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2014 MVP Odds and Historical QB MVP Performance

On July 8th, Bovada released some early MVP odds, so I figured it would be fun to take a few minutes and examine which players seem like the best and worst bets. Bovada listed odds for 40 players. For example, Peyton Manning has odds of “3/1” which implies that he has a 25% chance of winning the MVP (if you bet $10 on Manning, you get your $10 back plus $30 from the casino). The odds for all 40 players sum to about 140%, which means there’s a healthy house cushion built into these odds. And it’s even worse than that, as Bovada did not include a “Field” category, so the 140% doesn’t even include all possibilities. In any event, I divided each player’s implied odds by 140% to get “adjusted” percentages (or vigorish-adjusted odds) of winning the MVP. Take a look:

1Peyton Manning3/10.250.179
2Drew Brees11/20.1540.11
3Aaron Rodgers15/20.1180.084
4Tom Brady9/10.10.072
5Andrew Luck16/10.0590.042
6Jay Cutler20/10.0480.034
6Matthew Stafford20/10.0480.034
8Adrian Peterson25/10.0380.028
8Calvin Johnson25/10.0380.028
8Cam Newton25/10.0380.028
8Colin Kaepernick25/10.0380.028
8LeSean McCoy25/10.0380.028
8Robert Griffin III25/10.0380.028
8Russell Wilson25/10.0380.028
15Matt Ryan33/10.0290.021
16Nick Foles40/10.0240.017
17Ben Roethlisberger50/10.020.014
17Eli Manning50/10.020.014
17Marshawn Lynch50/10.020.014
17Philip Rivers50/10.020.014
17Tony Romo50/10.020.014
22Brandon Marshall66/10.0150.011
22Demaryius Thomas66/10.0150.011
22Dez Bryant66/10.0150.011
22Jamaal Charles66/10.0150.011
22Jimmy Graham66/10.0150.011
22Julio Jones66/10.0150.011
22Matt Forte66/10.0150.011
29Andy Dalton100/10.010.007
29Arian Foster100/10.010.007
29Eddie Lacy100/10.010.007
29Joe Flacco100/10.010.007
29Johnny Manziel100/10.010.007
29Rob Gronkowski100/10.010.007
35Alex Smith150/10.0070.005
35Alfred Morris150/10.0070.005
35Antonio Brown150/10.0070.005
35C.J. Spiller150/10.0070.005
39DeMarco Murray200/10.0050.004
39Frank Gore200/10.0050.004

We all know that quarterback is, by far, the most likely position to snag the AP trophy. Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, and LeSean McCoy are the three non-quarterbacks with the highest odds, and each are at 25:1. It seems to me like McCoy is the best bet of the three, since (1) Peterson just won two years ago (which could hurt him in a close race) and is on the wrong side of the running back aging curve, and (2) Megatron has already posted monster numbers several times and never come close to snagging an MVP or OPOY award.1 Dez Bryant, Jamaal Charles, Jimmy Graham, C.J. Spiller, and DeMarco Murray stick out to me as the most enticing longshots among non-quarterbacks, but let’s instead focus on the position most likely to receive the award.

Since 1970, 30 quarterbacks have won the AP MVP trophy, including in 10 of the last 13 years (Peterson ’12, LaDainian Tomlinson ’06, and Shaun Alexander ’05 are the lone exceptions). The table below shows how each quarterback did relative to league average in several major categories. For example, here’s how to read Manning’s line from last year. His completion percentage was 112% of league average, his gross passing yards was 145% of league average, and his passing touchdowns was 219% of league average. For the next three categories, lower is better: His number of interceptions was 40% of league average, and his number of sacks and sack yards lost were 44% and 45% of league average. Manning’s gross number of pass attempts was 116% of league average, and his ANY/A was 151% of league average. His team’s number of wins, pro-rated to 16-games for all seasons, was 13.0.

2013Peyton ManningDEN112%145%219%40%44%45%116%151%13
2011Aaron RodgersGNB114%126%193%26%97%91%92%159%15
2010Tom BradyNWE108%110%153%17%71%75%91%144%14
2009Peyton ManningIND113%129%149%72%29%34%107%133%14
2008Peyton ManningIND110%118%134%59%43%42%107%121%12
2007Tom BradyNWE113%140%222%36%61%57%109%161%16
2004Peyton ManningIND113%135%214%44%35%43%97%174%12
2003Peyton ManningIND114%133%142%49%53%50%110%141%12
2003Steve McNairTEN106%100%117%34%56%51%78%150%12
2002Rich GannonOAK113%138%120%46%98%91%114%130%11
2001Kurt WarnerSTL116%147%176%107%98%96%105%143%14
1999Kurt WarnerSTL114%128%191%61%72%78%92%160%13
1997Brett FavreGNB105%120%170%78%60%63%98%132%13
1996Brett FavreGNB104%117%187%62%108%102%102%129%13
1995Brett FavreGNB108%125%172%59%92%92%102%134%11
1994Steve YoungSFO121%116%168%48%93%74%86%153%13
1992Steve YoungSFO116%115%136%38%71%54%84%166%14
1990Joe MontanaSFO110%127%127%78%76%57%108%124%14
1989Joe MontanaSFO126%104%125%38%84%69%75%159%14
1988Boomer EsiasonCIN106%111%141%71%81%89%77%155%12
1987John ElwayDEN100%105%87%55%51%47%85%134%11.2
1984Dan MarinoMIA114%154%219%77%28%34%110%179%14
1983Joe TheismannWAS106%113%130%49%78%73%91%144%14
1981Ken AndersonCIN115%115%137%47%69%48%95%149%12
1980Brian SipeCLE108%132%139%65%62%75%113%138%11
1978Terry BradshawPIT106%115%168%120%58%74%87%150%14
1976Bert JonesBAL116%146%156%58%79%95%94%191%12.6
1975Fran TarkentonMIN122%131%150%78%77%87%111%146%13.7
1974Ken StablerOAK109%115%180%83%57%55%84%180%13.7
1970John BrodieSFO115%130%146%61%24%24%100%181%12

Voters are not swayed by lots of yards courtesy of many attempts

Voters are not swayed by lots of yards courtesy of many attempts.

Of course, what’s interesting here is the average column. Passing yards don’t hold as much sway as you might think: it’s TDs and INTs that seem to carry the day. In fact, the average MVP-winning quarterback threw fewer passes than league average. Efficiency is important: ANY/A incorporates yards per attempt with TD and INT bonuses, and it appears that voters do care about ANY/A, even if they may not think about the metric in specific terms. I’m a bit surprised (but pleaesed!) to see voters take sack data so seriously. Less surprising: the average quarterback was on a team with 13 wins.

With that data in hand, here are my thoughts on Bovada’s odds on the quarterbacks, knowing that touchdowns, interceptions, ANY/A, and wins are the big numbers to focus on:

  • Peyton Manning is the slam dunk favorite to win the MVP. He’s the favorite to lead the NFL in TDs and ANY/A, and the Broncos are one of the favorites to have the best record in the NFL. There’s a limit to how high a player’s MVP odds really can be, but at 3/1, Vegas may even be factoring in some Manning fatigue among voters.
  • I agree that Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are the next two best bets, but they have roughly equal chances in my mind. So I’d say Brees is a bit overvalued, Rodgers a bit undervalued.
  • It feels weird seeing Tom Brady so high on this list after a down 2013 season, but I agree with his placement at #4. He throws so few interceptions and the Patriots are so consistently good that it’s hard to think Brady is ever too far out of the MVP running.
  • Ignoring team wins for a moment, my next two quarterbacks would probably be Nick Foles and Tony Romo. Both have the potential for 30+ TD seasons with minimal interceptions and solid efficiency numbers. Vegas has Foles and Romo at the back end of the top 20; that seems off to me, especially with Andrew Luck, Jay Cutler, and Matthew Stafford ahead of them. Luck does seem on the verge of a breakout season, but he’d have to make significant improvements across the board to be the MVP. Cutler and Stafford both have interception issues and injury question marks: I don’t see why either would be ahead of Foles or Romo, much less significantly ahead of both. While Vegas may think that MVP voters like volume, we just saw that throwing touchdowns and efficiency metrics are most correlated with taking home the trophy; in that regard, Foles/Romo certainly appear to have the edge on Cutler/Stafford.
  • What if we don’t ignore wins? I don’t really know what to do with Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick. Both could easily be on teams that lead the NFL in wins, and I wouldn’t be shocked if either finished in the top three in ANY/A. The voters do seem to penalize for sacks more than I would have guessed — and that’s an issue for both Wilson and Kaepernick — but good running seasons could be enough to steal the MVP. A sweep by either team in their matchups, a 13- or 14-win season, and just slight improvement on 2013 numbers may be enough to win the MVP. At 25/1, both seem like good plays.
  • How is Cam Newton also listed at 25/1?2 How is Eli Manning tied with Romo and Philip Rivers at 50/1? Rivers would probably be next on my list after Manning/Brees/Rodgers/Brady/Wilson/Kaepernick/Foles/Romo. Eli wouldn’t be in my top 15 of quarterbacks most likely to win the MVP this year. Like the Johnny Manziel at 100/1 pick, I think Vegas just put certain players on the list at higher odds than appropriate just because Vegas is in the busy of making money. There are, I suspect, a lot of people who want to put money on Eli or Manziel just because they’re from New York or “why not?”
  • I’m surprised to see RG3 come off the board at 25/1. Is this a case of Vegas knowing something we don’t, or is this more like the Manning/Manziel picks? I like Griffin, but putting him ahead of Rivers, Romo, and Foles, and tied with Kaepernick and Wilson, seems really hard to justify.

So to recap, I like Rivers, Foles, and Romo, and can’t quite fathom the odds for Eli Manning, Manziel, or Newton. I think Wilson and Kaepernick are solid bets, but would back away from NFC North QBs not named Rodgers and the 2012 quarterback class other than Foles. What do you think?

  1. Oh, and no wide receiver has ever won the AP MVP award, so getting 8/1 odds on Johnson is hardly enticing. []
  2. Vegas did see what happened in Carolina this off-season, right? []
  • Kibbles

    Even with his heavy favorite status, I think Peyton is the only guy who would really tempt me to put money on. He’s won the league MVP in half of his last ten seasons, and that number very easily could have been 8 of 10. Everyone remembers the debate in 2012. Manning finished second to Shaun Alexander in ’05, when Alexander wasn’t even the most valuable player on his own offense. 2006 might seem like the hardest case to make, since Tomlinson was so sublime, but the truth is that was probably the second-best season of Manning’s 5-time-MVP career. Is there really any RB season that is worth the MVP over Peyton Manning’s second-best year?

    So, anyway, Peyton’s won the MVP 50% of the time, and that number could easily be 80% of the time. He’s proven immune to voter fatigue thus far. Last year’s numbers will be hard to top, but at the end of the day, the voters are going to want to give it to the best quarterback, and that’s probably going to be Manning. Dude’s earned more than 50% of all first-team AP All Pro votes at the position over the last decade+, meaning if you picked a random AP voter in any random season and asked him who the best QB in the NFL was, Peyton Manning would actually outperform the field.

    Not a lot of profit to be made on 3/1, but that would be my bet.

    • Wilson

      Using Approximate Value from pro-football-reference, Tomlinson’s 2006 season was the best ever. Even if we give Manning the 2005 MVP, does he deserve his 2008&2009 MvP?

      • Ajit

        I’m not sure who was a better candidate in 2008 given it was an overall down year as far as qbs go. His qbr was the highest in 2008 and the only ones statistically who could be construed as better both had inferior records(that seems to matter a lot to mvp voters).

        2009 was really a race between Brees and Peyton and I think Peyton won on the back of a would be undefeated season. He again led the league in qbr that year too, so I’m probably inclined to say he deserved it then as well.

  • Since we already know the table contains percentages relative to average (because you told us), do you have the time or inclination to remove the % signs in the table so it will sort?

    And I agree with Kibbles. Barring some sort of catastrophe, Manning is always the one to look out for to win the MVP. I think in 2006 they gave it to LDT because of the broken records, but I think Manning really did have the more valuable year. I may have given it to him last year too (although I would have probably given it to Brees or even Favre). I still don’t get how people can ignore 178 wins and focus on 12 losses as the reason he isn’t on a completely different level.

    Joe Montana is my favorite quarterback, but good grief I will at least admit that Peyton Manning would probably have 4 rings too, if he played for teams built like the 80s 49ers.

    • Richie

      Joe Montana is my favorite quarterback, but good grief I will at least admit that Peyton Manning would probably have 4 rings too, if he played for teams built like the 80s 49ers.

      You’re crazy. Manning clearly can’t handle the pressure of big games. Except, of course, for the big games that he actually won.

      • Ajit

        I don’t know it came to be conventional wisdom that those 49er teams were all about Montana. Hell, they weren’t even all about him and Rice. That team had so many great players spanning an entire decade. Going over Dr.z All pros for that decade listed a number of niner all pros. I wouldn’t be surprised if they smash the dvoa record for the decade if dvoa ever gets that far back.

      • Justin

        When looking at QBs, I try to look at the team they have around them, and among the elite ones, Manning has consistently had the worst defensive team backing him up. For example, in Montana’s Super Bowl winning years, the AVERAGE defensive ranking of his 49ers was about 5th in the NFL each year (ppg). For Brady’s three Super Bowl wins, his team averaged 3rd in the NFL in defense (ppg) each year. Manning’s lone Super Bowl win, his team was 23rd in the NFL in defense, and last year, the Broncos were 22nd in the NFL in defense. Manning has been saddled with mediocre defenses for most of his NFL career. Talking about doing more with less, that is really Manning’s middle name, and why MVP voters like him.

  • David

    I think if Manning is in a close MVP race at the end of the year voters may look the other way. I’d imagine that a voter would have a sour taste in their mouth after seeing Manning choke so bad in the Super Bowl after the much celebrated regular season he had.

    Maybe you could do a calculation on the correlation between MVP votes and playoff wins. I recall, from the Team-of-the-decade posts, that you have a pretty good weighted formula for playoff wins.

    Anyways, I’d bet on Rodgers this year (I’d pick Brady, but I’m a Patriots fan, so that would be biased).

    • Cool post. I like Rodgers here, too. And Matt Ryan along with Romo as potential dark horses if everything breaks right. But Manning and Rodgers (particularly him, to me) seem like the best bets to me.

  • Also, there are some interesting differences between Bovada’s numbers and Sportsbook’s ones. Some notable ones:
    Brees: 11/2 at bovada, 8/1 at sportsbook
    Wilson: 25/1 at bovada, 18/1 at sportsbook
    Stafford: 20/1 at bovada, 50/1 at sportsbook (!)

  • Richie

    I’m a bit surprised (but pleaesed!) to see voters take sack data so seriously. Less surprising: the average quarterback was on a team with 13 wins.

    Has anybody looked at a correlation between sacks and wins? I find it hard to believe that voters are even subconsciously factoring in sacks in their MVP votes. But, I would believe that QB’s who get sacked a lot generally don’t win enough games to garner MVP votes.

    • RustyHilgerReborn

      This might explain why Stafford has such high odds, since he was the second least-sacked quarterback behind the elder Manning in 2013. Still, even as a Lions fan, I think 20-1 is a sucker bet, and can’t imagine they’ll be getting much action with those odds.

  • Richie

    If Bovada had produced a list like this every year; how many “field” players would have won the MVP?

    I’m guessing Kurt Warner in 1999 would have been a “field” pick.
    Maybe Lawrence Taylor in 1986?
    Hopefully Mark Moseley in 1982. And, really, there deserves to be a 700-page book written about how a kicker won the MVP. Let alone a kicker that missed 3 PATs and 1 FG.

  • The NFL MVP award is based almost entirely on regular season statistics. Nick Foles should be a lot higher on the first chart.

    • Richie

      You should put your money where your mouth is. If you are confident that he is underrated on the odds, then you have an excellent opportunity.

      “Should” when dealing with betting lines is kind of useless. Bovada is posting numbers on what they think they can make money on, not their subjective estimate of how good the players are.

  • Chris

    Obviously, Manning is the favorite, and with no signs of declining anytime soon and being a perennial award winner, he is the best to bet money on. However, my pick is Brees, I expect him to break the records that Manning set in 2013.

  • Ajit

    I would be stunned if Manning won the mvp again. It’s not that I think he’s going to be poor, he’ll likely be right at the top of conventional statistics, but the sheer manning fatigue factor plus last year’s statistics will both factors used against him. I honestly think the favorite is Brady.

    • Richie

      I’m torn. I think Manning should still be pretty good this year. The Broncos should be good. Given the 5 MVPs he already has, fatigue possibilities seem lessened for him.

      However, it seems unlikely that Manning will be AS GOOD as he was last year, and it seems unlikely that the Broncos will be AS GOOD as they were last year. So that would create opportunity for another team/QB combo to have a better year.

      I think I’m with you on Brady. The Patriots are so good every year, and I will just assume they will continue to be good until they finally aren’t. If they have another 12-13 win season in 2014, Brady will surely be perceived as the main reason why.

  • Dale

    I really don’t see Manning winning it for 2014. My reasons? In 2013, he blew out everyone else with his regular season stat line. But who were the Broncos playing in the regular season? The AFC West faced the NFC LEast. With all the receivers that were on that Broncos team, it was easy to pad stats against such weak competition. When presented with a good defense, Manning looked pathetic in the Super Bowl. Even if Manning were to have another very good regular season, the Super Bowl choke (along with past post-season failures) will stick in voters minds. There will be some reluctance to vote for Manning just because there is so much evidence that Manning has shown lots of regular season bling only to be found wanting in big-time contests.

    But I really doubt that Manning will even show big regular season stats this year. AFC West teams will face off against NFC West teams this year during the regular season. The NFC West had three of the top 6 defenses in the NFL in 2013. The Rams defense was ranked middle of the pack. But I expect the Rams defense to play better in 2014 than they did in 2013. It will be very difficult for Manning to put up big stats going against NFC West defenses.

    My money would probably be on Aaron Rodgers to win it in 2014. Rodgers is in his prime and the Packers don’t play many games against top-ranked defenses. Brees and Brady both seem to be on the wane. To this point in time, there have just been too many holes in Luck’s game for him to be an MVP candidate. Wilson was being named as a potential MVP candidate last year (although that was more for MVP first runner-up). But playing in the NFC West, Wilson will have an even more daunting task than Manning because he has to face the other NFC West teams twice. Still, with all that Wilson has accomplished over his first two seasons, I would have to put Wilson ahead of Cutler, Stafford, and the other young multi-dimensional QBs with whom he is grouped (Newton, RGIII, Kaepernick).

  • Justin

    It’s funny how people who are so biased talk about Manning “choking” in playoff games. He really has not, as his career passer rating in playoff games shows. He is ranked in the top ten all time in playoff passer rating, ahead of several multiple Super Bowl winners, including Brady. And since QBR was established in 2006, he has ranked very high in playoff QBR each year. Last year he played bad against the Seahawks. Some news: every QB played bad against the Seahawks. They were one of the best defensive teams of my lifetime, and proved it game after game. In the AFC playoff games before the Super Bowl, Manning outclassed both Rivers and Brady in getting the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Have we forgot about that?