Best bets for NFL MVP: Look at it as a portfolio


A good way to diversify an NFL futures portfolio in the preseason is to include action on the Most Valuable Player Award. Plays on subjectively based futures are good companions for investments made on quantitative modeling. 

Part of handicapping MVP futures is to predict the storylines and media coverage that sets the agenda not only for the fans and sportsbooks but the voters as well. That means betting this future isn’t just about identifying those who will play at an MVP level. A number of players will do so. It is determining which players will get enough votes from the media members. 

Let’s examine some names on the MVP odds board for plays based on the media narratives that will surround their candidacy.

MVP futures conversation must begin with Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes (+ 500 DraftKings and BetMGM). Excuse me while I wipe the chalk dust from the keyboard, but at this point the favorite also comes with some value. If you plan to make any MVP bets, they must include Mahomes and be done soon since this is probably the highest number all season for the face of the league. 

A preseason Mahomes play positions the bettor to be in front of the favorable storylines about the Chiefs quarterback we should be seeing in the NFL media.

Last season Mahomes was installed as the preseason favorite around + 350. That of course didn’t happen, so this year books have kept him in the top spot but at a higher price, in turn making this square play a little more justifiable. 

Making a parallel to betting golf futures, I never consider the short-odds favorite sitting atop the leaderboard. There are 120 or more other contenders with countless other variables that act against the favorite. Not so much here with the MVP, since part of being the favorite comes with a boost as media members position him that way from the start and the pool of those looking to knock him off isn’t as deep.

If Mahomes is healthy playing behind a revamped offensive line, it will be hard for other players to leapfrog his output and the narrative that he has returned from his toe injury as the league’s best and most dynamic player.

Place an MVP futures ticket on Mahomes, fold it and place it in your wallet for the season. 

If not now, then pass. If you think 5-1 for an awards future is too low, then wait and see what happens when the public gets involved after having enough time to determine Mahomes is healthy.

Say Mahomes is still limping through the opening portion of the year, and the odds go up. Those are odds you really don’t want. If he does show signs of life later in the season, it won’t come with a boost to help his chances since the expectation from the media, the fans and the sportsbooks is that he should be playing at an elite level from the start. 

If it’s not Mahomes, the award is still likely going to a QB. It has gone that way every year since 2012, when RB Adrian Peterson won it. Only four players outside the position have won the award since 2000: RBs Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson (2006), Shaun Alexander (2005) and Marshall Faulk (2000).

Since the inception of the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player in 1957, no WR has won the award. Kicker Mark Moseley was the special-teams outlier winner in 1982. And only two defensive players, Alan Page (1971) and Lawrence Taylor (1986), have been named MVP.

Before looking for options other than Mahomes, let’s look first at players to avoid. 

I’m taking Aaron Rodgers (+ 1000 DraftKings and + 800 BetMGM) and Tom Brady (+ 1600 BetMGM and + 1400 DraftKings) off the list. 

If you agree with the logic to eliminate these and others from the equation, it sure makes Mahomes look even better. Handicapping this award by looking through a projective media prism makes Rodgers and Brady look a lot different as candidates. 

With Rodgers, the media narrative isn’t working in his favor due to his ongoing soap opera with Green Bay management. As long as he is with the Packers, his commitment will be questioned. If the team does pull the trigger and trade him, Rodgers is placed in the instigator role. Neither portrayal will curry favor from media voters. 

From a comparative standpoint, Rodgers at 38 doesn’t fit the profile of other back-to-back winners. The last one to do it was Peyton Manning in 2008-09 when he was 33. Brett Favre was 29 when he won his third straight MVP in 1997. 

Rodgers’ age is no hindrance to playing at an MVP level, but it is the perception of voters that this late in his career and with three MVPs, he has already received his proper adulation. 

Similar logic leads me to bypass Brady. Perhaps looking past Brady is what has made him arguably the greatest QB ever, but from a 2021 MVP handicapping perspective, it is necessary. He won the award three times and landed a Super Bowl title outside the shadow of Bill Belichick. 

What else can he accomplish? Voters very well may think Brady has played at a superior level for so long that he should have no more room left in his trophy case. Units that bettors want to play on Brady for MVP are better suited for some on his Buccaneers. 

Looking further down the QB options, I want to take Lamar Jackson (+ 1600 DraftKings and + 1400 BetMGM ) or Kyler Murray (+ 1600 DraftKings and + 1400 BetMGM) because of their odds and their ability to command the Monday highlight wrap-up programs. Rather than buy in now, I am going to wait. 

The rationale with Jackson is the noticeable decline in his passing numbers a year ago compared with his 2019 MVP campaign. The narrative surrounding him is that he can’t rely too heavily on all his rushing, so it places him at a disadvantage behind the other two-dimensional QBs in the league. 

Jackson will need at least a couple of big passing games early to move ahead of the other names on the board. Hard data for lower odds is a better deal. 

Going further west, an MVP bet on Murray has side action implications backing the Cardinals. And even though they should be improved with the additions of A.J. Green and James Conner along with center Rodney Hudson, the NFC West is loaded. Murray was a legit candidate early last season when the Cardinals jumped to a 6-3 mark, but then the rest of the division caught up and his MVP chances were gone. 

To take Murray and the Cardinals along for the ride, his odds need to be more in the range of Baker Mayfield (+ 3500 DraftKings and BetMGM), whose Browns appear to have a bigger upside than Arizona. 

Kliff Kingsbury’s name is pretty high on the odds board for the first coach to be fired, so that should cool the Murray futures. 

Three other names that could certainly play like an MVP and be prominently mentioned in the media as legitimate candidates are Dak Prescott (+ 2000 BetMGM and + 1400 DraftKings), Christian McCaffrey (+ 4000 DraftKings and + 2500 BetMGM) and Saquon Barkley (+ 10000 DraftKings and BetMGM). But action on these three is better directed toward the Comeback Player of the Year Award futures.

No player has ever won both awards in the same season. MVP voting has a feeling of inertia, so if any of these three plays at the level he did before his injury, the focus will be centered on the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

There is no reason to even contemplate Deshaun Watson (+ 5000 BetMGM and + 2000 DraftKings) for the award. The books could triple these odds and the advice would remain to stay away. Media members are not going to show support for Watson, for how well he plays for whatever team this season, after all the allegations of his sexual misconduct. 

After thinning some of the MVP herd, let’s consider other options along with a Mahomes ticket. 

Josh Allen (+ 1200 DraftKings and BetMGM) looks a lot more enticing if you take away some of these aforementioned names. Allen and Mahomes were the only two besides Rodgers to receive MVP votes last year. 

Bets on Allen, who has a lot of momentum and advocates on his side, can be made in multiple pieces. Get some now while the odds are in double digits. Then readdress a possible in-season bet if determining whether last year’s 20th-ranked rushing offense has improved and lessened the need for him to single-handedly carry the load. If not, fire again.

In-season plays on Allen are also contingent on Mahomes because if he is healthy, storylines like “the AFC title still goes through K.C.” will trump the Buffalo and Allen media hype. 

Another aspect to keep in mind with any bets on running QBs like Allen, Murray and Jackson is the extra game on the schedule. More games plus more carries equal an increased chance of injury. 

From a media and marketing perspective, a number of NFL stakeholders would prefer an MVP coming from one of its two Los Angeles clubs. It would validate the NFL executives who brokered back-room deals to get the Rams and Chargers to play in L.A. and shine an even brighter light on the league’s new jewel, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. 

The SoCal variable will provide some assistance to the Rams’ Matthew Stafford (+ 1800 BetMGM and + 1600 DraftKings) and Justin Herbert (+ 2000 BetMGM and + 1800 DraftKings) of the Chargers. 

Stafford’s move to L.A. could play out like a three-act script. If he starts well, then come the stories centered around how a brilliant-minded coach saved Stafford from the depths of Detroit and brought him to new levels in sunny Los Angeles. If Stafford holds up his end and executes the Sean McVay playbook, the media will gladly drive this desirable storyline. Yes, Stafford’s history with injuries are a hindrance, but still consider a small MVP play based on a new start in L.A. at some pretty good odds.

Herbert comes with slightly better odds and will likely be a name many NFL prognosticators use as their sleeper MVP. He now has Brandon Staley as his coach, and on his worst day Staley should still be better than former coach Anthony Lynn on his best one. Herbert is entering his second season. The sophomore campaign is also when Mahomes won his MVP in 2018 and Jackson in 2019. 

There is a lot to like about a Herbert MVP ticket. Other than Allen, he would likely benefit the most from Mahomes being slowed in any way. 

Russell Wilson (+ 2000 BetMGM and + 1400 DraftKings) for MVP makes a lot of sense for a preseason play. 

The rationale is that he has never won the award — nor even received a vote — but has been a viable candidate for nearly a decade. With his career in Seattle appearing to be close to the end, voters may support Wilson for MVP as a type of lifetime-achievement award. 

The 32-year-old has a symbiotic relationship with voters by consistently providing media members with quality content they need to do their jobs. This counts for something in the sentimentality column. 

This season Wilson will look to reduce the 13 interceptions he threw last year with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and two additions to the offensive line, athletic tight end Gerald Everett and guard Gabe Jackson. 

If you believe Rodgers and Brady are out of play for the MVP, it moves the consistent Wilson up the pecking order while maintaining his 14-1 odds. 

To get much longer odds, it takes getting away from the QB position, and that isn’t a bad idea with a couple of options.

If a running back is going to win the award, Derrick Henry (+ 5000 DraftKings and + 2500 BetMGM) might have the best chance. No RB is a bigger focal point of his offense than Henry, and Tennessee is built on the rushing attack. 

The discrepancy between DraftKings and BetMGM is an attention-getter. 

Henry is entering his sixth season, and with 1,182 carries in the past, the Titans know longevity isn’t on his side. That means he might see an increase in his 378 rushes and 2,027 yards from last season. He should also get a lot of the media attention about the possibility of a player going over 2K in back-to-back years.

As a point of comparison, former Seattle RB Alexander, who played a lot like Henry, had his best season in his sixth year before quickly hitting the point of diminishing returns. 

If the Titans play well and are in contention for a division title, it will be most likely because of Henry’s work. 

What preseason futures sounds better: Henry at 50-1 or his QB, Ryan Tannehill, at half that price? If you are going to make multiple preseason MVP plays, sprinkle some on Henry with this value to go along with the QB options. 

Another RB to consider for a real long shot is Alvin Kamara (DraftKings + 8000 and + 6600 BetMGM). With Drew Brees no longer the Saints’ QB, perhaps Sean Payton takes the governor off the Kamara engine and lets him play like Tomlinson and Faulk on every down. 

Production along those lines comes with extra cachet by getting credit in the media for filling the Brees void. Not a bad lottery ticket to stash. 

As for the best long shot on the board, take the “why the hell not?” approach with Aaron Donald (+ 10000 DraftKings and BetMGM).

He is universally considered the best defensive player. Those hot-take media types are looking to generate some argumentatives debates. Donald for MVP sounds like one of them. You can sit back and watch the heat with a 100-1 ticket in hand.

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