For such a seemingly easy-to-predict award, or at least an award that should feature some really obvious candidates, the NFL MVP award has been a fairly difficult one to analyze until the race really begins to shape up.
Take a look at the past two years of MVP odds. In late June of 2019, Patrick Mahomes seemed like a smart choice to take home the title after his mind-blowing 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown campaign in 2018. His odds were atop the list, at +400, followed by a tie in second place between Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck. Yes, the Andrew Luck that retired before the season even began. Lamar Jackson, the eventual winner, was tied at 100-1 odds with names like Marcus Mariota, Sony Michel and Derek Carr.
Of course, the previous year was no different, as Patrick Mahomes' odds sat at 55-1 in June of 2018, while Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady led the pack at +650 and +700, respectively. Those who saw Mahomes' outbreak coming were rewarded with quite the payday.
Though Tom Brady captured the 2017 award, Carson Wentz was on track to take home the honor before an injury ended his season, seeing his odds increase from 100-1 in June to even (+100) in the middle of November. The year before that, MVP Matt Ryan opened the preseason with +9000 odds. And so on.
So, while you certainly shouldn't take MVP odds with a grain of salt -- there's a reason that names like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson appear at the top of this list -- there's also reason to think outside the box with your bets. It's not always the obvious choice that brings home the prize, and in recent years, it's actually been the exact opposite.
Will 2020 prove to be a year with an expected MVP winner, or will another surprising candidate emerge? Let's take a look.
2020 NFL MVP Odds (via FanDuel - only odds +10000 or better are shown)
Patrick Mahomes (+380)
Lamar Jackson (+600)
Russell Wilson (+600)
Dak Prescott (+1200)
Drew Brees (+1600)
Carson Wentz (+1700)
Deshaun Watson (+1700)
Tom Brady (+1800)
Aaron Rodgers (+2300)
Kyler Murray (+2600)
Baker Mayfield (+2900)
Philip Rivers (+3200)
Jimmy Garoppolo (+3500)
Ben Roethlisberger (+3800)
Kirk Cousins (+4400)
Matt Ryan (+4400)
Matthew Stafford (+4400)
Christian McCaffrey (+5000)
Derrick Henry (+5000)
Jared Goff (+5000)
Josh Allen (+5000)
Ryan Tannehill (+5000)
Dwayne Haskins (+5500)
Saquon Barkley (+5500)
Cam Newton (+6500)
Daniel Jones (+6500)
Ezekiel Elliott (+6500)
Dalvin Cook (+8000)
Derek Carr (+8000)
Drew Lock (+8000)
Aaron Donald (+10000)
Mitchell Trubisky (+10000)
Sam Darnold (+10000)
Teddy Bridgewater (+10000)
The Super Bowl champion seems like a fair bet at +380 odds. He's +400 in some other books, and I think that's a solid bet to make, if a little boring. The team only got better offensively, drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire to bolster the rushing attack, though I don't think that will take away from Mahomes' counting stats or usage on the field. The Chiefs enter this season as favorites to repeat their dominant season and claim the AFC crown again, and it only makes sense to have their driving force as the league's most valuable asset. His offensive line is the same, he can still fling the ball to his usual group of targets, and if he remains healthy, he's the safest threat at tearing up the league once again.
Lamar Jackson or Russell Wilson at 6-1?
This is a tougher one than it may seem. For as obvious as the MVP decision was last season, Wilson was making a real case that he was the front-runner for a large chunk of the year. The thing is, as amazing as Russell Wilson has been in his career, he's never been the guy stealing all the headlines as the best player the league has to offer. He may collectively be the best player over the course of the past three or four seasons. But a staggering fact about Wilson's MVP history came to light today, thanks to Warren Sharp.
Crazy, I know. DeMarco Murray, Derek Carr, Bobby Wagner and other names on this list may make your jaw drop when you consider that Wilson doesn't appear on that list.
The fact of the matter is, though, is that he's not going to do what Lamar Jackson did in 2019. Nor is he going to do what Mahomes did in 2018. He can be a happy medium of those two stat lines, which is MVP-caliber, but will not stand out as the unchallenged choice for the award unless it's a particularly down year for the NFL's offensive stars.
It's for this reason that I'd rather go with Jackson in 2020. The sky remains the limit for this athletic freak, given that he's just 23 years old. Though he shared with Clifton Brown of BaltimoreRavens.com that he doesn't think he'll rush as much in 2020, he credited that to the depth of the talent surrounding him. He can develop as a passer, as well, and just because he says he may not rush as much doesn't mean Greg Roman won't look to his legs as the most dangerous feature of the offense.
The jury is split on Dak Prescott as a top-tier quarterback. Cowboys fans aren't the only people who will tell you that Prescott is better than Carson Wentz, better than Aaron Rodgers, perhaps even top-three or four in football. His 2019 season was a strong one statistically, though it looked a lot better when the Cowboys were, say, 6-4 in November as opposed to when the team was 8-8 come the end of the regular season.
But Joe Theismann certainly isn't the only person to tell you that he's not even a top-five quarterback (yet) out there. The thing is, as skilled as an MVP has to be, he can be bolstered by what he has around him. Ezekiel Elliott takes a ton of the pressure off. His offensive line is still among the best units in the NFL, even with the retirement of Travis Frederick. And adding CeeDee Lamb to the receiving corps that already featured two 1,000-yard targets in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup makes this squad as fearsome as ever.
If you're a believer that the Cowboys can waltz to an NFC East title -- the Eagles are really the only potential impediment to that -- then much of it will be on Dak's shoulders, and he has the ammunition to really make this thing go. He also has a new coach, one who happens to have supervised a two-time MVP quarterback. I don't think it's a bad bet at 12-1. It's when you get below 10-1, which I have seen in other books, that it gets a little dicey.
Tom Brady Below Deshaun Watson
Seeing how much the Tom Brady acquisition upped the Bucs' Super Bowl chances -- they're currently ranked as having the fifth-best chances at bringing home the Lombardi Trophy -- made me think that the 42-year-old would be viewed as a prime MVP candidate. After all, as much as the Rob Gronkowski acquisition may help their offense, it was going to be through their new quarterback that the franchise won its second championship.
Seeing him ranked below Watson, then, is a little bit surprising. Sure, Watson will have to do a lot if the Texans want to have a successful season, and the offense largely rides and dies with his performance. But with the Buccaneers widely expected to be the better team in the 2020 season -- the Texans are in the bottom half of the league in terms of their championship odds -- it seems strange that Watson would rank more highly than the surefire Hall of Famer.
Christian McCaffrey-Derrick Henry Tie
As I wrote through my thoughts, it became more apparent to me that this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Still, it could prove helpful to explain why one of the NFL's few 1,000-1,000 rusher-receivers is tied with another running back.
The first thing to do is to stop thinking in purely statistical terms. Another way to say this is to not think about fantasy football value. It's an unfortunate default that several NFL fans now resort to when they think about player value, but it simply isn't the case here.
The real question: which player means more to their team's success and will lead their team to more success? And in this case, I think I'd actually argue Derrick Henry. For as important as CMC is to driving the offense of the Panthers, would he have been able to do for the Titans what Henry did in the playoffs last season? Would he have been able to tote the rock 34 times for 182 yards to upset the Patriots, even when the defense knew exactly what play the Titans were going to run in a given situation. And would McCaffrey have been able to follow up that performance with a 30-carry, 195-yard game to defeat arguably the best team in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens?
It's for this reason that I think Henry is the better choice here. The Titans are more likely to find success, and in a case not often seen in the NFL, it will be the running back and not the quarterback who's pacing the offense through it all.
Dwayne Haskins Over Daniel Jones
Going back to the 2019 NFL Draft, there was speculation that the Giants could very well go with Dwayne Haskins as their franchise quarterback, and it came to the surprise (and perhaps chagrin) of many New York fans that they opted to take Daniel Jones instead. But after seeing the discrepancy in performance between the two rookie quarterbacks last season, Daniel Jones doesn't seem to be such a bad pick after all.
Though neither led to much team success -- Haskins went 2-5 in his starts, while Jones went 3-9 in his -- Jones had the better completion percentage, passer rating, rushing output, sack percentage and adjusted net yards per attempt. Seems like a pretty clean sweep to me, and though Jones may have better weapons on his side, it's fair to say that he was the better pure quarterback in 2019.
While Washington added some pieces through the draft that have gotten the fanbase excited, especially Antonio Gibson, they haven't shown that much improvement on the offensive side of the ball. And though neither team is likely to be very good in 2020, the Giants have championship odds of 80-1, while the Redskins sit at 150-1.
The logic is probably that Jones showcased some of his best performances already as a rookie, including some four-touchdown games, while Haskins has not even shown a glimpse of his full potential. Should that potential manifest itself in a breakout sophomore season, consider me one of the many who will be quite surprised.
One way to make a quarterback better is to provide them with the best wide receiver in the NFL. Check that one off the list, as DeAndre Hopkins now unites with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk to give Murray one of the best units in the league. Though David Johnson is gone, Kenyan Drake is probably a better option given the durability of Johnson and the explosiveness that Drake previewed down the stretch of 2019.
The Cardinals still have some issues with their offensive line, but retaining D.J. Humphries and drafting Josh Jones helps out with that a lot. Even if Murray does get in trouble, his mobility is a useful asset that can help him to produce statistically and develop his skills as a leader. Besides, not only is Hopkins a great wide receiver, but he's also a quarterback's best friend when flushed out of the pocket. According to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN, Hopkins caught the third-most passes from a QB outside the pocket over the past two seasons, while Murray threw the fourth-most outside the pocket in 2019. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Adding Isaiah Simmons to the defense helps to bolster a continually improving Arizona unit, which is still not lockdown enough to force shootouts -- which can force Murray to produce more for this team -- but can make them a more competitive squad. Should the Cardinals defy expectations this season and perform in a highly-competitive division, it's nearly a given that it will be because of their quarterback.
Will 2020 finally be Stafford's year? The extremely high expectations surrounding the former first overall pick have left Lions fans wanting more from their quarterback more often than not, as he's only led them to a handful of playoff berths and has never won in the postseason. But he also hasn't had a full team around him, on both sides of the ball, like the roster that he has in 2020.
Defense is important for a quarterback's chances at an MVP award (unless you're Patrick Mahomes in 2018), and the Lions certainly added enough assets to make a difference, highlighted by changes in the secondary featuring Desmond Trufant and Jeff Okudah coming in to replace Darius Slay. D'Andre Swift was perhaps the most fun addition in the second round by any team, and he will complement, or maybe even supplant, Kerryon Johnson in the backfield. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are proven weapons outside, and T.J. Hockenson will only continue to improve.
I'll leave you with one more reminder, inspired by the fact that former quarterback David Carr said that Stafford was playing at an "MVP-level through the first half of last season." Through week nine of the 2019 season, though the Lions were 3-4-1, Stafford was on pace for a 5,000-yard, 38-touchdown, 10-interception season. And he was reportedly playing through the fairly unpleasant injury of having broken bones in his back.
Maybe 2020 is the year where Stafford finally gets the recognition he deserves.