way the Cowboys collapsed without Romo last year (4-12), I bet there will be a chorus shouting MVP for the Cowboys quarterback if he puts up great numbers while leading Dallas to 10 or 11 wins. 


Newton photo courtesy of Getty Images; Peterson photo courtesy of USA Today Sports; Miller photo courtesy of Gregory Payan/Associated Press; Romo photo courtesy of Rantsports.com; 

Posted by Mando

Co-Founder of Check Down Sports. Die-hard Boston sports fan: Patriots, Celtics, Bruins- in that order. I haven't been that interested in the Red Sox since they traded Manny. If you're a fan of Leslie Nielson movies and/or think Entourage is overrated, we'll get along.

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