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Mahomes leads MVP, Dak tops comeback nominees

Clubhouse Leader: Checking the NFL’s award races after Week 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

Throughout the 2021 NFL season, NBC Sports Washington’s Ethan Cadeaux will follow all of the NFL’s award races as part of the Leader in the Clubhouse series. Here, he looks where each award race stands after the league’s opening week.

Week 1 is in the books!

After a great opening weekend of football, things are beginning to take shape across the league. The Cowboys and Buccaneers’ offenses were as good as advertised. The Saints might be something after all with Jameis Winston under center. And what the heck is wrong with the Packers?

With 17 weeks of regular season football still to go, it’s still plenty early to say who the winner will be for each of the NFL’s major awards. But if Week 1 is any indication of what’s to come, there are certainly some conclusions we can draw from. For example, my preseason Russell Wilson MVP pick is off to a hot start.

Here are the betting favorites for each NFL award, the best bets for each honor and analysis for every award race (all odds are provided by NBC Sports partner, PointsBet USA). Without further ado…

Most Valuable Player

Betting favorite: Patrick Mahomes (+500)

Best bet: Russell Wilson (+1000)

Keep an eye on: Matt Stafford (+1000)

After leading the Kansas City Chiefs to an impressive double-digit comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns, Patrick Mahomes retained his status as the betting favorite for the NFL’s biggest individual award. Mahomes currently has +500 odds to win MVP, which is still a solid price if Week 1 is a preview of what’s in store for him this season.

But I picked Wilson to win MVP preseason. And, after his four-touchdown performance in a 12-point road victory over the Colts, there’s no reason for me to change that selection. Like he has the past few years, Wilson came out of the gates looking as if he was already in midseason form. He was sharp all afternoon as Seattle dominated Indianapolis pretty much wire-to-wire. Wilson began the season with +1600 odds to win MVP, a price that has already dipped to +1000. Lock it in while you can.

While Wilson’s odds dramatically increased following Week 1, he wasn’t even the biggest mover of the bunch. That belongs to Rams signal-caller Matt Stafford, who went from preseason odds of +1900 to +1000 following his stellar outing against the Bears. Stafford earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts in his LA debut. If he can keep this up all season, Stafford will firmly remain in the MVP race.

Offensive Player of the Year

Betting Favorite: Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey (+1000)

Best Bet: McCaffrey (+1000), Dalvin Cook (+1700)

Keep an eye on: Kyler Murray (+1500)

Just like MVP, Patrick Mahomes is tied for the betting favorite for the Offensive Player of the Year honor, too. And, If Mahomes does win MVP, there’s a solid chance that he wins this award as well.

But as I mentioned in my preview edition, the OPOY award doesn’t always go to quarterbacks the MVP usually does. And on Sunday, Christian McCaffrey proved once again why he should be one of the favorites for this award. The Panthers running back is healthy this season and picked up right where he left off, contributing significantly in both the run and pass game. If McCaffrey tops that 1,000-yard mark in both rushing and receiving as he did in 2019, this award is his to lose.

It’s also worth monitoring Cardinals QB Kyler Murray for this honor as well. The dynamic signal-caller accounted for five total touchdowns in Arizona’s surprising blowout win over the Titans. If the Cardinals make noise this year, Murray will be a major reason why. He’s extremely talented and capable of putting up monster numbers that could earn him OPOY honors, too.

Defensive Player of the Year

Betting favorite: Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett (+550)

Best Bet: Donald (+550), T.J. Watt (+800)

Keep an eye on: Chandler Jones (+800)

Both Aaron Donald and Myles Garrett are tied for the best odds for Defensive Player of the Year, with each one of them turning in a solid Week 1 performance. It would be surprising if either player, barring injury, fell out of the race for this award all year.

But, perhaps Donald’s biggest challenger (he’s won DPOY three of the last four seasons) for the honor is not Garrett. That would belong to both T.J. Watt and Chandler Jones, who each had a monster Week 1 performance.

Let’s start with Jones, who entered the year making it clear he wants a new contract. So, what did he do? Oh, he just sacked Titans QB Ryan Tannehill FIVE times on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, he was awarded NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Jones is a legit candidate for end-of-the-year honors.

Unlike Jones, Watt signed a long-term extension prior to the season. Yet, new financial security didn’t slow him down in Week 1, as he recorded two sacks in Pittsburgh’s Week 1 upset over Buffalo. Watt thought he earned DPOY over Donald last season and is on a mission to win it this time 2021.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Betting favorite: Mac Jones (+300)

Best bet: Jones (+300)

Keep an eye on: Justin Fields (+800)

Of all the rookie quarterbacks that played in Week 1, it was Patriots signal-caller Mac Jones that looked the best. Both Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson had their ups and downs, while Jones was certainly the most consistent despite the Patriots falling to Miami.

New England has firmly committed to Jones as its starter after they released Cam Newton before Week 1. Of the three rookie QBs that are starting right now, he’s in the best situation and set up to succeed the most. Until either Justin Fields or Trey Lance become their respective team’s QB1, or if Wilson to Lawrence significantly step up, it’s Jones’ award to lose.

It’s also worth reminding everyone that there all still several weeks to go. At this point last year, reigning OROY Justin Herbert was the Chargers’ backup. The rookie of the year races tend to fluctuate the most of any award race throughout the year, and I don’t expect this year to be any different.

That’s a major reason why I believe it’s worth keeping tabs on Fields. The Chicago faithful is already pleading for him to be the team’s starter, especially after an uninspiring performance by Andy Dalton in Week 1. It should only be a matter of time before he’s QB1 and the Bears offense should take off once that happens.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Betting favorite: Micah Parsons, Patrick Surtain (+600)

Best bet: Parsons, Surtain (+600)

Keep an eye on: Asante Samuel Jr. (+3300)

It might only be Week 2, but the Defensive Rookie of the Year race is shaping up to be a two-man competition between Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons and Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain.

Parsons had some struggles in his debut against Tampa Bay, but he also showed plenty of flashes why he was the first linebacker off the board. He’s expected to play a big role in Dallas’ defense and should only get better as the season goes along.

For Surtain, he’s been thrust into the Broncos’ starting lineup after Ronald Darby was placed on IR. Surtain, widely considered the top cornerback in the 2021 class, will have the chance to make an immediate impact in what’s one of the deepest secondaries in football. 

Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. is a long shot to win the award, but he had a nice debut for LA against Washington in Week 1. he’s a name that the NFL should become plenty familiar with by the end of the year.

Comeback Player of the Year

Betting favorite: Dak Prescott (+165)

Best bet: Prescott (+165)

Keep an eye on: Derwin James (+1800)

In his first game back from that gruesome ankle injury he suffered last October, Cowboys star Dak Prescott did not miss a beat. Prescott threw the ball nearly 60 times on Thursday night for 403 yards and three touchdowns, nearly knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions. Prescott is on pace for an exceptional season, one that would certainly win him this award.

If Prescott isn’t going to win it, though, keep an eye on Chargers safety Derwin James, my preseason prediction for this award. The 2018 All-Pro has missed 27 of the past 32 games with multiple injuries, but he’s healthy now and made a significant impact on LA’s defense in Week 1 versus Washington.

If James can return to his All-Pro form and stay healthy throughout the season, he’ll be Prescott’s biggest competitor for this award.

Coach of the Year

Betting Favorite: Brandon Staley, Sean Payton (+1200)

Best bet: Payton (+1200)

Keep an eye on: Kliff Kingsbury (+2000)

Both Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and Saints boss Sean Payton are tied for the best odds for NFL Coach of the Year, and for good reason. Staley’s Chargers went across the country and beat Washington in a tough battle, while Payton’s Saints shocked Green Bay with a blowout win.

But after Week 1, Payton is clearly the best bet for this award. New Orleans lost franchise icon Drew Brees to retirement this offseason, but Jameis Winston came in and threw five touchdowns against a team that was a few plays away from a Super Bowl appearance last year.

The Saints’ victory over the Packers was the No.1  most surprising thing in Week 1. Payton deserves a ton of credit for having his team ready. He also sent a message to the rest of the league, too: the Saints are for real, even without Brees.

Besides New Orleans’ upset, Arizona’s blowout over Tennessee was one of the most surprising things that happened this weekend, too. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury deserves a lot of credit for his offensive attack, something Tennessee had no answer for all game. Arizona plays in the toughest division in football, but Kingsbury could earn some COY votes if the Cardinals hang around.

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