COVID-19 has made the 2020 NFL offseason has feel like an eternity, but we finally return to the greatness of football less than a week from today. I know you’re all as stoked as I am for the Thursday night matchup between Kansas City and Houston, but before we dive into specific game-by-game or Week 1 analysis, now’s a great time to hammer home some last-minute season-long wagers in some “futures” bets.
I’m a value seeker when looking for futures. I’ll take a select few of the most obvious bets on the board, but I’m mostly out there looking for the rare +500 bets and above hoping it skyrockets into a large sum.
Today’s column is taking a look at which players have the best shot at taking home the MVP title. Over the last 20 years we’ve seen this award taken home by quarterbacks 17 times (85%) and running backs four times (20%). In 2003, Peyton Manning and Steve McNair tied for MVP honors. A running back hasn’t won this award since 2012 (Adrian Peterson). Since then, quarterbacks have taken home this award seven straight seasons. Will it be an eighth in 2020?
Given the passing nature of the league, my money is on No. 8 coming true. As such, we can try to pinpoint quarterbacks that carry several traits of past winners and try to apply it to this upcoming season. Historically, the winner of this award tends to be on a winning squad that preferably wins their division. “QB Winz” has been debunked by the fantasy community — quarterbacks are not solely responsible for wins or losses — but the voters keep their head in the sand and take this flawed statistic into account when voting. Another trait that we can target is upper-end efficiency, whether that comes through elite passing touchdown rates, minimal turnovers, or passing/rushing numbers that exceed expectation. Quarterbacks that put up extraordinary numbers in one of these categories generally captures the voter’s attention.
Remember, futures bets are generally risky propositions. Even just missing one game due to injury puts a player significantly at a disadvantage. The highest “favorite” in this category is still listed at plus-odds.
Let’s check out the candidates.
Note: All odds listed below are from either DraftKings’ or FanDuel’s Sportsbooks, but please shop around to find the best odds offered to you in your state before placing your wager.
Patrick Mahomes (+400 DK)
Patrick Mahomes won this award in 2018 in just his second season in the league. Injuries played a toll on him in 2019 but he enters the 2020 season with perhaps the best weapons of his career after the team invested first round equity in Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs are deep at pass catchers and possess one of the better pass-blocking offensive lines in the league that returns all five starters. We also have the volume element going in Mahomes favor. Kansas City operates at a top-6 pace in neutral game situations and ranks top-10 in pass play percentage (61.4%). That’s a formula ripe for accumulating counting stats — namely passing yards, passing touchdowns — for Mahomes to contend as a legitimate MVP candidate. Don’t forget, in just his sophomore season, this guy threw for 5,000+ passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns (while taking home the MVP title). MVP voters tend to target winning squads (the Chiefs have the highest projected win total at 11.5), and we have the makings for a solid, albeit unspectacular bet at +400 odds on DK Sportsbook. I’d try to shop around this line if possible for better odds but it’s easy to see why Mahomes is the front-runner.
Dak Prescott (+1400 DK)
I mentioned this bet over three months ago when he was +2000 odds on DK, but I still don’t mind the idea of targeting Dak Prescott at his current +1400 odds to take home this mantle. After adding wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in this year’s NFL Draft, Prescott is loaded with receiving weapons at wideout, running back, and has a potential sleeper at tight end. Prescott finished 2019 second in fantasy points after throwing for 30 scores and 4,900+ passing yards. That was with a league-average 5.0% touchdown rate. He now graduates to a pass-heavy offense led by HC Mike McCarthy and OC Kellen Moore that projects to see these numbers repeat, if not improve, given his lofty 8.2 yards per attempt rate last year (fifth-highest in the league). The Cowboys own a win total line of 9.5, best odds in the division. If they can capture the NFC East, it will likely have been because Prescott played some of his best football in 2020. Shop around, but there’s still some decent lines out there to pursue regarding Prescott for MVP.
Deshaun Watson (+2000 DK)
Go with me here for a second… what if both Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks play a full 16 games? What if we finally see injury variance swing away from these two and it creates a perfect storm of health and pass volume opportunity given DeAndre Hopkins’ vacated 150 targets from last year? It could be wheels up for quarterback Deshaun Watson as not only a weekly fantasy stalwart, but also a contender for the MVP title. Entering Year 4, a climb into the upper echelon of passers wouldn’t be that surprising. Watson is already one of the league’s top deep passers (third-most accurate QB on 20+ attempts last year) and now has the weapons to take advantage of those attempts. Over the last two years, Watson has averaged 4,000+ passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns per season (5.2% TD Rate). An increased touchdown rate could be in the cards now that he isn’t trying to force-feed Hopkins and his absurd 30% target share. After adding Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard last offseason, this offensive line finally possesses continuity with all five starters returning and some talent at tackle to keep Watson upright. Add in some mobility and scrambling upside — Watson has averaged about 500 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns over the past two years — and we have the makings for a quarterback that should be able to continuously sustain drives and put the Texans in position to score. The AFC South is the closest Division in the league in terms of potential winners from their top-three squads. If Houston (+350) can claim that top spot and repeat last year’s success with 10 wins, it’ll likely occur because of an MVP-level performance from Watson.
Drew Brees (+2200 DK)
If looking for a player that can return an even higher payout, look no further than Drew Brees. Injuries played a toll on him last year, but if you look at the production he had when healthy, very few quarterbacks were playing at such a high level. If we look solely at the full games he played last year, Brees averaged 25.5 FPPG in 10 games played. Only Lamar Jackson had a higher FPPG rate (28.1). Brees sported a healthy 74.3% completion rate, 7.1% touchdown rate, and averaged 8.8 Adjusted Yards/Attempt (AY/A). Those were all top-5 marks in each respective category. His deep throw might not be what it once was, but with short-to-intermediate targets like Michael Thomas (8.2 aDOT), Jared Cook (11.4), Alvin Kamara (0.1), and offseason addition Emmanuel Sanders (11.1), 20+ yard bombs aren’t really a necessity. Only Jimmy Garoppolo had a lower deep rate (6.5%) than Brees last year (8.2%), and per a study by PFF, their models would’ve placed Garoppolo third in MVP voting last year! The NFC South is loaded with strong offenses and weak secondaries, providing perfect gamescript for shootouts. The Saints have arguably one of the top teams on paper this season, reflected in their NFC South-leading 10.5 win projection. Brees has a strong shot at seizing the NFC South and taking home some hardware for his regular season work in the form of an MVP trophy.
If looking for a BIG payday, my favorite longshot bet for MVP right now is Matt Ryan (+5000 DK). Ryan won the award in 2016 after throwing for 4,900+ yards and 38 TDs. He nearly replicated those numbers in 2018 (4,900+, 35 TDs) but couldn’t quite reach Mahomes’ 50-TD campaign. Given the state of the Falcons, there’s a strong chance he contends for this award again in 2020. The Falcons ranked second in terms of plays per game last year (68.5) and passed 63% of the time in situation neutral gamescripts (+/- 8 points). That’s a concoction for a ton of passing volume for Ryan. After struggling behind the offensive line last year due to rotating injuries — Ryan was pressured at the fifth-highest rate last year — the line has the entire offseason to get healthy AND retain all five starters (one of just 10 squads to do so). The schedule is brutal, but that likely only forces the Falcons to continue their pass-heavy nature. A winning record could be the most challenging aspect of Ryan winning this award, but a Wildcard spot could suffice given the rule changes of adding one more Wildcard squad this year. That angle is also being reflected in his odds, so instead of double-counting that against Ryan, I’d rather just take a chance on him to take home MVP at these +5000 odds.