NFL MVP (Most Valuable Player) is the most prized individual award in pro football, and it provides a tantalising subplot to every single season.
Betting on the MVP race is one of the most volatile markets around, providing weekly swings with one false move potentially ruining a contender’s dreams of picking up the big prize.
One poor performance or one minor injury can wreck everything - continued excellence is the only way to win this bauble.
Let’s look at how the race for NFL MVP stands in 2023, 17 weeks into the regular season.
Week 17 is in the books, including a potentially decisive move from one superstar QB:
1/100 Lamar Jackson (QB, Baltimore Ravens): Heading into Week 16, Lamar was a 5/1 shot for MVP, but now he is unbackable after two sensational performances in Baltimore’s biggest games of the year. After knocking off mighty San Francisco on Monday Night Football, next up he led the Ravens to the AFC North title AND the #1 seed in the AFC as they blasted Miami 56-19. Jackson was terrific, completing 18 of 21 passes for 321 yards and 5 TDs. And remember, he is doing all this without his best receiving weapon - injured TE Mark Andrews. Lamar is now likely to win his second MVP award with just the Week 18 meeting vs Pittsburgh to come. It’s astonishing to think that earlier this year every team in the league had the chance to make a run at him during a contract impasse with the Ravens, and not one did. Go figure…
16/1 Dak Prescott (QB, Dallas Cowboys): A couple of weeks ago Prescott was an odds-on favourite for MVP after an incredible run of form, but then he fluffed his lines during an embarrassing Cowboys loss in Buffalo. Another L followed in Miami, before Dak got back to winning ways in Week 17 with a slightly fortunate 20-19 success over Detroit on Saturday night. He was excellent in throwing for 345 yards and a pair of scores, but Dallas still needed a little help from the refs to get over the line. It was likely too little, too late for Prescott and his MVP hopes - he faltered just when it really mattered. There is a silver lining to this cloud though for the Cowboys, who can clinch the NFC East with a win over Washington this weekend.
25/1 Brock Purdy (QB, San Francisco 49ers): Purdy seemed a lock for MVP heading into the Week 16 showdown with Lamar and the Ravens, but like Prescott he had a nightmare day just when it mattered most. He and the Niners have now clinched the #1 seed in the NFC and the NFC West title, and Brock was efficient in throwing for 230 yards and a pair of scores in a routine Week 17 defeat of Washington. But those MVP hopes appear to have gone as Purdy and co prepare for their regular season finale against the red-hot Rams this weekend.
33/1 Josh Allen (QB, Buffalo Bills): If the season were a couple of weeks longer, Allen might have a legitimate shot at MVP, but he started his run at the award way too late. The Bills have won four straight now to move to 10-6, and Allen as ever has been at the centre of their success. He had a relatively quiet day (169 passing yards and 44 on the ground with a pair of scores) as they knocked off New England in Week 17, and is likely to be applauding Lamar come Super Bowl week instead of picking up the MVP award himself. Like Prescott and Dallas, there is a bright spot though - a win over the Dolphins this weekend would clinch an unlikely AFC East division title for Buffalo.
33/1 Christian McCaffrey (RB, San Francisco 49ers): It’s almost impossible for a non-quarterback to win MVP these days - this is a passing league in every way. McCaffrey has enjoyed a stellar 2023 season, silencing the naysayers who claimed the Niners had given up way too much to acquire him from Carolina in that 2022 trade. ‘Run CMC’ rushed for 64 yards and caught 4 balls for 27 more in the win over Washington, but he will now miss Week 18 vs the Rams after sustaining a calf injury. He should though be healthy for the playoffs.
Best of the rest: If you’re wondering where the defensive players are - the answer is nowhere. Only one has ever won MVP in the award’s long history (more on that to come) and it will not be happening for a second time in 2023.
Previous winners - the stats
If anybody ever tells you that the NFL is not all about the quarterback in 2023, just cite the latest odds for MVP. Then show them the list of previous winners. Nobody can deny it.
The Pro Football Writers of America began voting for MVP in 1975, and since then the men under center have absolutely dominated. In total, some 33 QBs have won the award outright in that time while Brett Favre shared with Barry Sanders in 1997.
Running backs are next best with 11 wins along with that Sanders share. But we haven’t had an RB take the prize since Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings in 2012.
Now - partly thanks to rule changes - it is all about the QB. They have won the last 10 awards and 18 of the last 20. For your reference, here are the last 10:
The only two players outside QB and RB to be NFL MVP in the modern era are both generational talents - linebacker Lawrence Taylor (the only defensive winner) in 1986 and San Francisco WR Jerry Rice one year later.
This isn’t some nationwide fan vote - it is taken incredibly seriously. As such only 50 sports writers get to cast their vote for NFL MVP.
The big thing to note about the voting is WHEN it happens. Votes are cast at the end of the NFL regular season, so any success in the playoffs and Super Bowl DOES NOT count.
This is all about sustained excellence and brilliance throughout a 17-game season. Hot streaks in January and February do not apply.
NFL MVP is now announced at the league’s annual Awards Ceremony, a glitzy bash which takes place in the host Super Bowl city on the Thursday of game week.
That means the 2023 MVP should be crowned in Las Vegas, Nevada on Thursday February 8, 2024.