NFL MVP Futures Betting: Lamar Jackson Is Set Up to Win It Again
We made it. There is NFL football tonight, and we made it. Take a deep breath and reflect on this accomplishment.
This season, I'm going to be digging into historical data on MVP winners to find information that can help us make more informed wagers on the league's most sought-after award.
Before we start by talking MVP, here’s a quick trivia question. Aaron Rodgers just won his fourth MVP and Tom Brady has three. Which player has amassed more MVP votes over their career? I’ll share the answer at the end.
What the Data Says
Let's warm up here by stating one of the obvious trends in the race for MVP -- it has to be a quarterback.
Adrian Peterson was the last non-quarterback to win the award (2012) after rushing for more than 2,000 yards. Derrick Henry recently accomplished a 2,000-yard campaign in 2020 and received a whopping zero (0) votes for MVP.
This award is now for only quarterbacks.
Both the old guard and newcomers to the race both have a shot to win.
Ten of the last 15 MVP winners were Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning.
However, there is precedent for players who’ve never received a vote previously to win the award.
Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes both won their MVPs in their second seasons, which were their first campaigns as full-time starters. For Cam Newton (won in 2015) and Matt Ryan (2016), it took a few years, but neither received any prior MVP votes before winning, with the same holding true for Rodgers in 2011.
Another well-known fact about MVP winners is that their team has to do well, too.
While we can’t nail down a specific threshold for the number of wins needed, it is clear that an MVP has to be on a division-winning team. The last two players to win an MVP but not be on a division-winning team are Adrian Peterson (2012) and Peyton Manning (2008). This goes all the way back to 1980.
And actually, Manning is the only quarterback since the merger to win the MVP without winning his division. So what does this mean for betting? Well, the AFC West should be crazy tough, and depending on how you define “realistic odds," three -- if not all four -- of those teams have a realistic shot to win the division.
Let’s make a quick (and not-too-crazy) assumption that the AFC West-winning quarterback will be this season's MVP. If you use each team’s odds of winning the division to get an implied probability, the quarterback in that division to bet on for MVP is ... Russell Wilson. Yep, Wilson at +1400 is a better value than Mahomes at +800 and Justin Herbert at +900.
Some of that difference in odds may come from the perception that the Denver Broncos have a much better running game, meaning Wilson won't have to carry as much of the load as Herbert and Mahomes do, but if the Broncos win the division, it’ll be because of Wilson.
The AFC North has two teams that are in contention for a division title -- the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. Given that Baltimore has the better betting odds to win the division (+145 to +165) and Lamar (+2000) has a much higher payout than Joe Burrow (+1200), Jackson is the bet to make over Burrow.
Across Division Winners
So, we know we should mainly consider division-winning quarterbacks, but there are eight divisions. How do we break the tie? It’s not overall wins, since each division champ should have a good record (emphasis on should). It’s whichever team scores the most points.
Since 2011, Outside of Rodgers last year and Peterson in 2012, MVP winners have been on teams that scored the most points or the second-most points in the league for that season. All but one of those winners (Brady in 2017) scored the most points, and when there was a runner-up (Lamar was unanimous), the runner-up's squad was second or third in points scored.
This tells us that most points and MVP are highly correlated. If you assume the quarterback on the team with the most points will win the MVP award, then it makes sense to compare MVP odds to odds for which team will score the most point. Doing this, we see once more that Lamar is the bet to make.
The Ravens are +1600 to score the most points, but Lamar is +2000 for MVP. For signal-callers like Brady, Mahomes, and Rodgers, it would be smarter to bet on their teams to score the most points than to take the player’s MVP wager.
Through the stroll down MVP lane, we identified a couple of solid bets -- Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson -- based on a quick profile of MVP-winning players.
If I had to choose one, I’d go with Lamar in what could be a contract year.
The answer to the question at the top: Tom Brady (180 to 164, though Peyton Manning has 227).