Early odds in the 2023 NFL MVP market are much sharper than normal. I’ve analyzed NFL awards markets on the Establish the Run platform for years. I’ve accumulated data and tracked trends in awards markets for more than a decade. I have never seen this large of a year-to-year shift in opening lines in an awards market. These changes are so significant, I’m not making a February MVP bet for the first time in half a decade.
In this article, I’m going to explain these changes through a few examples. I’ll then discuss how I’m going to adapt my process to these changes.
Analyzing Lamar Jackson
On March 18 of last year, I bet on Lamar Jackson to win the NFL MVP at +2800 odds. Jackson has already won this award, he had a clear path to contention and we knew he’d be a member of the Baltimore Ravens. I would have set Jackson’s odds at +1600 last season, which is why I made that wager.
Right now, you can get Jackson between +1300 and +1600 odds. He still has a clear path to contention, but he’s now missed significant time in each of the last two years. Given his contract situation, we also don’t know with absolute certainty where Jackson will play next season.
I don’t have a big issue with Jackson’s +1600 price, but his situation this season is more volatile than last year’s. Despite that, Jackson has significantly worse odds right now than he did around this time last year.
Analyzing Trey Lance
Last season, Trey Lance opened at 200:1 odds in this race, gradually receding into +5000 territory by late spring. I bet on Lance at two different junctures last offseason. The first came at those 200:1 odds, as that price was ridiculous. Months later, I bought another position at +6600 when Lance was becoming more likely than not to start on opening day.
The San Francisco 49ers went to the NFC Championship the previous season, and they were bringing just about everyone back. I’m going to bet on quarterbacks with first-round draft capital and long-shot odds in those situations every time. I would have priced Lance at 30:1 odds last season.
In early MVP markets for the 2023 season, Lance has +3000 to +5000 odds. Lance is a dual-threat quarterback that’s coming off a season-ending ankle injury that required a second surgery. If Brock Purdy didn’t injure his throwing arm in the NFC Championship, he’s probably the 2023 starter. Purdy walked right in as the last pick in the 2022 draft and was a more effective passer than Lance has been to this point.
Lance is entering the 2023 season with less job security and far more tepid backing than he had in his first two years. Despite that volatility, Lance’s current odds mimic his late spring/early summer lines of last year.
Analyzing Mac Jones
In 2021, Mac Jones made the playoffs as a rookie while outplaying each of the four quarterbacks selected ahead of him. Jones would have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year in most seasons, he just ran against Ja’Marr Chase’s historic campaign. Despite those conditions, you could get Jones at 100:1 odds in early MVP markets last year. I did not bet on Jones last season, but he was a value play I would have priced at 40:1 odds.
Last season, the New England Patriots missed the playoffs with an 8-9 record. Jones' performance was so underwhelming to the point a couple of good Bailey Zappe outings created a mini-quarterback controversy. Jones had a massive Thanksgiving night-spike game against the Minnesota Vikings’ atrocious pass defense. Outside of that outing, Jones did little to entrench himself as the Patriots' future quarterback in his second season. Despite those significant dips in Jones’ outlook, he currently has between +6000 to +6600 odds in this race.
Last Year's Process
The NFL MVP is a quarterback award. I start my process by asking two questions for each team’s starting quarterback. Can this quarterback:
- Lead an elite offense while scoring the most touchdowns at the position?
- Headline the No. 1 seed in their respective conference?
If the answer isn’t “yes” for at least one of those questions, I eliminate that player from consideration.
Last year, I wanted to bet on NFC options, with long odds, whose team had a realistic path to the conference’s top seed. Three players met those conditions: Jalen Hurts, Lance and Kirk Cousins. Considering the Philadelphia Eagles, 49ers and Vikings were the top three seeds in the NFC last season, I couldn’t have bet that situation much better. Especially since Hurts may have won if he didn’t miss two games due to injury.
The cluster of AFC contenders were all favorites, which is why Jackson was the only AFC quarterback I bet on before the season. Late in the year, I ended up hedging with Patrick Mahomes when he was +200 while having two live positions on Hurts.
This Year's Process
Normally, I acquire deep long-shot tickets, as I did with Lance and Hurts last year, when lines open in February. I then add an option or two I can get at a value as I did with Jackson and Cousins before opening day. I then pivot during the season as needed.
Entering this year, I had the same general plan as last season. I wanted to start this year’s portfolio with an NFC long shot or two. The problem here is Jared Goff is +2500 and Geno Smith is +3000. If one of them was 75:1 or better, like they would have been in previous years, I’d have already bet on them. Unfortunately, there is no value at their current prices.
Cousins was 50:1 last year, and he’s 50:1 right now. He is the most bettable long shot on the board. That said, I was much more bullish on Minnesota last year than I will be this season. So, at least for now, Cousins is a pass for me, too. There are a few other quarterbacks with 50:1 or better odds worth monitoring, but none I’m considering a bet on.
Oddly enough, lines for the primary favorites are closer to normal than everyone else’s. The lack of viable long shots in this race means I’m more likely to bet on a favorite with an advantageous, early schedule. We won’t get the order of the schedule until mid-May.
Until then, it’s possible a less mainstream sportsbook releases someone like Goff at a more bettable price. I keep mentioning Goff because the Lions are an ascending team that was fifth in the league in points per game last season. Outside of that, I won’t force any early bets unless there is significant value on a player with a realistic path to contention.
We’ll discuss other markets as they are released. Historically, most of those open soon after the draft. Opening lines will likely be sharper in those markets as well, but I don’t expect as big of a change as we’ve seen in the early MVP market.