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    NFL MVP Award: Searching for value in a crowded field

    PFN betting analyst James Aguirre breaks down his four top bets for the NFL MVP award.

    Can Deshaun Watson win without DeAndre Hopkins?

    Watson is my favorite amongst my top bets for the NFL MVP award. Among the three criteria I mentioned, achieving wins will be most difficult for Watson. However, we have felt that way before about the Texans win totals, and he just keeps on delivering. Back to back double-digit win seasons and division titles the past two seasons say he is more than capable of doing it again.

    As I outlined in my Houston Texans win total article, however, their first eight weeks are incredibly challenging. But just like playing in the NFC West is a positive for Wilson, this could be a positive for Watson if they come out with a winning record. First impressions are everything, and if the Texans can start the season 2-0, he’d have beaten the past two MVPs by Week 3. It’ll be impossible to keep him out of the NFL MVP award talks if that happens.

    Just like Wilson, Watson has been the catalyst for the Texans’ success. He has finished as the QB5, QB11, and QB10 in OSM the past three seasons. He hasn’t passed for more than 30 TDs yet, but the guys from the Texans Unfiltered podcast believe this offense will be far more pass-heavy this season than in past seasons.

    It makes sense to think so. Once upon a time, David Johnson was a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield, while Duke Johnson has always excelled in that area. Add in a defense which finished dead last in yards per play allowed last season, and you have all the makings of a breakout season for Watson. He should easily surpass the 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yard marks this season.

    Aside from potentially starting the season 2-0 against the past two MVPs, Watson also has the “benefit” of the entire nation believing Bill O’Brien is a buffoon after trading away DeAndre Hopkins. The media also believes the Texans’ offensive line is garbage. If he finishes top 3 in passing touchdowns and wins 11 games, the media will say it was despite O’Brien, a below-average offensive line and losing Hopkins. He has the perfect set up for a narrative.

    Betonline and Draftkings have the longest MVP odds for Watson at 25/1. I don’t like the bet as much at FanDuel’s price of 17/1, but I am good with Bovada and My Bookie’s 22/1 odds.

    NFL MVP: Deshaun Watson 25/1 0.5U

    Is Carson Wentz a lock if he can stay healthy?

    Aside from Garoppolo, Wentz is the candidate I feel most comfortable with from a wins perspective. While the Dallas Cowboys are favored to win the division at most sportsbooks, the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t far behind in the odds. They still have an above-average offensive line, elite head coach, and Wentz will enter the season with healthy skill position players. Even though Alshon Jeffery might begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, the Eagles still have a plethora of playmakers.

    What gives me the most confidence in Wentz is he has technically done it before. Wentz was on his way to an NFL MVP award in his 2017 sophomore campaign before suffering a season-ending injury in a game at the Los Angeles Rams. Tom Brady would go on to win the award.

    Wentz led the league in TD% rate and finished 2nd overall in passing touchdowns, despite missing three games due to the injury. Wentz finished as the QB2 in OSM that year, preceding his QB8 finish in another injury-shortened 2018. He’s shown us he has what it takes to put up monster numbers with Doug Pederson.

    Ever since the injury in 2017, Wentz has never been able to shake the “Nick Foles” narrative. Foles went on to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory in 2017. In 2018, he led the team back from a 5-6 start to another playoff appearance and a playoff win in Chicago. Hell, the city erected a statue of Foles right outside of Lincoln Financial Field! There are still people who, wrongfully, believe Wentz should have conceded the starting QB spot to Foles. It’s preposterous! However, it could also help his MVP odds.

    Like my other top bets for the NFL MVP award, Wentz will be afforded the chance to “look good” to the voters. The Eagles play the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers and the defending MVP Lamar Jackson. An NFC East crown and wins in those games will look very good on Wentz’s resume.

    Betonline offers the best value for Wentz at 25/1. I’m okay with taking him as high as 20/1 as well.

    NFL MVP: Carson Wentz 25/1 0.5U

    Will a bounce-back season from Matthew Stafford be enough?

    Stafford is easily the most concerning candidate from a wins perspective. Matt Patricia leaves a lot to be desired for a head coach. The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings are solid teams, while the Chicago Bears won eight games with Mitchell Trubisky last season. That said, this division isn’t impossible. There’s an obvious path to the Detroit Lions winning the NFC North.

    Aaron Rodgers is a year older and is not the player he used to be. I also don’t think Matt LaFleur is that good of a head coach. Mike Zimmer, on the other hand, is a good coach. However, he can be far too “old school” and conservative at times. With a degraded defense from 2019, his conservative nature will come back to hurt him in 2020.

    The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, are an excellent team stuck with a lousy QB. Every team in this division has flaws. In this kind of wide-open scenario, I like betting on the best QB at the longest odds. That would be Stafford. PFN betting analyst Drew Haynes goes into more depth on why the Lions win total is a fantastic “over” bet. I agree with that sentiment.

    Before he suffered a season-ending injury, Stafford was enjoying his best statistical season in several seasons. He had career highs in all of the following statistics:

    • Yards per Attempt: (8.6)
    • TD%: (6.5)
    • Intended Air Yards (the average distance the ball travels on all throws): 10.7
    • Completed Air Yards (average air yards thrown per completion): 8.3
    • Aggressive Throw % (percentage of throws where a defender is within 1 yard of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion): 23.4

    All definitions provided via NFL Next Gen stats

    Not only did he have a four year high in IAY, CAY, and AGG%, he led the league in those marks. These factors attributed to his QB2 ranking in OSM.

    Darrell Bevell did a fantastic job with Stafford and the offense in his first year. I know you can’t merely extrapolate stats to get an accurate reading, but seeing as how Stafford played half a season, it’s easy (and fun) to do. Stafford was on pace for his most passing yards (4,998) and passing touchdowns (38) since 2011.

    The narrative for Stafford to win the NFL MVP award is an easy one. He returned from a back injury to overcome his buffoon of a head coach and lead the Lions to their first playoff berth since 2016, beating out Aaron Rodgers in the process. It also helps he is active in his community.

    He and his wife Kelly have been very involved since the Lions selected Stafford in the 2009 NFL Draft. He’s an easy guy to root for, and one I think the voters can get behind if we find the Lions atop the NFC North and Stafford top three in several passing categories. He is my “sneakiest” top bet for NFL MVP.

    Stafford has long odds everywhere, except the sharpest book on the web, Pinnacle. Pinnacle has Stafford listed at 25/1, while Betonline, Bovada, DraftKings, and My Bookie list him at 50/1. If you’re stuck with FanDuel, I still like him at 44/1.

    NFL MVP: Matthew Stafford 50/1 0.5U

    James Aguirre is a betting and fantasy analyst at the Pro Football Network (@PFN365). For all of our up-to-the-minute picks and analysis, follow the betting group @PFNBets and James @James_AG1

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