Russell Wilson MVP Odds: Why Russ Isnโ€™t Worth a Bet

Russell Wilson MVP Odds: Why Russ Isnโ€™t Worth a Bet article feature image
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Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3).

  • Ignore the Seattle Seahawks' winning record. Ignore Russell Wilson's TD:INT ratio. Ignore all of it.
  • Matthew Freedman on why Russell Wilson won't be the 2019 NFL NVP.

Russell Wilson is having a great season. He has almost singlehandedly dragged the Seahawks to their 8-2 record.

He has an NFL-high 23 touchdowns passing and five game-winning drives. It’s a pleasure to watch him play.

But grow up Peter Pan, Count Chocula.

Wilson is not winning the 2019 NFL MVP Award.

The Seahawks Aren’t Good Enough

The last time someone other than a quarterback won this award was 2012. But 27-year-old Adrian Peterson is not walking through those doors.

Since the Patriots went 16-0 in 2007 thanks to their high-flying passing attack, Peterson is the only non-quarterback to win this award.

It’s 2019. In today’s NFL, the MVP is a quarterback accolade.

And most of the MVP quarterbacks since 2007 have been on teams that were decidedly not mediocre.

  • Patrick Mahomes (2018): 12-4 Chiefs, No. 1 seed
  • Tom Brady (2017): 13-3 Patriots, No. 1 seed
  • Matt Ryan (2016): 11-5 Falcons, No. 2 seed
  • Cam Newton (2015): 15-1 Panthers, No. 1 seed
  • Aaron Rodgers (2014): 12-4 Packers, No. 2 seed
  • Peyton Manning (2013): 13-3 Broncos, No. 1 seed
  • Aaron Rodgers (2011): 15-1 Packers, No. 1 seed
  • Tom Brady (2010): 14-2 Patriots, No. 1 seed
  • Peyton Manning (2009): 14-2 Colts, No. 1 seed
  • Peyton Manning (2008): 12-4 Colts, No. 5 seed
  • Tom Brady (2007): 16-0 Patriots, No. 1 seed

It’s uncommon for a quarterback to win this award if his team isn’t one of the four best in the league by record. And when Manning won in 2008 as the No. 5 seed, the Colts were still tied for the No. 2 record in the league.

As well as any quarterback plays, he’s very unlikely to win the award if his team isn’t in the top tier.

And the Seahawks are not there. They have an 8-2 record, but they are not an 8-2 team. We all know know this. Vegas know this.

Even Russ MVP truthers know the Seahawks are not as good as their record. That’s actually part of their thesis for why Wilson deserves the award: “He’s winning games for them all by himself. Without him, they would be 2-8.”

Sure. That’s the problem. This is an above-average team, but not a great team. Quarterbacks on merely above-average teams don’t win MVP.

Even with their Week 10 victory over the 49ers, the Seahawks are almost certainly not good enough to help Wilson win this award.

The Narrative Matters Most

Quarterbacks on top teams win MVP because — once an acceptably high statistical threshold is crossed — the award is driven primarily by narrative.

And why is narrative important?

Because rightly or wrongly, the 50 people who have MVP votes are not statisticians. They’re not football historians. They’re not scouts or analysts. They’re not former general managers or decision makers.

They’re writers.

Sportswriters.

What calls to them, what catches their roaming eyes, what buries its way Horcrux-style deep into their collective soul, is narrative. (Stream-of-conscious ’90s grunge reference, no big deal.)

Writers care about stories.

And Lamar Jackson is the story of the 2019 season.

As a prospect, he was told he should switch to wide receiver or running back. And then in the NFL draft, he fell to the end of Round 1. That’s a great backstory.

As a rookie, he had to sit on the bench and wait for his opportunity. When he got it, he was raw but also gritty, and he led his team to the playoffs with a 6-1 record. But then in the playoffs, he was embarrassed, so much so that his ability to play the position in the NFL was once again questioned.

That’s a wonderful setup. Hero waits. Hero strives. Hero succeeds. And then hero painfully fails.

And that brings us to 2019: Hero finds his inner strength. Hero overcomes. Hero triumphs.

Jackson has epic moments: His Week 10 touchdown run against the Bengals will be a classic highlight for years.

That’s probably the play of the 2019 season so far.

And it might not even be his stankiest run of the year.

And Jackson has the big-picture steak to go with the sentence-level sizzle.

He beat Wilson and the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 7. He beat Brady and the undefeated Patriots in Week 9. And then he beat would-be MVP candidate Deshaun Watson and the Texans in Week 11.

At the end of the season, those head-to-head victories — though meaningless in the grand scheme — are going to count for a lot because they make for a great story.

And while the outline of Jackson’s story is familiar, he’s a fresh face. He’s new. His story still feels relatively novel.

Plus, it seems as if he and the Ravens are showing us the future by paradoxically returning to the past with an innovative ground-based offense: Two weeks ago, they put three Heisman Trophy winners in the same backfield and then ran a successful play out of the formation — just for the hell of it.

In comparison, the relatively unimaginative run-heavy offense of the Seahawks looks antiquated.

As for Wilson — there’s nothing new about him. He’s a timeworn tale that’s not yet old enough to be a classic. He’s not quite a decade older than Jackson, but he might as well be. We’re used to Wilson.

He’s not doing anything we haven’t seen him do before: He’s just simply doing it with more efficiency.

At his flashiest, Wilson isn’t as flashy as Jackson. And he doesn’t have Jackson’s big moments.

When Jackson beat the Pats, he completed 73.9% of his passes and scored three total touchdowns in an emphatic victory. Jackson made their decision not to draft him look ridiculous.

When Wilson beat the undefeated 49ers in Week 10, he threw an interception, he fumbled, he was gifted four turnovers by his defense and he needed the opposing kicker — a rookie backup — to miss a field goal.

To be clear: Wilson is having a great season. But there’s a problem: Almost no one outside of Seattle really cares.

As for L-Jax, everyone cares about what he’s doing.

Lamar Jackson Has the Better Statistics

Russ MVP truthers will disagree with me on this. They’ll say that Wilson has the better statistics.

If you ignore the massive edge Jackson has as a runner with his 788 yards and six touchdowns, and if you pretend that the relatively small difference in their passing production is larger than it is — then, yes, Wilson has the better statistics.

But no player in NFL history has ever passed for 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 yards in the same season. And Jackson is pacing for 3,612.8 yards rushing and 1,260.8 yards through 10 games.

If he stays healthy, L-Jax won’t simply break records. He’ll set new records that might never be broken.

When a guy does what has never been done before, and he does it in Lamar-kable fashion, it garners the type of awestruck attention that yields MVP awards.

As for Russ, he’s pacing for fewer than 4,500 yards passing. If the statistical case for a guy’s MVP candidacy is “He’s such a great passer,” it’s going to hurt him when he doesn’t hit the bar that most pass-centric MVPs have easily cleared over the past dozen years.

The MVP Is a League-Wide Award

One of the main arguments many Russ MVP truthers have goes something like this: “Russ means more to the Seahawks than any other player means to any other team.”

Here are my responses.

  1. That might be true, but it’s not known for sure. It’s arguable either way.
  2. If it is true, that’s an excellent reason for him to win the team MVP award.
  3. Whether it’s true or not, it probably doesn’t matter.

If Wilson adds more to the Seahawks than Jackson adds to the Ravens, should that give him an edge in the MVP race? Maybe.

But historically, I don’t think that piece of data has mattered for the 50 voters. At least it hasn’t mattered as much as a lot of other factors. As long as a guy matters “enough” for his team, that’s good enough. Given that Wilson and Jackson are quarterbacks, they both hit the “enough” threshold.

And whether it’s accurate or not, Jackson seems to matter more to the Ravens in terms of how they’ve constructed themselves around him and how they treat him.

They’ve built themselves into a running team to suit Jackson’s strengths. The Seahawks, in contrast, run the ball because they seem to be scared of letting their quarterback throw.

And that’s ridiculous. The Seahawks should want Wilson throwing the ball as much as possible.

But I’m talking about perception. And the perception is that Jackson means everything to the Ravens because their offense has been made in his image.

On the sideline, we see head coach John Harbaugh tell him, “You know how many little kids in this country are gonna be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years?”

In postgame conferences, he has running back Mark Ingram stumping for his MVP candidacy and threatening to beat people up if they disagree with his perspective.

What does Russ have going for him? He’s on a team that’s limiting the number of times he can throw the ball, as if the coaches actually want to hide their best player.

Here’s the simple truth: Russ might be worth more to his team, but Jackson is unquestionably worth more to the league. Russ is the past. Lamar is the future, which means the present also belongs to him.

MVP is not about the player who is most valuable to his team. It’s about the player who is most valuable to the league. Wilson is a declining asset, like a 1980s West Texas oil field. You know what you’re getting with him, and you have a reasonable sense of how much he has left.

L-Jax is 1849 California, teeming with untold golden tonnage. The future is almost unimaginable.

Wilson has a strong case to be a future Hall-of-Famer. But if Wilson were to retire tomorrow and never play another down of football, the NFL would get over his absence pretty quickly. He’s already made his contribution to the league.

If Jackson, however, never played another down, the league would be devastated in the short term, and he would become a legend. For years, people would talk about the vastness of his potential, what could have been.

That’s the sign of his professional worth.

At this point in their careers, Jackson is more valuable than Wilson to the league’s future. If the MVP comes down to these two, it’s easy to imagine the more valuable guy — the more dynamic and epically intriguing guy — winning the award, even if the other one is technically the better player.

Lamar Jackson MVP Odds

Entering Week 12, Jackson is the frontrunner for the award with Wilson just slightly behind him.

On the one hand, +130 might seem steep with six weeks left in the season. On the other hand, after the Ravens beat the Rams on the road and the 49ers at home over the next two weeks, +130 will look like a gift.

Can the Ravens beat the Rams and 49ers in back-to-back games?

With Lamar leading the offense and the newly formed three-headed cornerback trio of Jimmy Smith, Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey dominating on defense (13.3 points allowed in their three games together), the Ravens have a real shot to win out.

I’m betting on Jackson to win MVP.

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