Ross Williams has four best bets across the specials markets with records expected to be broken in the 2021 NFL season.
1pt Justin Herbert to be voted Most Valuable Player at 20/1 (General)
1pt Carson Wentz to win Comeback Player of the Year at 12/1 (Betfred)
1pt Houston Texans to go 0-17 at 28/1 (Sky Bet)
1pt Any player to rush for 2106+ rushing yards & any player to throw for 5478+ yards at 20/1 (Sky Bet)
Two of the last three MVPs have been quarterbacks in their second year in the NFL, and this is a trend I’d fancy to continue in 2021.
Before the mercurial Aaron Rodgers scooped the award last season, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson each claimed the league’s most prestigious gong after building on their limited rookie opportunities and securing the starting jobs in Kansas City and Baltimore respectively.
My pick for this year’s award isn’t in exactly the same boat as he played much more of his maiden season that he could have even dared to dream, but if anything, that puts him in an even stronger position at this stage of his career than the two aforementioned superstars.
With the likes of Rodgers, Mahomes and Josh Allen at the top of market and providing stiff competition, this pick is far from a foregone conclusion, but I love the chances of JUSTIN HERBERT at 20/1.
The 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year was nothing short of remarkable in his debut season, throwing for over 4,300 yards and 31 touchdowns, while maintaining a completion rate that bettered both Tom Brady and Mahomes - the two quarterbacks who ended the season duelling in the Super Bowl.
With his first full and uninterrupted offseason under his belt and a Chargers team around him that’s widely expected to take a step-forward this season, Herbert is more than likely to push on again in his second year, throwing himself into the top-five quarterback debate by season’s end.
If his performances coincide with Los Angeles wins – with a home Super Bowl also on the (albeit distant) horizon – I don’t think it would surprise anyone to see Herbert firmly in the MVP debate at the climax of the campaign, especially if he can get the better of Mahomes in at least one of the two AFC West battles that LA are scheduled to have with Kansas City during the regular season.
After the devastation that was his 2020 season and his swift exit out of the City of Brotherly Love, it would make myself and many others so, so happy to see CARSON WENTZ honoured in February 2022, following a bounce-back year with Indianapolis and a return to the form that saw him on the cusp of MVP recognition back in 2017.
Even after a pre-season scare – involving a freak foot injury and the removal of a small bone – this vision of the future could well turn out to be reality, with Wentz undoubtedly housed in a much better situation, coaching and personnel-wise, with the Colts.
Unlike in Philadelphia where the former #2 overall pick was constantly running for his life, Wentz now has a more-than-sturdy offensive line in front of him, along with one of the league’s brightest running-back rooms and a set of young, talented receivers that are eager to impress in Michael Pittman, Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell. Not to mention a defence more than capable of putting the ball back into his hands more often than not.
Plus, he is now reunited with Frank Reich, the offensive mastermind of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl run and a man who Wentz clearly respects more than most.
If all goes to plan in Indiana, the Colts could reach the Playoffs in good style and if this was to play out, Carson Wentz’s back-from-the-brink story will be tough to ignore, in an awards category where narrative is everything.
However, there is one element to this comeback tale that leaves me with concern, and I’m afraid it centres on that dreaded C-word.
Throughout the offseason, the Colts have consistently been one of the least-vaccinated teams in the league and the warning shots have already been fired. Prior to the regular season even kicking off, multiple Indianapolis starters have faced time on the Covid-19 list, including Wentz himself as a ‘close contact’.
The NFL have made their stance on unvaccinated players abundantly clear and with Wentz seemingly unlikely to take up the offer of the jab anytime soon, he runs a significant risk of jeopardising the Colts’ season by missing game time, and there would go any chance he may have of recognition from the league’s top brass.
With this in mind, I still think Wentz is worthy of a play due to the abstract nature of this award and the NFL’s love of a feel-good story, but everything really does have to go right for the former North Dakota State signal-caller. The price is strong at 12/1.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is a solid favourite, but his price of 7/4 is too short in a market that is extremely unpredictable and often only produces its true front-runners midway through the campaign.
It’s a make-or-break season for Carson Wentz, but if he hits that upper bound, he should run away with this award when it’s given out on Super Bowl week.
If any team is going to mark the first 17-game season of this new era by going winless, you’d wager that the only possible contenders would be the New York Jets, the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans.
New York finally have their quarterback of the future (they hope) in rookie Zach Wilson, but he will undoubtedly need time in the NFL environment before the Jets make any kind of real move. However, Robert Saleh’s team should be looking to at least improve on their awful 2020 campaign by picking off a few wins against the bottom-feeders and perhaps even shocking one or two of the big boys, as they did at the end of the last campaign.
As for Detroit, Dan Campbell’s arrival and the blockbuster Matt Stafford-Jared Goff trade has signalled the beginning of a huge rebuild in the Motor City. Their new head coach was given a six-year deal in the spring and it’s clear the expectations are low at ownership level, at least in the short-term.
But, Campbell isn’t the kind of character to roll over and accept the inevitable and Detroit did do some solid business over the offseason on paper, which is enough reason to believe the Lions will at least claw and scratch their way to a few wins this season, while still maintaining a valuable, lofty pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
That leaves the stricken HOUSTON TEXANS who, thanks to the ongoing and deeply murky Deshaun Watson situation, have been resigned to the junkyard in 2021.
The inexperienced (at least at head coach level) David Culley is now in charge down in Texas and Houston’s offseason dealings led to some serious head-scratching. Seemingly engulfed by the Watson saga, the franchise failed to impress anyone during free agency as they stockpiled castaway veterans, and the 2021 NFL Draft barely featured the Texans at all.
Plus, on top of everything else, the team lost J.J. Watt to the Cardinals – a man routinely recognised as the best player in the history of the franchise and the beating heart of the locker room.
With few leaders left and the NFL’s darkest cloud casting a shadow over the organisation, 2021 is set to be bleak for the Texans and it’s difficult to see where their wins will come from.
Veterans playing for their 2022 contracts elsewhere might just pull them over the line for one or two victories over the course of this season, but I’m heavily tempted by the 28/1 for the Texans to go 0-17 and – on a related, bonus note – the Texans to be awarded the first pick of the 2022 NFL Draft at 9/4 looks to be the banker of the season.
If there was ever a year for breaking records, it’s this one.
Away from the inevitable boost that the return of full crowds will provide each of the 32 franchises, we have all the prospects that come with the advent of the long-awaited 17-game season.
Players are going to have a whole extra game to go after the long-standing NFL records that were set in the 16-game era, and that makes for some very interesting betting opportunities.
Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, which has stood since 1984, may well be in serious jeopardy with the added opportunity for the NFL’s elite rushers, and Derrick Henry in particular.
The Tennessee Titans star became the eighth member of the ‘2,000 Club’ in 2020, and a replication of that form this season would get the job done.
In order to reach Dickerson’s record, Henry would have to stay healthy for the full regular season and rush for an average of 123.8 yards per game. That’s a huge number to maintain, and injuries can obviously happen at any time, but for the optimists out there it’s worth nothing that Henry actually averaged 126.7 yards per game last season, and played in every game.
If Henry was able to put that kind of season together again in 2021, he’d end the season with 2,153 rushing yards and the all-time record. His averages have only ever improved year-on-year, so why not?
With Ryan Tannehill unlikely to improve substantially at quarterback this season (despite the added help of the veteran Julio Jones) and a new offensive coordinator needing time to bed in, everything points to the Titans being run-heavy again this season and Henry having every opportunity to make history.
Any player to rush for 2106+ rushing yards (13/2) looks to be tremendous value given the information above, not least as it also opens the door for the possibility of Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook making a run at the all-time rushing title, if the Vikings back is able to stay healthy for the foreseeable.
With the added game in hand, the NFL’s all-time passing title will also be up for grabs, although a step-up will be required from last season’s efforts.
Only five players passed for more than 4,500 yards in 2020 and no one was able to crack the 5,000, which puts the current crop of quarterbacks well off the pace set by Peyton Manning’s mark of 5,477 yards back in 2013.
However, the 2021 season will involve five quarterbacks who have gone past the fabled 5k in the past and, of those, at least the trio of Matt Stafford, Patrick Mahomes and Jameis Winston still have the arm strength to sling it all season long. Plus, the return of Dak Prescott raises another possibility, based on his play before he went down injured against the Giants last term.
Although Dak’s recent shoulder issue is undoubtedly a concern for me, the Cowboys’ QB was averaging a whopping 371 passing yards per game over the first five weeks of last season, and that figure includes the game where the injury occurred, where Dak only played long enough to complete 14 passes.
Over 17 games, maintaining that average would have left Prescott with 6,310 yards – over 800 yards clear of Manning’s record.
It’s unlikely an average as high as 371 yards is even possible over the course of a whole regular season, but 800 yards is an awful lot of wriggle room, and there’s no question that Dak Prescott will be aiming to silence any critics of the huge contract Dallas gave him this offseason.
The value for any player to throw for 5478+ yards is okay but not massive at 7/4, so my preference would be to double up BOTH THE RUSHING AND PASSING RECORDS TO BE BROKEN at 20/1 in the hope that the 17-game 2021 season really is one to remember.
Odds correct at 1630 BST (07/09/21)
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