As has been widely reported, scoring is up in the NFL in 2020. And right along with it, stats from the best quarterbacks in the league are gaudier than ever.
The NFL MVP award has always favored QBs, typically coming down to some middle ground between the signal caller on the team with the best regular-season record and the one who puts up the most eye-popping stats.
Through four weeks of precarious play in a COVID-conscious world, four teams sport 4-0 records. The quarterbacks of those teams, not coincidentally, are the four leading candidates for MVP, according to America’s legal sports betting operators.
There’s Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Patrick Mahomes of the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. Lurking in fifth place on the odds board is the reigning MVP of the league, Lamar Jackson of the 3-1 Baltimore Ravens.
The odds at five leading online sportsbooks show a clear separation between the top three candidates and the next two:
|FanDuel||DraftKings||William Hill||PointsBet||FOX Bet|
The best odds on each are Wilson +200 (FanDuel), Mahomes +350 (FanDuel and William Hill), Rodgers +550 (FOX Bet), Allen +1200 (William Hill), and Jackson +1600 (FanDuel). What are the cases and winning scenarios for each and is there value at those prices on any of these quarterbacks?
The obvious starting point, especially when the top four sport identical 4-0 records, is a comparison of their stats:
|Comp %||Pass Yards||Pass TDs||INTs||Rush Yards||Rush TDs||Passer Rating|
Through 16 combined games, the top four candidates have thrown 52 TDs and three picks! Peyton Manning, the stat king of his generation, never had a season with a completion percentage above 70; three of these guys are over 70, and Wilson is over 75. Manning’s best ever passer rating was 121.1; again, three QBs are currently beating that.
We’re only one-quarter of the way into the season — a season that may or may not see its way to completion with positive COVID tests increasingly imperiling games and health — so percentage-based numbers figure to come down somewhat. But the way the style of play and penalty calling are favoring passing offenses this season, records are likely to fall.
Another thing about the season only being one-quarter complete: Other MVP candidates could still emerge. Might a bettor want to take a flyer on Dak Prescott at +2800 at William Hill? Kyler Murray at 50/1 at DraftKings? Aaron Donald at 150/1 at DraftKings or FOX Bet? Perhaps. But something would need to change dramatically and perhaps even unrealistically, like the Cowboys winning 11 of their final 12 games or the current five MVP leaders all missing games due to injury or COVID.
So, for now, let’s consider it a five-man race and explore the case for each.
The case for/against Russell Wilson
The numbers are obscene, and he’s on pace to set records for passer rating (topping Rodgers’ 122.5 in 2011), completion percentage (Drew Brees’ 74.4% in 2018), and passing TDs (Manning’s 55 in 2013). If Russ breaks one or two of those records and leads Seattle to the best win-loss record in the league, it probably doesn’t matter what any of the others do.
And that’s especially true because Wilson has sentiment on his side. He’s not only gaining steam in the conversation for best quarterback never to win MVP, but much has been made this year of the remarkable fact that he’s never received an MVP vote!
That said, Seattle plays in perhaps the toughest division in the NFL, with two games apiece still remaining against the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals. Throw in a road game at Buffalo, and, well, even after a 4-0 start the team’s win total sits at 11.5 at FanDuel Sportsbook (with -140 juice on the over). The Seahawks are not the favorite to finish the season with the top record.
The case for/against Patrick Mahomes
So who is the favorite to end up with the most wins? The Kansas City Chiefs. Their over/under remains a lofty 13, in part due to an easy remaining schedule:
Easiest remaining schedule:
Hardest remaining schedule:
(per my metrics)
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) October 6, 2020
The Chiefs do still have road games against the Saints, Bills, and Bucs, so it’s not exactly a cakewalk — but you’d expect K.C. to be favored in all of those. The strongest case against Mahomes is that his passing stats so far don’t measure up to the other candidates and he’s looked human for stretches, particularly on Monday against New England and in Week 2 vs. the Chargers.
That said, he’s still the player every fan on the planet would draft first for his team if suddenly all contracts were thrown out and the NFL started from scratch. He is, in short, the best quarterback in the game. And there’s a narrative favoring him, as injury and missed games took him out of the running for the award in 2019, when he was also the unofficial best quarterback in the game. Mahomes is, in the minds of some, owed one. And that could matter more than the sense that Russell Wilson is owed votes.
One other point of concern, however: Mahomes might have been exposed to COVID this week against the Pats, with Stephon Gilmore having tested positive. The league and its fans are hopeful that brief interactions outdoors will prove not to be disastrous, but we might not know the extent of the spread for a few more days.
That's Stephon Gilmore with Mahomes. pic.twitter.com/wY2GECSHgX
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 7, 2020
The case for/against Aaron Rodgers
Not only is there minimal separation between Wilson’s stats and Rodgers’, but Rodgers has been looking as dominant as ever without his top receiver(s). While Wilson has been doing business with elite WRs Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf on the other end of his passes, Rodgers lost Davante Adams after Week 2, didn’t miss a beat and found Allen Lazard for 146 yards and a TD in Week 3, then lost Lazard for Week 4 and threw three touchdowns to previously anonymous tight end Robert Tonyan.
Also, Rodgers will turn 37 this season. That matters. Yes, he’s won two MVP awards already, but voters might see this as his “last best” chance. And according to that Mike Clay tweet above, Green Bay has the fourth-easiest remaining schedule. (Thank you, NFC North!)
At the same price as Wilson or Mahomes, maybe Rodgers isn’t a wise MVP bet. But at FOX Bet’s +550, there seem to be enough paths to a 14-2 or 13-3 record to justify considering the wager.
The case for/against Josh Allen
Everybody loves the hot new thing, the “it” option. Mahomes was the “it” QB in his second season in 2018, Jackson was the “it” QB in his second season last year, and a lot of people predicted Kyler Murray would be that “it” QB in his second season this year. And he might still be, but he and the Cards have stumbled badly these last two weeks. So maybe Allen, in his third season, has the “it” momentum.
His numbers are as spectacular as anyone’s through four weeks, and if you combine TDs with his arm and his legs, Allen’s only one behind Wilson. The Bills are shaping up to be a heartwarming success story, a cursed franchise with a long-suffering fan base that might be poised to finally end the Patriots’ AFC East dynasty.
Two catches, however: The Bills have the fourth-toughest remaining schedule, according to Clay, and of all the 4-0 teams, they’re the one you could most easily see limping across the finish line at 9-7. (They still play the Chiefs, Seahawks, 49ers, Steelers, Titans, Cardinals, and Pats — twice.) Plus, Allen’s history suggests his hot start in 2020 could be an outlier. In his first two seasons, he threw 30 TDs and 23 picks and averaged under 185 passing yards per game while completing 56% of his passes. Either he’s made a leap and the addition of Stefon Diggs to the receiving corps has changed everything … or, he’s about to come crashing down and reassume his place among the middle tier of NFL starters.
The case for/against Lamar Jackson
The Ravens’ athletic marvel wouldn’t be part of the MVP discussion based on his 2020 so far, but we all saw what he’s capable of last year, and that’s why he merits consideration. He started the season with the second shortest odds behind Mahomes, and he’s still undoubtedly in the mix.
First off, a 3-1 start is hardly disqualifying; it just seems bleak in the moment because several other teams with elite QBs are 4-0. Also, his stats would look excellent compared to most QBs in most years — a 68.4% pass completion rate, a 111.3 passer rating, a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio. But the low passing yardage total does stand out, and Jackson is a fair bit behind pace for the 1,206 yards he rushed for last year.
For Lamar to win MVP, something would need to change. He’d need to go on a streak where he’s passing for 300 yards and rushing for 100 several games in a row while knocking off top teams. If the Ravens sweep the Steelers and finish, say, 13-3, with Jackson looking like 2019 Jackson most of the rest of the way, could be repeat as MVP?
Honestly, he’d still be a long shot even if all that happened.
With all that could go wrong for Allen the next 12 games, and all that needs to go right for Jackson the next 12 games, the MVP will come from the Wilson-Mahomes-Rodgers trio. None will provide a massive payout at this stage, but it says here that it will be one of those three who provides the payout.
Photo by Joe Nicholson / USA Today Sports