2021 NFL MVP Odds & Predictions: Why Tom Brady Is the Best Bet To Make Before the Season

2021 NFL MVP Odds & Predictions: Why Tom Brady Is the Best Bet To Make Before the Season article feature image
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Grant Halverson/Getty Images. Pictured: Tom Brady.

Who will win NFL MVP in 2021?

Aaron Rodgers is the defending league MVP after a monster season. Rodgers threw a career-high 48 touchdowns and led the Green Bay Packers to a 13-3 record and the NFC 1-seed to run away with the award in 2020, taking home 44 of the 50 votes for his third MVP win.

So will Rodgers defend his title in 2021? How often do MVPs go back-to-back? What sort of player wins MVP, and what’s their season look like? Can any non-QB win the award? And who are the best bets heading into the new season?

I’ll be monitoring this award all season at Action Network, so let’s dig in for a preseason look. We’ll run through 20 potential MVP candidates below, looking for betting value, and explain why we rule out over half of those candidates for now, and why there’s one clear preseason pick you really have to bet.

Note: Odds below are all from BetMGM, unless otherwise indicated.

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So What Does an NFL MVP Look Like?

Let’s take a quick look at the MVP for every season since 2007 and see if we can spot a few patterns:

  • 2020 Aaron Rodgers: 4,299 yards, 48 pass TDs, 5 INT, 13-3 record, 1-seed
  • 2019 Lamar Jackson: 3,127 yards, 43 TDs, 6 INT, 14-2 record, 1-seed
  • 2018 Patrick Mahomes: 5,097 yards, 50 pass TDs, 12 INT, 12-4 record, 1-seed
  • 2017 Tom Brady: 4,577 yards, 32 pass TDs, 8 INT, 13-3 record, 1-seed
  • 2016 Matt Ryan: 4,944 yards, 38 pass TDs, 7 INT, 11-5 record, 2-seed
  • 2015 Cam Newton: 3,837 yards, 45 TDs, 10 INT, 15-1 record, 1-seed
  • 2014 Aaron Rodgers: 4,381 yards, 38 pass TDs, 5 INT, 12-4 record, 2-seed
  • 2013 Peyton Manning: 5,457 yards, 55 pass TDs, 10 INT, 13-3 record, 1-seed
  • 2012 Adrian Peterson: 2,097 rushing yards, 12 TDs, 10-6 record, 6-seed
  • 2011 Aaron Rodgers: 4,643 yards, 45 pass TDs, 6 INT, 15-1 record, 1-seed
  • 2010 Tom Brady: 3,900 yards, 36 pass TDs, 4 INT, 14-2 record, 1-seed
  • 2009 Peyton Manning: 4,500 yards, 33 pass TDs, 16 INT, 14-2 record, 1-seed
  • 2008 Peyton Manning: 4,002 yards, 27 pass TDs, 12 INT, 12-4 record, 5-seed
  • 2007 Tom Brady: 4,806 yards, 50 pass TDs, 8 INT, 16-0 record, 1-seed

So that’s the last 14 NFL MVP winners. Here’s what I see:

1. Quarterbacks win MVP.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but 13 of the last 14 MVPs have been QBs. To be fair, we cut this off at 2007 for a reason: Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson won the two previous years, but they did so by rushing for 27 and 28 TDs, both NFL records, in a bygone workhorse era. Adrian Peterson is the one recent non-QB winner and nearly broke the all-time rushing record. Even so, 18 of 21 MVPs this century have been QBs. This is a quarterback award.

2. We love repeat winners.

Three of those 14 recent MVPs went to Brady, three more to Manning and three more to Rodgers. That’s 69% of the MVPs, or more than two of every three, going to the same three guys. Manning had a pair of MVP wins before this stretch too. MVPs often win again.

3. But not consecutive winners.

Only Peyton Manning won back-to-back MVPs this century. The last repeat winner before him was Brett Favre in the 90s; before that, Joe Montana and Jim Brown. That’s the whole list. MVPs repeat, but almost never consecutively.

4. We’re gonna need some serious statistical production.

Here’s the average QB line for an MVP during these 14 years: 4428 passing yards, 40.2 passing touchdowns, 8.1 interceptions. Not bad! That averages out to about 275 yards and 2.5 TDs a game with barely any turnovers. And those numbers go up even further if we exclude Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton, who did much of their damage on the ground. The TDs especially stand out, with nine of the 13 hitting an outlier touchdown rate their winning season.

5. We need a winner. Like, a serious winner.

This should be your biggest takeaway. You probably already knew we needed a QB with nice stats, but did you notice just how much MVP correlates with winning? Our 13 QB winners averaged 13.4 wins and just 2.6 losses in their MVP campaign. They also finished as the 1-seed a whopping 10 times, plus twice as 2-seed. The only one outside the top-2 seeds was 2008 Manning, a bad outlier winner.

So what are we looking for?

This may be an individual award, but it’s a team accomplishment. We need a winning QB capable of a 13-win season and a run at the 1-seed, and they need to have a shot at something north of 4500 yards and in range of 40 TDs.

Let’s rule out a few candidates.

Don’t Bet on a Non-Quarterback

Derrick Henry +5000
Christian McCaffrey +6600
Dalvin Cook +8000

Do not, do not, bet on a non-QB. You shouldn’t. You can’t. You won’t.

This is a quarterback’s league and a QB’s award. Consider the top non-RB candidate, Derrick Henry. He led the league last season in rushing attempts, yards and TDs. He ran for 2,027 yards, fifth most in NFL history, and carried the Titans to a division title with 17 TDs.

And do you know how many MVP votes Derrick Henry got?

Zero. He got zero. Rodgers got 44 of the 50 votes, and the other votes went to Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Henry’s 2,000-yard season got skunked.

If you bet on a non-QB, you’re betting on historical outlier voting, and you need historically great production even to get into the conversation. That’s just not a good play and not even worth considering individually.

Longshots To Keep an Eye On

Ryan Fitzpatrick +12500

Washington’s defense is elite, and the NFC East could be very winnable again. Fitzpatrick has a big arm and good weapons and looks like a perfect marriage in Scotty Turner’s aggressive offense. But Fitzmagic is 39 and has never hit 4,000 yards, always throws a ton of interceptions and has only topped 24 TDs once. He also almost never stays healthy all season. Speaking of which …

Ben Roethlisberger +10000

Oh look, another 39-year-old with a big arm, great weapons and an elite defense. Big Ben did lead the league in passing yards the last two times he played a healthy season. But he’s another walking injury risk, and Pittsburgh’s in a brutal division, so the path to big wins and a 1-seed is too hard.

Mac Jones +8000

Bill Belichick has done it before with another similar QB, and the Patriots had won double-digit games in 17 consecutive seasons before things fell apart last year. New England’s defense and line should be much improved, and it’s a winnable division, so a run at the 1-seed isn’t absolutely crazy. But asking a rookie to win MVP probably is. Even a near perfect season feels like Rookie and Coach of the Year awards, not MVP.

Jameis Winston +5000

You want to play this; I now you do. You believe in Sean Payton and in the Lasik surgery, and you see the flashes. Don’t do it. Winston is a turnover machine, and you know he’s going to lose some snaps and TDs to Taysom Hill. New Orleans lost a ton of talent and doesn’t have the roster to contend for the 1-seed, especially since this is a direct bet against the Bucs. The books have already lowered this price enough to kill off any fun sleeper value.

Contenders Whose Teams Aren’t Good Enough

Ryan Tannehill +3500

It’s hard to imagine Tannehill doing much better than he did the last two years, when he put up 55 TDs and just 13 picks on outstanding efficiency, going 18-8 as a starter. But did you ever hear even a sniff of MVP buzz? Nothing. Derrick Henry gets the credit on this team, and the loss of OC Arthur Smith signals likely regression from a guy who’s already been playing at his peak.

Kyler Murray +2500

There’s little doubt Murray can put up the numbers to win this someday, especially with his electric running ability. But we need someone to contend for the 1-seed, not the worst team in their own division. A bet on Kyler is a bet on Kliff Kingsbury, and that’s just not a bet you should make.

Justin Herbert +2200

Herbert is a popular sleeper, but this is another spot where the value is already gone. Herbert could benefit from new OC Joe Lombardi and make a sophomore leap, but oftentimes rookies who have huge seasons like Herbert did end up regressing a bit the next year. The Chargers play in a tough division headlined by the Chiefs, and we need a lot of wins, so this is a direct bet against Mahomes and Kansas City. The Chargers also have a brutal opening six games, so even if you do believe, you should wait for a better number.

Dak Prescott +1800

There’s little question Dak Prescott could get the numbers or the media hype to win this thing. He was on pace for over 6,700 yards through four healthy games last season, and Dallas might have the league’s best weapons. Can the Cowboys win enough? It’s possible. The division is weak, and the schedule is relatively soft. But remember, this is a team award, so a bet on Dak also means backing this terrible defense, and it means betting on Prescott’s health along with health and a bounce-back from the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott. We’re getting closer, but Prescott is still a bit too far-fetched at +1800.

But the good news is we’re down to just eight top contenders now — and we’re about to rule another half of them out.

Not Impossible But Not the Right Value Play

Matthew Stafford +2000
Russell Wilson +2000

Stafford and Wilson have the same problem: each other, along with tough 49ers and Cardinals opponents in the best division in football.

Look, the Rams or Seahawks could absolutely win 13 games and the 1-seed if everything goes perfect, but that doesn’t mean we should bet on it. Both teams face a litany of toss-up games and a tough schedule. Wilson had MVP numbers the first half of last season but fell off the second half. Stafford is a better bet to get the volume, and counting stats with Sean McVay’s offense help.

Neither guy will get much help in the run game or on defense, though. This is a spot where the MVP case is almost too obvious — meaning Seattle and LA would almost need an outlier MVP campaign from their QB to make up for some of the holes elsewhere on the roster. Do you realize Wilson and Stafford have combined for zero career MVP votes? There are better plays.

Josh Allen +1400

The case for Allen is easy. He’s the engine of a very good offense under OC Brian Daboll. He had big numbers last year and has gotten better every season, and the Bills play in a weak division with a path to big wins and the 1-seed.

The question is where you think this growth curve is heading and whether Allen takes another step forward in 2021. If anything, the numbers suggest he should regress. Allen leapt from 35th to second in completion percentage over expectation last year and from 25th to third against the blitz, per RBSDM. He led the league in pass success rate, per Football Outsiders.

The Bills roster around Allen is more good than great. The line, the pass rush, the running attack, the defense … none of it leaps out as 1-seed, Super Bowl contender unless Allen is elite. Allen’s style of play also makes him both injury- and turnover-prone, which hurts the cause.

He could win it, but it feels much more likely Allen takes a step back in 2021 rather than another one forward.

Aaron Rodgers +1100

On the one hand, everything about Rodgers as an MVP candidate makes sense. We love repeat winners, we know he can put up huge numbers, and the Packers play in a weak division and certainly look like a 1-seed threat.

On the other hand, history tells us MVPs almost never win back-to-back. It just doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s voter fatigue. Maybe it’s because the numbers regress — Rodgers had huge outlier spikes in TD rate and YPA last year. Maybe it’s because football is really hard, sustainable greatness is nearly impossible, and guys just don’t have back-to-back elite MVP years on great teams.

Whatever the reason, history compels us to bet against Rodgers winning a second straight MVP in 2021, no matter how obvious a candidate he appears to be. And that means we’re down to four names.

Keep a Watchful Eye on Past MVPs

Lamar Jackson +1800

Remember, history tells us repeat MVP winners are more likely. Seven of the last 14 MVPs went to someone who had already won it before. The question is whether Jackson counts. He won it before, but it’s fair to wonder if he fits the profile of a one-off winner better than the QB we’ll consider next.

The Ravens could certainly be very good. Baltimore has great coaching, good defense, terrific line play, outstanding special teams, and an unstoppable run game. The Ravens are 25-7 over the last two seasons. There’s a good chance Jackson wins enough to get into the discussion, and if Baltimore is near a 1-seed, you better believe Jackson will get credit.

After all, who else could it be? Baltimore’s backfield has been blown up by injuries, so this offense is all on Lamar Jackson. He’s had over 1,000 rushing yards two straight seasons and is 30-7 lifetime as a starter, a 13.8-win pace. Plus, there’s latent upside if this passing game ever takes off.

Jackson’s running game makes him an injury threat, and his passing numbers will never match up to the other top contenders. He’s a unique candidate. But if you believe in the Ravens, he’s an interesting play, even as a cash-out option.

Patrick Mahomes +600

Recommended life rule: If Patrick Mahomes is still breathing on a football field, he has a good chance of contending for MVP.

There’s no need to make the case for Mahomes. He checks every box. The Chiefs are always a threat to win the 1-seed if Mahomes is healthy, and he’s a repeat winner who will surely win at least one more at some point. The volume and numbers will be there. He’s always a threat.

The question is whether he’s worth the play at +600, and I’m not sure he is. Look at the opening schedule: Browns, Ravens, Chargers, Eagles, Bills. That’s arguably the four next most talented teams in the AFC, a brutal opening month. That could leave Mahomes 3-2, even 2-3, especially with a suspect Chiefs defense leaving little margin for error.

Now check the back half of the schedule: Raiders twice, Broncos twice, Cowboys, Chargers, Steelers, Bengals. That’s juicy, and it’s a possible 8-0 finish with a whole lot of numbers. If Mahomes and the offense stay healthy, he’ll absolutely be in the mix.

But now is not the time. There’s little to gain by getting in your money at +600. It’s hard to see that number dropping much this first month, while a lot can still go wrong. What if the Chiefs have a key injury? What if the line doesn’t gel? What if Kansas City loses a few early games or the defense is a disaster?

If you want to bet on Mahomes winning another MVP, I won’t stop you. Just don’t do it yet. Wait for a better price.

Grab a Little Nibble at This Price

Baker Mayfield +3500

Finally, a number worth playing.

The Browns are really good. They might be great. Cleveland has the best line and running attack in football, and this offense made a big leap last year. Now it’s the defense’s turn. Some of the best reasons to believe in Mayfield are Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Walker, John Johnson and Greg Newsome.

Remember, this is a team award, and the Browns team could be very good. Better defense means better field position and opportunities for the offense. And while this is a run-first team, Cleveland can run up and down the field all it wants as long as Baker gets the scores. Mayfield’s career 5.0% TD rate is impressive and perfectly in line for where a spike plus some extra opportunities could get him to 40 TDs.

Besides, Mayfield passed more than you think last year. Over the first 10 games, he averaged just 26.5 attempts per game with 15 TDs. But Cleveland was learning its offense then and faced multiple wonky weather games. Over the final six games, Baker leapt to 36.8 attempts per game plus 11 TDs. Over a full 17, those numbers for a top-2 seed get you into the MVP conversation — especially if you happen to be a brash, young, likable QB leading the Cleveland Browns to the top of the league.

Jimmy Garoppolo +20000

Surprise! Look, Garoppolo is a longshot for a reason. He just got announced as the Week 1 starter, and if you imagine the many ways this 49ers season plays out, most of them involving rookie Trey Lance taking over at some point.

But imagine the dream 49ers season. Everyone stays healthy. The defense is terrific, led by a ferocious pass rush. The line dominates and a deadly run game opens up the play-action. The 49ers win, early and often. They’re near the top of the NFC and winning so much it would be patently insane to bench the starting quarterback. San Francisco finishes 13-4, atop the NFC. Handsome Jimmy G is a shock MVP candidate.

Garoppolo is 22-8 as a 49ers starter, a 12.5-win pace. The Niners have ranked top-five in EPA per play with Jimmy vs. 27th without, per RBSDM. Garoppolo’s career metrics in San Francisco are incredibly efficient: 8.3 yards per attempt and a 5.2% TD rate. The 49ers get a super soft schedule and should regress positively with injury luck. The dream scenario isn’t that outlandish.

The Niners have good weapons, and Garoppolo would have a good shot at 4,500 yards and 35 TDs if he starts all 17. Lance is raw and was always expected to sit awhile, and he missed part of the preseason. What if Garoppolo looks good early, too good to bench, and the Niners keep winning? At 200-to-1 — literally twice as long of odds as his rookie backup somehow — Jimmy G is worth a little sprinkle just in case.

But in the end, there is only one best bet at MVP, and it’s the guy Garoppolo used to backup himself.

All-In on the GOAT

Tom Brady +1400

Brady checks every single box. He’s a three-time winner, and we love repeat MVPs. He’s an elite quarterback on a loaded team, the defending champs who return almost every meaningful player from a Super Bowl roster. He has the best weapons in football and a chance at a huge statistical season. And he’s a media darling, a guy everyone would just love to give one last MVP.

Remember, this is a team award, and Brady’s team will prop up his case. The Bucs have the best roster in football. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are unfair top-three receivers. Rob Gronkowski is an all-time great. O.J. Howard, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson would be breakout candidates on other teams, and they can barely get on the field in Tampa. Brady even gets a pass-catching back in Gio Bernard this year.

We need a heap of touchdowns, and the Bucs are going to score a whole lot. Evans, Godwin and Howard are big, dangerous red-zone targets. Brown and Gronk are two of the greatest TD catchers ever. Brady’s career 5.5% TD rate is elite. He’s had eight seasons with at least 32 TD passes, including 50 in an MVP year and 40 just last season.

Let’s talk about last season. Over the final seven games, once the offense found itself during the bye week, the Bucs exploded. They had the league’s No. 1 offense and played at its fastest pace down the stretch, and Brady was a monster, averaging 319 yards per game and throwing 20 TDs. Over 17 games, that would pace to 5,400 yards and 49 TDs. That has MVP written all over it.

A great Bucs defense will give Brady plenty of short fields and easy scoring opportunities. A terrific line should give him a clean pocket all year. Somehow the Bucs have the league’s easiest schedule, too. A tough division takes a step back with the Saints and Falcons in transition. Heck, the one weakish spot on the team is the secondary, and all that might do is force Brady into a few shootouts and further boost his numbers.

One more thing: The media is absolutely dying to give old man Brady one last MVP. Do you realize Brady has “only” three MVPs? He’s tied with Rodgers, Favre, Brown and Johnny Unitas, and is two short of Manning. Doesn’t it just feel like Brady should have one more?

Besides, the man just turned 44 and is still among the best in the league. And RIP to the system QB nonsense. Brady left Belichick and the Pats and won a Super Bowl his first year on a new team. What if he comes out, now that he knows the offense, and melts the face of the NFL?

Heck, Brady might not even have to put up numbers. He’s the LeBron James of the NFL. Just being Tom Brady makes him an MVP candidate — even without the numbers. We already gave Brady two MVPs for good-not-great statistical seasons in 2010 and 2017, the two lowest TD totals for an MVP in the past decade. He’s the one player in the entire league who is numbers-proof.

I’ve been staring at this number all offseason, and I still can’t believe it. We really get to bet on the greatest winner of all time leading the most loaded offense in the league with a Super Bowl roster and a history of elite MVP seasons. And we are getting 14-to-1 for our troubles.

I’m all-in on Tom Brady’s 2021 MVP campaign. He would be my favorite straight up right now, and at +1400, he’s my favorite futures play of any type entering the new season. Let’s see if the old man can get the job one more time.

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