With seven teams favored by at least nine points, Week 15 figured to provide minimal drama and the chalk was expected to keep eating. However, the top of both the MVP and Super Bowl betting boards were shaken up, setting up an intriguing home stretch to the regular season.
Value is out there but where?
As my ESPN colleague Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend." Tom Brady looked to be well on his way to his fourth MVP award, but the Buccaneers lost as 11.5-point favorites and the quarterback laid another egg against the New Orleans defense. Entering the weekend, he was a -140 favorite to win the award, but now Aaron Rodgers (+150) surpassed Brady (+170) as the favorite with three games left.
Is this the point where we must handicap the voters more than the athletes? Will voters recognize that Rodgers also struggled against New Orleans in the opener with just 133 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions? I doubt it. Will the reigning MVP lose votes due to voter fatigue, his COVID-19 vaccine word salad or his offseason contract shenanigans? I believe some media members will hold things against him.
I can't believe I'm about to write this next sentence: I now think Jonathan Taylor is worth a play at 10-1. Voters like to be different, and many will feel like a purist if they actively do not vote for a quarterback. Plus, voting for a running back is an easy solution to the Brady-Rodgers dilemma. And let's also indicate that Taylor is very good and a key reason for Indianapolis' playoff push. So while I personally do not believe he should win, I do believe there's a solid chance voters will back him. At 10-1, it's a play for me.
Preseason betting favorite Patrick Mahomes (+900) remains in the mix, but I doubt he has the stats or narrative. Yes, Kansas City has won eight straight games and is currently the AFC's top seed, but the defense has been earning the recognition. Mahomes can still dazzle these final three weeks, but I'd stay away at this price.
Super Bowl odds
So much for Kansas City's demise, right? This winning streak has catapulted the Chiefs into the role of Super Bowl favorite for the first time since early October, which makes even more sense when you consider the hot mess that is the AFC. Each team, including K.C., is between flawed and deeply flawed. So by default and recency bias, the Chiefs are the conference's team to beat. When you factor in the NFC playoffs' looming carnage for top contenders, well, Patrick Mahomes seemingly has an easier path than others.
I have been touting the Packers with double-digit odds for a few weeks, and now they have a clear path to the NFC's top seed. At +500, they are either appropriately priced or overpriced; no value there anymore. As for Tampa Bay, it now has enticing odds at +600 and Tom Brady will likely not have to face the Saints' defense in the playoffs. I would need to get a better idea of the health of Brady's weapons before pulling the trigger. But make no mistake, the Saints are Brady's kryptonite. Tampa is ready to defend its title, regardless of what happened on Sunday night.
Do we trust the Rams (11-1) to win three games in the NFC playoffs just to reach the postseason? Arizona's loss to Detroit opened the door for L.A. to win the division, which would earn it a home game in the opening round. The Rams have the talent on paper, and 11-1 just might be enough for me to bite. It's close but not quite yet.
With five wins in its past six games, San Francisco (30-1) has my attention. That is a play for me. I realize the limitations, but I also think this team is potent at full strength. George Kittle makes that big of a difference. The important thing to remember is that the Niners do not have to beat every single NFC contender; they just have to win three games. I am on board at 30-1.