NFL MVP talk starts with Josh Allen, but doesn't end there

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There is a change atop the NFL MVP Award betting board.

After three straight years as the preseason favorite, Patrick Mahomes is no longer starting above the rest. That distinction now belongs to Josh Allen (DraftKings + 700; BetMGM + 700; Circa + 600) as he enters this season as the focal point of all those heightened expectations for the Bills.

Before bettors rush out and get a piece of Allen for MVP behind a wave of media hype, remember Mahomes didn’t win the award during his recent run as the preseason favorite.

In fact, the last short preseason favorite to win MVP was Tom Brady in 2017 (+ 385). Before that it was Peyton Manning in 2013 (+ 600).

While it makes sense to start handicapping the MVP race by examining the QBs, since the last nine winners played that position, just backing the favorite based on the first headlines of the season has been a less-than-profitable decision in recent years.

Mahomes looked and played like an MVP many times during the last three years, but he didn’t win it.

This doesn’t mean bettors should just eliminate Allen. It is an indication of how many viable candidates there will be for the award and the importance of finding value when  betting this early.

Last year’s winner, Aaron Rodgers, had a campaign that was far from smooth. There were questions early on regarding his age and the chances of him winning the award in consecutive seasons. Then came the vaccination saga that many believed would be held against him by voters. As his stock was dropping, Brady became the odds-on favorite and was close to even money in December. As is so often the case when betting the NFL, there are no guarantees, and Rodgers, whose odds ranged from 8-1 to as high as 18-1, ultimately earned MVP honors for the second straight year.

So as bettors start building their NFL MVP futures portfolio, here are some questions to consider during the handicapping process.

How to play Allen?

At such a low price, there’s no urgency to play Allen for MVP this early.

With profit margins usually so thin for even the best NFL bettors, liquidity throughout the season is a better commodity than tying up funds on a short favorite to win a highly subjective award.

There are probably some bettors who want to have an Allen-for-MVP ticket in their back pocket during their first dive off the top of an RV and onto a plastic folding table. For those types, here is a way to make an early wager on Allen: Wait until after the Bills’ Week 1 game against the Rams on Sept. 8, the NFL’s Thursday night opener.

This game will get the sole attention of the NFL universe. If Allen plays well, it probably won’t change his odds that much heading into Week 2. Last season, after an impressive Week 1 performance, Mahomes only dropped from + 600 to + 550.

If Allen plays poorly in Los Angeles, it could lead to an early shift in the media narrative to something like, “Allen isn’t ready yet to be the MVP.” That could lead to a slight increase in his odds since someone else will certainly be crowned the king of Week 1, possibly another big name such as Mahomes (DraftKings + 900; BetMGM + 800; Circa + 850), Brady (DraftKings+ 900; BetMGM + 800; Circa + 1200) or Rodgers (DraftKings + 1000; BetMGM + 1000; Circa + 1200).

NFL awards bettors of all levels must be aware how shortsighted the media tends to be, since there’s so much competition among journalists to be ahead of the next storyline. Some novice bettors tend to follow these media waves too quickly and that fuels the weekly changes on odds boards.

Think longitudinally and understand how to use early-season setbacks as value-building opportunities.

A fundamental component of handicapping awards futures is comparing the time and money associated with any bet, such as waiting a few weeks to make a bet in order to gain more information. Sometimes that time can lead to a reduction in both the odds and the money that comes with a possible winning bet, but for Allen at these low odds, time has greater value. That time will allow bettors the opportunity to examine how a top-heavy odds board plays out over the first quarter of the season.

Allen at 3-1 in October after seeing him play some games as the favorite is a better wager than 7-1 now when he is still in the “potential MVP” category. One or more from the trio of Mahomes, Brady and Rodgers will likely play well enough to prevent Allen from looking like the only MVP and quickly becoming an overwhelming favorite.

How much betting attention will Mahomes, Brady and Rodgers get now that there’s another favorite?

They play the position that has won the award 18 times since 2000 and are the biggest names in the business, so the public is going to back all three heavily — even more so than in past years since bettors will look to fade the favored Allen.

The focus on Brady and Rodgers will be on age and whether voters still have enough interest to give either yet another award. Clearly that was not an issue last season as the Packers gunslinger captured his fourth MVP. Yet voter fatigue is a handicapping variable that must be accounted for.

The only player to win three straight MVPs was Brett Favre, who was 29 when he pulled off that accomplishment. At 39 and without Davante Adams running go routes, it would take one of the most unlikely seasons ever for Rodgers to do it also. Unlikely and 10-1 odds don’t sound like a good combination.

Saddled with similar odds and concerns is Brady, who has a new coach in Todd Bowles as well as issues on his offensive line.

These two Hall of Famers will likely have very good seasons — it is hard to go against them. That doesn’t mean they should be bet on for MVP (especially Brady with all of the uncertainty in training camp). Instead, consider wagers on their individual statistical performances.

Those options allow bettors to back them and get paid off if they remain at an elite level. It eliminates the subjective part also needed to win MVP.

Age is not an issue for Mahomes. For the Chiefs QB, it is mostly about the competition in his division. He plays a leading role in what is becoming this year’s biggest media narrative to date: proclamations that the AFC West is the best division in NFL history.

How much that topic is repeated could decide this race.

The depth of the division can work both for and against Mahomes — and the other three signal callers in the AFC West. Perhaps the season plays out like the deep NFC East of the early 1990s and all four squads beat up on each other without any one being the clear No.1. That would eliminate a vital storyline such as “Mahomes is the deciding factor in the historic AFC West race.”

The opposite scenario is in play as well: a player and team getting off to such a great start that the media coverage shifts to how that one player (very likely a QB) is the difference in the best division in football. If that happens, for any of the AFC West QBs, media members and bookmakers are going to have a favorite that will be hard to knock off.

An early-season bet on Mahomes to win MVP comes with a much different context than the past few years, when Tyreek Hill was streaking around untouched and the Chiefs felt like a lock to win the division. Yet Mahomes’ odds this year are not much different than they were from 2019-2021.

There likely won’t be a time all year when bettors will feel like they have value on a Mahomes wager since bookmakers are fearful of the liability his brand-name recognition brings.

Is Herbert ready for MVP status?

While there seems to be some value lacking on a Mahomes-for-MVP wager, there is some on Justin Herbert (DraftKings + 1000; BetMGM + 850; Circa + 950).

Yes, you have heard these preseason prognostications for the past decade or so — “this is the year the Chargers stop acting like the Chargers and win the division” — only to see the Chargers act like the Chargers again.

There are a number of reasons to believe this cycle of self-inflicted mediocrity might end as Herbert moves into legitimate MVP status.

At 24, Herbert should contribute the individual accomplishments needed to win the award. Back are Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler to provide even more continuity to Brandon Staley’s system.

While not a move that shook the NFL world, the addition of mobile tight end Gerald Everett will give Herbert a better underneath option than Jared Cook, who was sixth in the league in dropped passes last year.

Cook’s hands weren’t the only ones that hurt Herbert last season. Allen, his main target, led the league in dropped passes and Ekeler wasn’t too far behind.

That very likely will be an anomaly Herbert won’t deal with again in 2022.

He certainly should have better production upfront as first-round pick Zion Johnson, an OL from Boston College, has looked good so far in camp and might even get some whispers for Offensive Rookie of the Year since he will be in the spotlight in the AFC West.

Any talk about Johnson’s work could help pay some MVP dividends for Herbert.

Also, an improved Chargers defense that now features Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson, Kyle Van Noy and Sebastian Joseph-Day, could bring even more attention to Herbert in his team's quest to win the media battle of Los Angeles.

Of all those choices in the 20-1 and under range, Herbert’s chances are most contingent on the performance of his teammates. Last year he looked like an MVP, but there was no way he was going to win it with his team giving away painful losses.

This Chargers squad looks different, making Herbert a solid MVP bet.

If Cooper Kupp didn’t win it last year, how can a WR win the MVP?

That is absolutely a question bettors must ask themselves this season, even if bookmakers offer exorbitant odds for a player such as Kupp, who certainly looks/plays/acts like an MVP.

His 2021 season with 145 catches and nearly 2,000 yards was legendary. Yet when all the votes were tallied, the award went to a QB.

Voters threw Kupp a bone, as they tend to do for WRs and RBs who have great seasons, by awarding him the Offensive Player of the Year Award.

QBs are and very likely will remain the peanut butter part of the MVP meal. WRs at best will be the jelly.

Fine, you want to engage in the fun aspect of sports betting by placing a couple of bucks on Kupp (DraftKings + 6000; BetMGM + 12500; Circa + 10000) or another WR to win the award, hoping to a little turns into a lot, go for it.

Keep in mind, however, a fundamental aspect of handicapping futures is to let the market be the guiding force. Bookmakers feel like the embattled Deshaun Watson, at 40-1, has a better chance of winning the MVP than Kupp.

Here is another way of putting Kupp’s MVP chances into perspective. Bookmakers think it is much more likely that Alabama’s Will Anderson (15-1) can win the Heisman Trophy while playing only defense.

A realistic approach for Kupp and other WRs such as Deebo Samuel (DraftKings + 6000; BetMGM + 20000; Circa + 6500) is to focus on Offensive Player of the Year. The NFL is now a pass-first league and a WR has won Offensive Player of the Year two of the last three years.

Are there any Adrian Petersons or LaDainian Tomlinsons out there in 2022?

History shows it is more likely for a RB to knock off a QB for the MVP than it is for a WR. However, for a RB to pull off this accomplishment, it takes a season where the player is a true every-down back — Peterson in 2012 when he had 348 rushing attempts, Shaun Alexander in 2005 with 370, Tomlinson in 2006 or Marshall Faulk in 2000 when both were running and receiving threats that rarely left the field.

In just a short period of time, NFL offenses have become much more specialized and RBs aren’t often on the field for all three downs. Analytics guide teams in limiting attempts to optimize potential.

Jonathan Taylor (DraftKings + 5000; BetMGM + 8000; Circa + 7500) is the type of RB you want to draft as high as possible in fantasy leagues. He is a player you want your favorite team to base its ground game around. Nonetheless, he isn’t the type of RB you want to make a semi-long shot play on for MVP. The Colts didn’t acquire a high-priced Matt Ryan near the end of his career to just hand off to Taylor. Ryan (DraftKings + 3500; BetMGM + 5000; Circa + 3000) is back indoors and will look to keep the Colts’ offense on a brisk pace.

Last season Taylor had a league-high 332 rushing attempts. Even with an extra week on the schedule, that was 16 fewer attempts than Peterson had in 2012. After last year, there is bound to be some regression after all those hits.

Of the last three RBs to win the award, their average number of carries was 355 in their triumphant season. So for those eyeing someone such as Najee Harris (DraftKings + 15000; BetMGM + 50000; Circa + 25000) as a sleeper MVP pick, Harris would need to increase his rushing output by 48 attempts (16%) from last year’s total of 307 to get to that mark.

Once again, think Offensive Player of the Year Award for those liking Harris and fading a Mitch Trubisky/Mason Rudolph mentality.

As for Nick Chubb (DraftKings + 10000; BetMGM + 25000; Circa + 50000), he had 228 rushes last year and will share time with the disgruntled Kareem Hunt.

Ekeler, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara are all in the lottery-ticket range as well.

One more note regarding the Offensive Player of the Year Award: Nobody has won it in consecutive years since Faulk from 1999-2001.

Should I immediately scratch any players off the board?

For me, that player is Russell Wilson (DraftKings + 1400; BetMGM + 1400; Circa + 1400). The relatively low MVP odds for the 34-year-old Wilson feel more like a nod to what Brady and Manning did in their late-career moves. This mercurial QB starts his Broncos career with a first-year coach in Nathaniel Hackett and without WR Tim Patrick, who is out for the year with a knee injury.

A major piece in the Wilson-for-MVP equation is if WR Jerry Jeudy can finally reach his potential. So an MVP wager on Wilson is also a bet on Jeudy.

No matter how well he plays, Kyler Murray’s (DraftKings + 2000; BetMGM + 2200; Circa + 2000) homework assignments are going to be hard to overcome from a media narrative perspective. That doesn’t even include his poor track record of putting together a complete season.

Included on this list is Matthew Stafford (DraftKings + 1500; BetMGM + 1400; Circa + 1600), for the sole reason that he led his team to a Super Bowl title last year. What else can he do to eclipse that from a media narrative standpoint?

Still, Stafford’s presence looms large on the MVP board. He is one of the first 10 on the odds list since he plays QB for a playoff-ready squad. Being in that “kind of” favorite territory helps boost the odds of more viable QB options sitting in the 20-1 to 40-1 range.

Where does it Hurts?

The Eagles’ Jalen Hurts (DraftKings + 2000; BetMGM + 2500; Circa + 2500) and the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (DraftKings + 1600; BetMGM + 1200; Circa + 2000) start the season near each other as division rivals and on the odds board. They are going to be trendy MVP picks since they are QBs on contending teams with higher odds than the Brady/Mahomes/Rodgers group.

Higher odds don’t necessarily equate to betting value.

In the case of Hurts’ odds, they should be closer to Trey Lance (DraftKings + 4000; BetMGM + 4000; Circa + 1800) than Lamar Jackson (DraftKings + 2000; BetMGM + 2000; Circa + 1500).

Using the principle that the MVP will go to a QB that leads his teams to the playoffs, there are about 20 players potentially fitting that criteria. Within this small, more defined population, Brady, Rodgers and Mahomes, with their track records and litany of awards, look much better than Hurts, who is a long shot by comparison but not necessarily priced like one.

Is the Super Bowl hangover real?

The lack of playoff success for teams that lost the Super Bowl the previous season has been well-documented. The ability, or lack thereof, for MVP candidates to rebound from the loss is even more noticeable. The last QB to win MVP the year after being on the end of a losing Super Bowl start was John Elway in 1987. The last player at any position to do it was Thurman Thomas in 1991.

Keep that in mind when handicapping Joe Burrow (DraftKings + 1200; BetMGM + 1200; Circa + 1000).

Should I be an average bettor?

According to SportsOddsHistory.com, the average early September odds for the past 10 MVP winners were 30-1. This group includes long shots such as Jackson and short favorites such as Brady and Manning. Using that average with a focus on QBs, the person fitting this profile is Derek Carr (DraftKings + 2800; BetMGM + 2500; Circa + 2200).

Should I go long?

Every futures portfolio should include somewhat of a bomb with the potential of cashing an inexpensive ticket for a big payday — and so you can brag to your buddies about what you have in pocket.

Based on some recent information shared through the Twittersphere, Tua Tagovailoa (DraftKings + 5000; BetMGM + 5000; Circa + 5000) is already getting some interest in that area. His odds were 150-1 in February.

Here are three possibilities to consider:

— Ryan should be in the advantageous position of getting early praise from the media with stories like, “Look what the Colts’ offense can do with Ryan now that Carson Wentz is gone.”

— Mac Jones (DraftKings + 6000; BetMGM + 5000; Circa + 5000), who reportedly has a new chiseled body, will be at the helm of a new-look Patriots offense. If coordinator Matt Patricia can successfully dial up more three-WR sets without the reliance of a FB, Jones may put up good passing numbers. Just handicapping this from a media perspective, there will be plenty of coverage on all New England-related topics.

— There is a path for Kirk Cousins (DraftKings + 5000; BetMGM + 5000; Circa + 5000) to win the MVP. He was somewhat in the race last year and has a new coach in offensive-minded Kevin O’Connell, who was certainly an asset for Stafford last year. Cousins also gets a combined four games against the Bears and Lions. The Vikings start the season from a betting and media perspective in the shadow of the Packers. That could change if the Packers’ offense is no longer the same without Adams.

For those who see this as a possibility but can’t stomach a ticket on Cousins, look at the Vikings (+ 265) to win the division.

Early leans

Based on value, individual statistical projections, team potential and developing media narratives, Herbert is my preferred choice for an early-season MVP futures ticket.

If you prefer to spread some micro-bets over a couple of long shots, break up a unit in support of Cousins and Ryan. Placing a small portion on each could provide some long-term equity that helps for hedging purposes come December.

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