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Super Bowl Betting – Can Bettors Bank on Betting Against MVPs?
The Baltimore Ravens were bounced from the 2020 NFL playoffs in the Divisional Round, sending likely 2019 NFL MVP winner Lamar Jackson to the exits.
Jackson enjoyed a magical (and record-breaking) regular season but couldn’t muster enough points to keep the 14-2 Ravens alive in the chase for the Lombardi Trophy.
While far from all his fault, Jackson’s failure this year reminded everyone that betting against the league MVP to win the title remains a pretty safe betting angle.
For one reason or another, NFL MVP winners simply do not frequently translate their amazing statistical success into a championship. That seems odd at first glance, as the league MVP is almost always a dominant figure on one of the best teams in the NFL.
So, does this argument hold any weight, or does Jackson falling short of a title file under other random pro football betting occurrences? I honestly think it’s pretty subjective, but there are actually several reasons why this might happen.
It’s also not like it’s something completely intangible like the Madden Curse, either. No MVP has won a Super Bowl since Aaron Rodgers did it in 2011, and Kurt Warner (1999) is the only other player to buck the negative trend in the last 21 seasons.
That’s just over two full decades with the perceived best player in a given year failing to win the Super Bowl 19 times. Wild stuff, to be sure.
There likely isn’t any one definitive thing to point to why this is the case, but it felt like an interesting subject matter to dive into with Super Bowl 54 just weeks away.
With that, here are the biggest reasons why NFL MVP regular season winners typically don’t win the Super Bowl that same year.
The New England Patriots Are Annoyingly Dominant
I’m only leaning on the past 20 years of data for this little study, just because it is what is most relevant to this topic and also because in the league’s history, an MVP has won the title that same year only 13 times.
The pace has slowed significantly over the last two decades, of course, and that data should be most applicable in the future when you plan on betting on the Super Bowl.
In that time frame, dating back to 2000, one thing that stands out immediately is the dominance of the New England Patriots. Not only have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady teamed up for an unfathomable six titles, but they also reached the big game nine total times.
That is, in a word, disgusting.
Needless to say, six times over the past 20 years, the NFL MVP had to come from the Pats in order to have a shot at winning the title. Nine times during that stretch, their chances were greatly diminished just because the Pats got to the big game.
It should surprise nobody that eight NFL MVP winners in the last 20 years have come from the AFC. Two more of them were still in that conference but came via Tom Brady during two seasons where New England was unable to win the league championship.
That doesn’t account for all of the past 20 MVP winners and their plight to also lead their team to a title, but it nearly touches on 50% of them.
They Were All Offensive Players
One of the most glaring things to note is the fact that the NFL MVP is almost always an offensive player and usually a quarterback. In a pass-happy league like the NFL, that makes sense, but when it comes to titles, usually an elite defense has trumped a great offense.
In fact, Lawrence Taylor is the last defensive player to claim the award (1986), and a non-offensive player has won just three times ever.
That’s a problem when trying to translate gaudy numbers into championship hardware. At least, that’s been the case throughout Super Bowl history and certainly in recent history.
Offensive players have still fared quite well in postseason play and have even gone on to light up defenses in the big game. But every single NFL MVP since 2000 has come from the offensive side of the football, which makes you wonder if the voting process is getting priorities mixed up.
Many Were Arguably Too Finesse
The league MVP isn’t necessarily about who the best player is. It isn’t even about the most impressive player on the best team or the best player with a shot at leading his franchise to a title.
It’s about the best overall season by an individual. MVP winners can be assessed in other ways, too, but for the most part, when you look back at history, you can clearly see that the most eye-popping season statistically is what got the MVP nod.
One huge issue with this is that a lot of these massive numbers stemmed from offensive systems that were pretty finesse. That isn’t to suggest that those teams couldn’t play physical football or that their style of play always led to horrible playoff numbers.
But if you play a softer brand of football, it apparently tends to show up in big games when you’re playing stingy, nasty defenses.
There are two things about this that simply make sense: finesse teams are more likely to lean on the pass, and they’re also somewhat likely to shy away from too much contact.
This can mean less of an emphasis on running the football, and it can also equate to a lack of efficiency when the offense struggles. Understandably, your overall production and time of possession can suffer in the face of your biggest challenge of the year.
We saw this transpire when league MVP Rich Gannon imploded to the tune of five interceptions in a crushing Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. It ranks as one of the worst Super Bowl performances ever.
It went down in even uglier fashion when Peyton Manning’s record-breaking 2012 season engulfed in flames in a brutal 43-8 loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
Finesse football is great for numbers and regular-season dominance. But more often than not, the playoffs demand some type of combination of ball control, defensive aptitude, winning the turnover game, and being highly efficient.
High-octane offenses that passed more than they ran did their entire team a great disservice, even if their best player ended up winning league MVP before everything blew up in their faces.
Their Teams Were Too Reliant on Them
Lastly, I think a lot of NFL MVP winners either flamed out quickly in the playoffs or failed once they reached Super Bowl Sunday because their teams were far too reliant on them.
Just look at Lamar Jackson’s 2019 run; he accounted for 4,333 total yards for his Ravens and even posted monster production in his team’s Divisional Round loss. That’s nearly double what the rest of his entire team (2,313 yards from scrimmage) produced on the year.
Or, you know, over 65% of their yardage for the season.
You saw it even clearer in their playoff loss. Jackson threw the ball 59 times and had 20 rushing attempts, totaling 365 passing yards and 143 yards on the ground. He understandably accounted for 100% of the team’s passing production, but he also was responsible for an insane 77% of the team’s rushing numbers.
The team did virtually nothing outside of his statistical output in that game. I mean, the guy is their offense.
Baltimore’s stingy defense eroded before our eyes, while Jackson’s wide receiver dropped countless passes during a horribly slow start.
It can honestly get much worse than that, though. Lamar Jackson at least personally showed up in his team’s loss. The Ravens were wholly dependent on him producing, but it was the rest of his teammates that let him down.
It can go the other way, where a player is so good all year that a team can’t function if they aren’t getting the job done at an elite level. That, or the opposing defense knows that if they can just stop this one guy, they’re going to win.
Use Adrian Peterson’s 2012 MVP run as an example. The man known as “All Day” powered his Vikings into the playoffs behind one of only a handful of 2,000+ yard rushing campaigns.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s starting quarterback wasn’t on hand for their first playoff game due to injury, and Peterson was largely held in check (22 carries, 99 yards, 0 TDs) in a 24-10 loss to the rival Packers.
This is just one example of where a defense made sure that MVP-level talent did not beat them, and the rest of that player’s team failed to pick up the slack.
Looking back at the last 20 NFL MVP winners, a good chunk of them failed to deliver a championship because they either weren’t a member of the Patriots or they got beat by them.
Beyond simply suffering the same fate as everyone else, other MVP winners struggled with extra defensive focus in big games, while teams relying too much on one player often gave way to less-than-stellar results.
Going forward, it’s likely New England will lose their hold on the AFC, and that alone could open things back up. In a conference with superstars like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, it’s fairly likely we’ll again get an NFL MVP winning the big game in short order.
But bettors shouldn’t be betting on the Super Bowl based on who can win an MVP, anyway. For one, the voting process isn’t done before the playoffs, and as we’ve seen, literally anything can happen once postseason play begins.
In addition, a lot of these MVPs failing to go the distance came down to very specific circumstances.
The big takeaway for me is that this is an offensive player award, and it’s so statistically based. The built-in theory that it can’t equate to a title isn’t wrong based on the past 20 years, but there’s also nothing uniquely predictive about it.
Defenses will always try to take away an opponent’s best weapons, regardless of their MVP status. And NFL MVP winners will often be in charge of — or be counted on — dropping big numbers in an effort to help their team get playoff victories.
In other words, there are some minor arguments for why NFL MVP winners haven’t won the big game very much throughout Super Bowl history, but it shouldn’t necessarily deter you from betting on them in the future.