It’s midseason, time to assess top performers in the NFL
By Mike Tanier
Josh Allen’s worrisome Sunday against the New York Jets has thrown the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award race into chaos.
Allen threw two interceptions in the Buffalo Bills’ 20-17 upset loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium, and he injured his throwing elbow late in the game. He and the Bills’ coaches tried to sound optimistic about Allen’s right elbow in early-week interviews, but he is expected to be limited in practice this week. Handicappers want little part of a limited quarterback coming off a bad game. The moneyline on Allen, once the heavy favorite in the MVP race, dropped to +350 as of Tuesday.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who won the award in 2018, was the oddsmakers’ favorite at +200, despite only narrowly escaping last week with a 20-17 overtime victory against the injury-plagued Tennessee Titans.
Mahomes leads the NFL in passing yards (2,605) and touchdowns (21), but voters may be getting numb to his roller coaster performances in the same way moviegoers have grown weary of computer-generated superhero imagery. Mahomes could clinch his second MVP award with a series of steady-handed parlor-drama victories, but that’s just not his style.
Jalen Hurts also leapt ahead of Allen in the MVP race with +250 odds. Hurts’ Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) are unbeaten, but voters may be skeptical of the team’s easy schedule. Fresh off a win against the Houston Texans (1-6-1) in Week 9, the Eagles will face the Washington Commanders (4-5) on Monday night.
Then Philadelphia will play a Week 11 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts (3-5-1), who just fired coach Frank Reich, followed by the Birmingham Stallions and the Rutgers University marching band.
In the past, voters confused by a crowded MVP field simply shrugged their shoulders and handed the award to Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers are 3-6, however, thanks to Rodgers’ three interceptions against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Rodgers was listed at +20000.
Let’s survey the rest of the NFL award races:
Offensive Player of the Year
Tyreek Hill (+330) is the favorite for what has become the de-facto “best non-quarterback” trophy. Hill leads the NFL in receptions (76) and yards (1,104) and has made the Miami Dolphins dark-horse Super Bowl contenders with his knack for racing past defenders and then waiting, waiting, and finally catching Tua Tagovailoa’s balloon-in-a-stiff-breeze deep passes.
Hurts is right behind Hill with +350 odds, but giving a quarterback this glorified runner-up trophy is like giving Martin Scorsese a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award.
Cooper Kupp, last year’s winner, leads the chase group at +1000, but his 3-5 Los Angeles Rams suffer from post-championship alcohol poisoning (it’s no mere hangover), and Kupp spends each Sunday catching short passes before getting walloped by all 11 defenders.
Tagovailoa, incidentally, leads the NFL in efficiency rating (115.9) and Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric (50.5%, far ahead of second-place Mahomes). Yet Tagovailoa is a +800 long shot for the MVP award.
If Hill is that critical to his quarterback’s and his team’s success, doesn’t he deserve serious MVP consideration himself? Never baffle an NFL awards voter with a philosophical conundrum. At least Hill was favored for MVP (+8000) over Rodgers.
Defensive Player of the Year
Dallas Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parsons was the prohibitive favorite at -225. Matthew Judon of the New England Patriots leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks, three more than any other defender, but Judon was getting a +1200 moneyline because voters are not certain that sacks against the Colts should count.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Dameon Pierce (+190) ranked sixth in the league with 678 yards and runs like a toy bulldozer through a battalion of plastic soldiers. The favorite, Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III (+110), ranked 15th with 570 rushing yards but plays for a Seahawks (6-3) team that is likely to reach the playoffs; Pierce’s Texans are in danger of being relegated to the Big 12. The award-winner will ultimately be whichever rookie rusher manages to stay healthy for all 17 regular-season games.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (+100) intercepted one of Allen’s passes in Sunday’s upset of the Bills. Per Football Outsiders, opponent’s top receivers average just 55.3 yards per game against the Jets, the third-lowest figure in the league. That is a fine testament to Gardner’s impact on the defense.
A memorable hook can only help a rookie defender, and Gardner’s catchy nickname conjures images among voters (mostly sportswriters of a certain age) of a sumptuous halftime buffet. Still, he’s playing so well that even “Salmonella Gardner” would be a frontrunner for this award.
Comeback Player of the Year
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (+140) overcame three years of injuries and now ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards. Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (-135), however, overcame a half-decade stretch in forgotten-backup purgatory for the many sins of the Jets and Giants organizations. This is a narrative-driven award, and no one really stands a chance against Smith’s Dante-esque journey.
Coach of the Year
Philadelphia coach Nick Sirianni is the house favorite at -135, but he faces both skepticism of the Eagles and a long-standing voter preference for first-year coaches enjoying surprising seasons (Kevin Stefanski in 2020, Matt Nagy in 2018, Sean McVay in 2017).
Kevin O’Connell of the 7-1 Minnesota Vikings (+650) and Brian Daboll of the 6-2 Giants (+800) are therefore more likely winners, even if their teams finish a win or two below Sirianni’s Eagles.
One final note: The newly appointed Colts coach Jeff Saturday, whose only previous coaching experience was at the high school level, is listed at +20000 for Coach of the Year — the same odds Rodgers is getting for MVP. This is, indeed, a very strange NFL season.