As the NFL returns for another season, Paul Higham runs through the pick of the specials markets from MVP and Coach of the Year through the rushing, receiving and passing leaders.
*Prices subject to change
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Aaron Rodgers has won back-to-back MVPs and with four in total he’s just one behind Peyton Manning’s record. Three in a row will be tough after losing star receiver Davante Adams, but the last man to win three in a row was Rodger’s predecessor in Green Bay, Brett Favre..
It’s a popularity contest in many ways and sometimes style can rule over substance, so Tom Brady will always have a chance, the ‘new Tom Brady’, Joe Burrow (12/1) will also have plenty of eyes on him after leading the Bengals to the Super Bowl – and having national primetime games really helps in this market.
Josh Allen is a worthy favourite after his stellar performances leading the Buffalo Bills last season – including that epic play-off defeat in Kansas City.
Not only has he got a cannon for an arm, and threw for 4,407 yards and 36 TDs last season, he’s a huge bull of a runner so can fill up highlight reels making plays with his legs as well as his arm. He’s been in the conversation for a couple of years and this could finally be his year.
Behind Allen it’s wide open and with Rodgers, Brady and Patrick Mahomes all having some questions to answer, Justin Herbert (10/1) looks his main challenger, both in their division and in this market.
Herbert has had statistically a better start to his career than Mahomes but the Chargers not making the play-offs has hurt him. He can make all the throws though and his LA team look primed for a big run this time around.
45 of the 66 MVP winners have been QBs, including 14 of the last 15, with only Adrian Peterson in 2012 breaking that run. LA Rams receiver Cooper Kupp is the only non-QB in the last five years to even get a vote!
Only legendary running backs have broken through, with 18 RBs winning the title, so if a player is to break the monopoly it’ll be Derrick Henry (40/1) or Jonathan Taylor (30/1) producing historic numbers to run the Titans or Colts respectively to the play-offs.
The two best value QBs in the betting though are Derek Carr of the Las Vegas Raiders and former MVP winner Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens.
Carr had 4,804 yards and 23 TDs last season but now has superstar receiver Davante Adams, who is also his former college team-mate. Added to a dominant tight end in Darren Waller then Carr could easily top 5,000 yards and close to 40 TDs.
If he does that, gets the Raiders to the play-offs from a stacked division with high-profile games against Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson, then his odds of 28/1 will look a steal.
Jackson was a unanimous winner of the MVP in 2019, is still only 25, and is still unplayable on his day as one of the best running QBs we’ve seen. His talent alone means his odds of 20/1 look too big on a Ravens team that could be more than decent this year.
Best Bet - Josh Allen7/1
Value Bet - Derek Carr28/1
Value Bet - Lamar Jackson20/1
Coach of the Year
While Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp hoover up the Premier League’s version, the NFL Coach of the Year gong has recently gone to someone exceeding expectations and upsetting the odds – like Mike Vrabel with the Titans last year.
Matt LaFleur’s three straight 13-win seasons with the Packers is almost expected because he’s got Aaron Rodgers and Sean McDermott has been overlooked because Josh Allen stars for the Bills, to win this you have to be seen to be punching above your weight.
So instead of a Bill Belichick, Sean McVay or Andy Reid leading the way, it’s second-year Chargers coach Brandon Staley who is the market leader, thanks to his combination of his brilliant interviews for the media and bold play calling.
If he improves the Chargers’ woeful defence from last season, and bags a play-off spot with more gutsy calls, then he’ll have a huge chance – those calls he makes could go either way though.
Nathaniel Hackett is in his first year at Denver, in the toughest division in football, but has Russell Wilson as QB and the pieces left of a top defence. If the Broncos upset the other more glamourous teams in this division then Hackett has a great shout.
With first-year coaches having won three of the last five awards, it’s no surprise to see Miami’s Mike McDaniel up there. He’s another brilliant character and an offensive wizard while at the 49ers – if he gets a tune out of much-maligned QB Tua Tagovailoa and a play-off spot then he’ll go close.
Dan Campbell is an interesting bet at 18/1 if you’re big on the Detroit Lions. The media love him, and Detroit have been so bad for so long that any kind of meagre success could land him the award. Plus, they’re only 4/1 to make the play-offs, which if they do would make him an almost automatic choice for this at 18/1.
I know which odds I’d rather take…
Best Bet - Brandon Staley12/1
Value Bet - Dan Campbell18/1
Most Regular Season Passing Yards
As you can see by the odds, the bookies aren’t really too sure as there are so many star QBs in a league that’s set up for the passing game. 10 players went over 4,000 yards last season with Brady and Herbert eclipsing the 5,000-yard mark.
I don’t see too much changing in this landscape apart from Brady perhaps finally hitting the wall, but there were no signs of that last season at all when he won this with by over 300 yards with a total of 5,316.
Joe Burrow looks the bet for me though – he had the best completion percentage of the top QBs and threw it far less (200 times less than Brady for example) and while the volume may go down for Brady and Herbert it’ll definitely go up for Burrow as the Bengals put their future in his hands.
He averaged over 350 yards a game over his last five regular season outings and with his three deadly receivers still there he can extend that run to a full season.
At a slightly bigger price Derek Carr, as we’ve mentioned, has a brilliant arsenal of weapons at his disposal, and after coming fifth last year with 4,804 yards and then adding Davante Adams, it’d be no surprise to see him top the charts when playing in expected high-scoring contests in the division.
Best Bet - Matthew Stafford8/1
Value Bet - Kirk Cousins25/1
Most Regular Season Receiving Yards
Cooper Kupp was just 18 yards short of breaking Calvin Johnson’s record last season as he produced a phenomenal season, and he’s favourite to retain his title – just as Johnson did when he was also being thrown the ball by Matthew Stafford.
It’s a big ask for Kupp to repeat his numbers even with this QB and on this team, and although new signing Allen Robinson may create more space for him, it also may take away a few targets – he’ll also get special attention from opposing defences.
Justin Jefferson may have won any other year with his 1,616 yards last season, and with his new coach likely to open things up he should surpass that mark and throw down the challenge again to Kupp.
Ja’Marr Chase had some huge games last season but had some quiet ones too. With 128 targets though he was miles behind the likes of Kupp and Jefferson, so with a few more thrown his way, his average of 18 yards per catch could see him right at the sharp end again.
Best Bet - Justin Jefferson8/1
Value Bet - Ja'Marr Chase12/1
Most Regular Season Rushing Yards
Jonathan Taylor won this last year as Derrick Henry, winner of the two years previous, played just eight games due to injury. Getting enough carries and staying fit while getting smashed about is the key to winning the rushing title.
So it really is survival of the fittest, as if Henry had been able to play the second half of last season then he’d have won a third straight title. If he’s back up to full speed and can play a full season then he’ll be hard to beat as he’ll again carry the Titans offence.
Taylor is the youngest and most durable of the front-runners, with Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb also having injury problems and missing games last season, and even with Matt Ryan at the Colts he’s still set to get a heavy workload, so he’s the safest bet to retain his title.
Chubb would the value play, as Cleveland will be without suspended QB Deshaun Watson for 11 games so the Browns will lean heavily on the run game – and Chubb’s 5.5 yards per carry was the joint-best mark along with Taylor among the top RBs.