We are eight days from the football being in the air when the Texans visit the Chiefs on Thursday evening. It feels different without the delicious appetizers of the preseason and the typical college football opening weekend, but here we are. The entrees are about to hit the table, so let’s look ahead to some awards and props that are not only fun but offer a great opportunity to cash in on some longer odds.
With the awards, stories matter. Narrative often matches on-field performance in determining who gets the votes. After all, writers do the voting, and writers love a good story. Think Russell Westbrook winning the 2017 MVP in the NBA. His Oklahoma City Thunder was not a contender, but he was ditched by Kevin Durant yet put up eye-popping stats, so he was admired for being the loyal star who didn’t leave. Though he wasn’t the best player, he has an MVP trophy.
Let’s move on to the best bets ...
Rookie of the year: Cam Akers (+ 2000). Ability + opportunity = value. With Todd Gurley in Atlanta and second-year running back Darrell Henderson sidelined with a hamstring injury, Akers is well worth a stab here. Behind a putrid offensive line at Florida State, he was contacted behind the line of scrimmage more than almost any back in the country, breaking 78 tackles on carries alone. He caught seven TD passes in college, so he is also a weapon in the passing game. And he has one of the most innovative and clever offensive coaches in the league in Sean McVay, so Akers’ skills will be maximized.
Coach of the year: Bill Belichick (+ 900). The coach of the year every year, if the award were handed out properly. Instead, he has somehow won only three times. This honor tends to be less about the best coach and more about whose team exceeds expectations the most. With a good team and an all-time great quarterback, it has been hard to exceed expectations. Now, with opt-outs, a quarterback off the scrap heap and his team not a clear favorite in the division, expectations are lower. If Belichick gets to 10+ wins (and who wants to bet against him doing that?), he might earn this award.
Coach of the year: Kevin Stefanski (+ 1900). Double-dipping here because the value on both guys really stood out. The Browns are about even money to make the playoffs. If you like that bet, why not take Stefanski at this juicy price? I mentioned the media loves narratives, and what’s a better story than a young, analytically-savvy coach busting a 17-year playoff drought for the league’s perennial punch line? Stefanski ran the Vikings’ offense last year. Literally. The Vikings were third in the league in run rate, behind only the 49ers and Ravens, both No. 1 seeds that had plenty of big leads to protect. He takes over an offense with a quarterback who needs to get back on track and has two of the top dozen or so running backs in the league. If he can sneak in as one of the three wild cards, this has a good shot to get to the window.
Most valuable player: Matthew Stafford (+ 4000). All the storylines are here. Coming back from a season-ending injury, his team won zero games without him a year ago. His wife has battled cancer. Before he was sidelined last year, he put up incredible numbers. He has D’Andre Swift as a new toy in the backfield, a pair of very productive receivers and a defense that will force him to keep throwing, which will juice his stats. Incredible value here for an award that has turned into a quarterback-only honor the last decade, with the exception of Adrian Peterson in 2012. If he can get the Lions into the playoffs, the media will be drooling over the storyline Stafford provides.
First coach fired in season: No coach fired (+ 3500). You have to be careful on this one because the language is key. Some books phrase this as “next coach to leave post” and don’t offer this option. But if you can find this option, take it. Most years somebody gets fired, but this is not most years. The pandemic gives coaches a built-in excuse and could elicit sympathy from owners. But a stronger point is the financial ramifications of the pandemic. With empty stadiums, owners will make much less money. Under these circumstances, owners will be much more hesitant to pay a guy to simply go away.