Monday, August 6, 2018

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

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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.

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