Monday, August 6, 2018

2018-19 NFL MVP Odds - Evaluating Previous Winners and Identifying Dark Horse Candidates

Joe Sargent/Getty Images
With the commencement of training camp and preseason taking place last week, I wanted to get back in the saddle and talk some NFL. I thought it would be a fun exercise to analyze previous MVP award winners in an attempt to uncover some potential sleepers in 2018-19.

Before diving into this year's player pool, let's examine some past winners to identify common qualities and provide historical context.

Pro Football Reference

After evaluating the exhibit above, which includes MVP award winners over the past 30 years, the main takeaways are:
  • 24 / 32 were quarterbacks (75%)
  • 32 / 32 made the playoffs (100%)
  • 32 / 32 won nine or more games (100%)

With the exception of Adrian Peterson's monster 2,300-yard season in 2012, a non-quarterback has not won an MVP award since 2006. Whether it be the pass-heavy mindset or running back by committee approach that currently exists, the days of LaDanian Tomlinson scoring 30 touchdowns are in the rearview mirror.

Look no further than last year when Todd Gurley accumulated over 2,000 total yards and 19 touchdowns for an 11-5 Rams team, but only received eight (out of 50 total) MVP votes.

Additionally, there have been no wide receivers or tight ends to be crowned MVP by the Associated Press since the award originated in 1957.

Moral of the story: The 2018-19 NFL MVP award winner will play the quarterback position on a team that makes the playoffs and has a winning record.

Now that the parameters have been established, let's take a look at this year's candidates.

Source: Bookmaker.eu

All of the MVP candidates listed at Bookmaker.eu are included above for reference along with their corresponding odds. As an example, Tom Brady's MVP odds of "500" correspond to +500 or 5/1.

It is worthy to note that Bookmaker is accepting $5,000 limits on their MVP offering, which resembles a fairly liquid market in the context of player props and suggests the European-based operator has confidence in their numbers.

Since not all of these names are valid candidates to take home the trophy, a more realistic representation is depicted below.

I used current season over/under win totals to estimate the number of wins for each team. Understanding that projections are not an exact science, the condensed player pool contains quarterbacks whose team is expected to win at least eight games in an attempt to account for margin of error.

Source: Bookermaker.eu

While there are plenty of notable names highlighted above, I've identified a handful of viable contenders that are being overlooked.

Ben Roethlisberger (25/1)

Big Ben stood out like a sore thumb after evaluating the condensed player pool of quarterbacks. As previously discussed, the key factors with MVP forecasting are playoff appearances and winning records. Pittsburgh is currently -270 to win the AFC North, which makes them the most likely team to win their division outside of New England.

Considering the state of affairs involving Le'Veon Bell, it's not hard to imagine Big Ben shouldering the offensive workload for Pittsburgh this season. Furthermore, Roethlisberger has more than enough brand equity to satisfy the name recognition/popularity element that inevitably factors into the equation.
Despite showing signs of decline last season along with some retirement rumblings, Roethlisberger appears to be re-energized and ready to roll in 2018. Keep those fingers crossed as a little bit of narrative never hurt anybody!

Although Roethlisberger was listed as high as 33/1 during the initial writing of this analysis, the current price still offers some justifiable upside.

Jim Mone/AP
Kirk Cousins (27/1)

Cousins may not be the most appealing name listed above, but the former Washington Redskins QB has demonstrated the ability to put up favorable numbers. Cousins finished among top-10 quarterbacks in total yards and yards per attempt in each of his three seasons as a full-time starter.

Furthermore, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are more talented than any wide receiver Cousins has played with thus far in his career. Throw in Kyle Rudolph, who ranked as Pro Football Focus' fifth best receiving tight end in 2017, and Cousins has various upper-echelon weapons to choose from.
The Vikings also have the luxury of playing nine games in a dome, which doesn't hurt in the stat padding department.
 
Although Minnesota resides in a rather competitive division, the Vikings are slight favorites to repeat as NFC North champs (+100 to win the division) and projected to win 10 games.

As evidenced above, the driving factor behind MVP candidacy is the ability to win games and make postseason appearances. Cousins fits the profile of previous award winners and presents long enough odds to make a potential investment worthwhile.

Ed Zurga/AP
Patrick Mahomes (66/1)

This one may seem silly on the surface considering Mahomes has only started one NFL game thus far in his young career, but hear me out.

After shipping Alex Smith out of town, Mahomes has been handed the car keys to a relatively high-powered offense. The framework is in place for Mahomes to put up gaudy numbers under the tutelage of Andy Reid (aka The Quarterback Whisperer). The former Texas Tech gunslinger has a myriad of dynamic weapons at his disposal in Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.

From a distant view, it seems like Kansas City is going to take a high variance approach this season. The defense was far from spectacular last year, surrendering 5.6 yards per play (T-27th), and Mahomes should find himself in plenty of shootouts.

Despite not being favored to win the AFC West, the division is still somewhat up for grabs. San Diego currently sits at +120 with Kansas City not too far behind at +229 as of this writing. It would not be inconceivable for Kansas City to climb out on top of the AFC West for the second year in a row, which would bode well for Mahomes' MVP prospects.

They call them long shots for a reason, but the situation in Kansas City presents Mahomes with the theoretical upside to jettison himself into the MVP conversation.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

2018 NBA Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors


It's been a while since I've posted on here, but the recent Supreme Court ruling has definitely given me some newfound energy.

Despite being passionate about the oddsmaking profession and anticipating sporting event outcomes, there has always been a stigma associated with point spreads and the sports markets, but hopefully that will be coming to an end sooner than later.

Although there is not any legislature in place on the federal level allowing nationwide sports betting, the Supreme Court verdict dismantling PASPA was a gigantic step in the right direction towards national legalization, but I digress.

Without further ado, let's jump into the 2018 NBA finals showdown.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors


Series Price: Golden State -1000 / Cleveland +650 (via Bookmaker)

The 2018 NBA Finals are slated to commence tonight and despite some curve balls mixed in throughout the regular season, the stage is set for the Finals matchup that was anticipated to begin the season

With that said, Vegas isn't giving Cleveland much of a chance, if any.

The moneyline price listed above suggests Golden State has more than a 90% chance to repeat based on the corresponding implied probabilities, which represents the largest discrepancy since 2000-2001.

In layman's terms, the sports market views this as the most lopsided NBA Finals matchup in 17 years.


Cleveland Cavaliers 
LeBron James will be making his 8th straight finals appearance, which is an unprecedented feat in the modern era. As unbelievably impressive as LeBron has been this season, it's difficult to imagine him slaying the beast of Golden State with his current cast of characters in Cleveland and the aforementioned odds fully reflect that notion.

To give some context, Jeff Green emerged as Cleveland's ancillary savior in Kevin Love's absence and delivered a much needed 19 points in Game 7. While that may have gotten the job done against a young Boston team, I doubt it will fly against the Warriors.

This Cavs team is somewhat reminiscent of the 2007 team that knocked off Detroit in unexpected fashion.


While the 2007 Pistons were a much more formidable bunch than the injury-riddled Celtics, the premise involves LeBron carrying an uninspiring bunch through the Eastern Conference, only to face a vastly superior opponent in the Finals. 

Ultimately that team got swept by San Antonio and its safe to say dethroning the defending champs would be the most impressive accomplishment of LeBron's career.

 
Golden State Warriors
Golden State was able to take care of business against the Rockets despite facing their toughest test since Durant migrated to the Bay Area and will be making their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance.

As a reference, the Warriors closed as -185 favorites against Houston, which represented a much more modest 65% win expectation for the Warriors. It's fair to say Golden State-Houston was the NBA Finals masquerading as the Western Conference Finals.

The Rockets had Golden State on the ropes early in Game 7 and it's fair to speculate whether the outcome would have been different if Chris Paul suited up.

While common wisdom suggests counting out LeBron this early is a fool's errand, the talent disparity between the two teams is difficult to overlook and I respect the market too much to think otherwise.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

NFL Week 15 - Jeff Fisher Gets the Boot


Mediocre quarterback play, juicy sound bites and our first head coach firing of the season highlighted Week 14. Just eight days after it was reported Jeff Fisher had a contract extension in place to remain with Los Angeles, the oft-criticized head coach was kicked to the curb by the Rams. While the decision to move on from Fisher was long overdue, the timing is a bit puzzling considering the aforementioned news that broke last week. With that said, the tension within the Rams organization is well-documented and a head coaching change was pretty much inevitable.

With three weeks of regular season games remaining, the playoff race is shaping up to be very entertaining. Despite a shaky start and decline in ratings, the rumblings regarding the NFL's demise appear to be greatly exaggerated. It's safe to say that people simply enjoy gambling on football, whether that be in the form of office pools, fantasy football or picking games, which is primarily why the NFL reigns supreme in comparison to the other major American sports leagues. Additionally, when the most popular teams, such as Dallas and Pittsburgh, are relevant, the macro sentiment surrounding the league won't have as much of an impact, but I digress.

Without further ado, let's jump into Week 15.

Los Angeles @ Seattle (-16) O/U 38.5

Fun Fact: Before leaving the office on Friday, I told my co-worker I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta came out flat against St. Louis (in Week 14), considering they had to travel across the country to LA and play outside the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome. That’s a true story.

Fast-forward to Sunday and the Falcons were up 42-0 before the third quarter ended.
This organization is a complete dumpster fire.

Pittsburgh (-3) @ Cincinnati  O/U 44

Lev Bell put up an NCAA-esque stat line in snowy Buffalo last week, carrying the rock 38 times for over 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Currently riding a four-game winning streak, Pittsburgh has the inside track to win the AFC North after Baltimore's loss to New England on Monday night. Despite their Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, the Steelers are a dangerous team that can contend with any of the AFC heavyweights come playoff time.



Last year's bizarre Wild Card matchup between these two teams was unfortunately littered with injuries and cheap shots. Vontaze Burfict was an absolute menace on the field that night (as shown above) and ultimately cost his team the game while receiving a three-game suspension in the process. I hate to say it, but considering Cincinnati is out of the playoff hunt with nothing meaningful to play for, this game could get ugly, especially since Burfict will be on the field after missing their first meeting due to said suspension.

It's safe to say Pacman Jones doesn't have much respect for Terelle Pryor. 

Detroit @ New York Giants (-4) O/U 41

While both of these teams possess a 9-4 record, the jury is still out on whether or not either squad is actually good. Eight of Detroit's nine wins have been decided by seven points or less, which is absolutely absurd. Ironically, the Giants have also won an unsustainable eight games decided by one possession. Historically, these types of games are often decided by a coin-flip and thus the numbers tend to revert back toward the mean from year-to-year.
After beginning the season running an offense revolved around a hurry-up style, Detroit has done their best Dallas Cowboys impression, adopting a ball control style in an attempt to mask their defensive deficiencies. As Evan Silva points out, Detroit is playing keep away with their opponents, which enables their defense to stay off the field, or at the very least, fresh and well-rested.
On another note, Eli Manning was my dark horse MVP candidate coming into the season and I drafted him in all three of my fantasy leagues.


via GIPHY

New England (-3) @ Denver O/U 43.5

Continuing our trend of fantastic postgame interview clips, below is Aqib Talib's reaction after Harry Douglas landed an egregious cheap shot on fellow Broncos teammate Chris Harris Jr.



If I were to construct a set of power ratings ranking the NFL players you would least likely want to beef with, Aqib Talib would be up near the top of that list (along with our boy Pacman). Not only does Talib have legitimate street credibility, but he also has the pedigree of an enforcer considering his Grandma is an East Cleveland legend. Come to think about it, maybe I'll follow through with this and create some rankings in an offseason post.

P.S. What a time to be alive

Friday, November 11, 2016

NFL Week 10 - Marquette King for President


 
 

Houston @ Jacksonville (-2) - O/U 42

First reaction after seeing this game on the slate.



Kansas City @ Carolina (-3) - O/U 44

Although it may be too little too late, Carolina has started to show signs of life. After commencing the year 1-5, the Panthers have won two straight and currently find themselves installed as three-point favorites against a 6-2 Chiefs team. I've said it before and will say it again - the market doesn't pay attention to win/loss records. Considering point spreads (and the betting market) are the most accurate indicators available in terms of predicting the outcome of a sporting event, win/loss records don't have much relevance in determining how good a team is, but I digress. Despite being sizeable underdogs to reach the postseason, Carolina could conceivably be in the conversation for a wild card spot if they can get to 9-7.

Denver @ New Orleans (-3) - O/U 49.5

Circling back to the notion that oddsmakers don't put much stock in win percentages, the 4-4 Saints find themselves favored by a field goal over the 6-3 Broncos. Granted New Orleans has a strong home field edge and Denver will be traveling across the country for a 1:00 PM ET start, it still supports my belief. Despite dropping their first three games, New Orleans has won four of their last five, while putting up over 32 points/game during that span. Rocky start aside, the Saints are only a half-game out of a playoff spot

Atlanta (-2) @ Philadelphia - O/U 50

If it weren't for NFL tickets being egregiously expensive, I'd probably be on hand in Philly to catch this one.
Considering Ryan Matthews has played on just 10% of the snaps over the past two weeks, this is not breaking news. However, I'd much rather Pederson mix in the two together instead of picking favorites. As much as I love Sproles, he is pretty much the opposite of a between-the-tackles power back. After dropping two straight divisional games, Philadelphia's playoff aspirations are looking bleak.

Dallas @ Pittsburgh (-2) - O/U 49.5

While Pittsburgh's home/road splits are well-documented and Dallas is going on the road with a rookie quarterback, this line seems high at first glance. Big Ben is clearly not 100% and the Cowboys have demonstrated they are one of the few elite teams the NFL has to offer this year. On the surface, Seattle/New England appears to be the most appealing game of the week, but personally I'm looking forward to this matchup the most.

P.S. I didn't get to touch on them due to a bye week, but Oakland's punter, Marquette King, is probably my favorite player in the NFL. 

 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

NFL Week 9 - Brady for MVP



Unfortunately I wasn't able to find time to write last week. As I alluded to in my return post, sports blogging is a secondary hobby and takes a back seat to more important aspects of my life. As much as I want to consistently create content, sports writing will not take precedence over family dinner with relatives or happy hour with co-workers.

As we reach the halfway mark of the NFL season, essentially every team has visible flaws. New England is in a class of their own atop the league, but even they have some kinks to iron out (on the defensive side of the ball). Although he missed the first four games due to suspension, Tom Brady is currently the favorite to win the MVP by a wide margin. Since the star quarterback returned under center, the Patriots are 4-0, winning each game by double-digits and scoring an average of 34 points/game in the process. Fortunately for the rest of the league, New England is on a bye this week.

 Atlanta (-4) @ Tampa Bay - O/U 51

After dropping two straight winnable games, Atlanta bounced back and took care of business against a potential playoff team. Matt Ryan continues to look sharp, despite the absence of Tevin Coleman and limitations of a hobbled Julio Jones last week against Green Bay. While the defense remains a concern, the Falcons have established themselves as an upper-echelon team in an NFC Conference littered with question marks.


Despite their opponent committing an NFL-record 23 penalties (resulting in over 200 penalty yards), the Bucs failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Offensive tackle Demar Dotson summed it up pretty well in the video shown above. If Tampa Bay wants any chance to win the NFC South (and potentially earn a postseason bid), they absolutely have to win this game. 

Philadelphia @ New York Giants (-2) - O/U 43

My beloved Eagles blew a ten-point fourth quarter lead in an important divisional game against Dallas and ended up losing in overtime. Admittedly, I fell asleep during the third quarter so I can't comment too strongly on what transpired. After beginning the season 3-0, Philadelphia has dropped three of their last four. To make matters worse, seven of their remaining nine games come against teams currently above .500, with the exceptions being at Cincinnati and at Baltimore. According to numberFire, the Eagles have about a 50-50 shot to make the playoffs, which I personally think is pretty generous.

Dallas (-7) @ Cleveland - O/U 47.5

Despite leading his team to an overtime victory after trailing by double-digits in the fourth quarter, Dak Prescott looked like a rookie for most of the night. The former Mississippi State quarterback finished with a completion percentage under 50% for the first time in his young career and threw an egregious red zone interception. However, Prescott added 38 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown to help balance out his deficiencies in the passing game.

Indianapolis @ Green Bay (-7) - O/U 54

I've said it before and will say it again - Indianapolis might have the least talented roster in the NFL, and if it wasn't for Andrew Luck and an annual cupcake schedule, they would be bottom-feeders every year.

Broncos @ Raiders (PK) - O/U 44

The Derek Carr for MVP chatter is in full force after throwing for over 500 yards and four touchdowns last week. Although they have a 6-2 record, oddsmakers still don't respect the Raiders and the current market price of a PK (despite this game being played in the Bay Area) supports that notion. Considering Oakland is an unsustainable 5-1 in games decided by seven points or less, I'd have to agree that the skepticism is warranted.