NFL 2023 Midseason Review: MVP and Other Award Races

By Scott Kacsmar

With the NFL’s 2023 regular season nearing its midway point in Week 9, we wanted to look at how the award races are shaping up with current odds and the best picks for the eventual winners.

This week figures to be a pivotal one for some of these races with huge games like Dolphins-Chiefs and Cowboys-Eagles headlining the NFL’s Week 9 schedule.

Most Valuable Player (MVP)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs (+270)
  • Jalen Hurts, Eagles (+350)
  • Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins (+370)
  • Lamar Jackson, Ravens (+600)
  • Josh Allen, Bills (+1400)
  • Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars (+1800)
  • Joe Burrow, Bengals (+2200)

If you shop around the different sportsbooks, you can find any one of Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa with the best odds for MVP right now. You can also find them with the third-best odds, showing that this is a tight race between the three quarterbacks, two of which were No. 1 and No. 2 in MVP voting last year.

It is also a season where no one is really standing out at the quarterback position, so the winner is likely going to be the player who finishes with a hot streak. While someone like Joe Burrow could be in a position to do that, I’m not sure spending a month of the season leading the worst offense in the NFL should be forgotten.  

We are also entering a crucial part of the schedule where so many of these teams will be playing each other in pivotal games for playoff seeding with national audiences watching. That’s not to say head-to-head meetings usually determine MVP outcomes, but a big performance by one quarterback over the other is going to cause a shift in the narratives and ultimately the odds. That’s why Hurts has moved up near the top after he outplayed Tua and the Dolphins in Week 7.

Look at some of the key games left for this MVP race:

  • Week 9: The latest “Game of the Year” is in Germany when Mahomes and Tua face off in Chiefs-Dolphins, and later Sunday we’ll see the first Cowboys-Eagles game with Hurts meeting Dak Prescott for only the second time in their careers.
  • Week 11: The Chiefs come off their bye to host the Eagles in a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl on Monday Night Football.
  • Week 12: Philadelphia hosts Buffalo (Josh Allen) in a big non-conference game.
  • Week 13: It has lost some luster with the 49ers’ 3-game losing streak but Hurts and the Eagles will host San Francisco in a big one for the NFC.
  • Week 14: Kansas City hosts Buffalo (Allen) in their annual big matchup in the AFC, and the Eagles will be in Dallas for a rematch that could decide the NFC East.
  • Week 16: Miami hosts Dallas in one of the better AFC vs. NFC games this year.
  • Week 17: Kansas City hosts Cincinnati (Joe Burrow) in another growing rivalry, and the Dolphins will be in Baltimore after last year’s explosive game between Tua and Lamar Jackson.
  • Week 18: Miami gets to host Buffalo in a rematch that could decide the AFC East and more.

Admittedly, the first half of this 2023 season has been weak, but the schedule makers loaded things up for the second half with all these big ones lined up. Again, none of these games individually should decide who wins MVP, but performance in these games should matter more than what Mahomes does against the Raiders or what Hurts does against the Giants.

With these games about to go down, this is why there may be no better time than now to choose your MVP because it would be a real toss-up if the vote was held today. The odds are going to start shifting dramatically once these games play out, and if someone can string together a run of great games, they are going to have the inside track to the 2023 NFL MVP.

That is also why it is still hard to bet against Mahomes.

  • He has the best track record as the top player in the game with two MVP awards.
  • He has a favorable narrative with the Chiefs having Travis Kelce and nothing else to speak of at receiver.
  • In a “down year,” Mahomes still ranks No. 2 in QBR, No. 1 in total EPA, and No. 1 in lowest sack rate.
  • The Chiefs are still 6-2, would be 7-1 if anyone could catch against Detroit, and the offense ranks No. 3 in yards per drive and No. 6 in points per drive.

Mahomes just had his worst game since the 2021 season in Denver, but was it any more disqualifying for MVP than when Tagovailoa led his offense to 10 points in Philadelphia, or when Hurts threw 3 interceptions to lose 20-14 to the Jets?

Mahomes also could have a schedule advantage here. He gets to play Miami in Germany, a neutral field. The Chiefs will later host the Eagles, Bills, and Bengals instead of going on the road for any of those games.

Meanwhile, the Eagles are about to play one of toughest stretches of a schedule you’ll ever see: Cowboys, at Chiefs, Bills, 49ers, at Cowboys, and at Seahawks as their next 6 games. Good luck to Hurts if he comes out of that with a great record and statistics to match.

The Dolphins have already been bullied by the only top teams they’ve played, losing 48-20 in Buffalo and 31-17 in Philadelphia. They get a shot for some redemption and the inside track to the No. 1 seed if they win against the Chiefs in Germany this week. But check the final 3 games of the season when the Dolphins have to play Dallas, at Baltimore, and Buffalo again. That is a very tough stretch to close things out for a team that currently ranks No. 1 in scoring offense and No. 25 in scoring defense.

That’s the other thing that could work in Mahomes’ favor. While the passing game is largely Mahomes to a 34-year-old Kelce, he seems to finally have a great defense for the first time in his career. That defense could turn what would have been 38-35 games in the past for Kansas City into 24-20 games this year. He may not need to drop 30-to-40 points to beat the Dolphins and Eagles in the next two games.

But that game in Germany this weekend is the one to watch as it might have a bigger impact on MVP than any other game this season, assuming enough people get up early to watch it.

What if Tagovailoa lights up this top-tier Kansas City defense and vastly outplays Mahomes, who struggles for a second game in a row? A huge shift in the odds for Tua, who is currently leading the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, and adjusted net yards per attempt.

What if Tagovailoa struggles against another good opponent – Miami’s strength of victory (.283) is 31st in the NFL – and Mahomes lights up the Dolphins to show the Chiefs still have what it takes to win the AFC? Then they get a bye to prepare for Hurts and the Eagles, and we know Andy Reid is historically great after a bye week.

This is a massive game and a turning point in the season for these races. Tagovailoa stands to gain more than anyone this weekend if he can get the job done. He also might lose the most ground if things go south again for Miami, a team that has 9 of the top 15 plays with the fastest ball carriers this season according to Next Gen Stats.

In the end, I think Mahomes outlasts the field and wins his third MVP by default this season. When you win three or more, most people don’t nitpick over the weakest one (see Brett Favre in 1997, Peyton Manning in 2008, Tom Brady in 2017, and Aaron Rodgers in 2021).

Pick: Most Valuable Player – Patrick Mahomes (+270 at FanDuel)

Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Tyreek Hill, Dolphins (+140)
  • Christian McCaffrey, 49ers (+160)
  • A.J. Brown, Eagles (+750)
  • Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals (+2000)

Respect to A.J. Brown for going on an absolute tear with 125 receiving yards in 6 straight games, a new record. But unless he keeps doing that when Philadelphia’s schedule starts getting way tougher in Week 9, this is a two-player race between Tyreek Hill and Christian McCaffrey.

Respectfully, I’m not sure why the odds are this close. A hamstring injury can happen to anyone and not just Hill, and it’s not like McCaffrey doesn’t have a detailed injury history himself. That point is moot about one of them getting hurt going forward. They both can.

But the weird part about this is McCaffrey seems to be getting extra credit for a 17-game touchdown streak that includes the final 9 games (including playoffs) from the 2022 season. This award is for the 2023 regular season, and I struggle to see how McCaffrey is this close to Hill right now.

  • McCaffrey: 652 rushing yards (leads NFL), 292 receiving yards, 13 total touchdowns (leads NFL), 944 yards from scrimmage
  • Hill: 1,014 receiving yards (leads NFL), 8 receiving touchdowns (leads NFL), 1,028 yards from scrimmage (leads NFL), 16.6 yards per touch (leads NFL)

McCaffrey is having a great season, but we have already seen him in 2019 have a year with 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns on a much inferior Carolina team. That year, McCaffrey finished third with 12 votes for OPOY, behind Michael Thomas (19 votes for catching 149 passes) and Lamar Jackson (17 votes for throwing 36 touchdowns and rushing for 1,206 yards and 7 more touchdowns).

Meanwhile, Hill actually has a better argument for MVP as he is having an all-time great season that makes Miami’s offense what it is:

  • Hill’s 126.8 receiving yards per game would be the highest mark ever in a non-strike season, and he is on pace for the NFL’s first 2,000-yard receiving season, and he is on pace to do it in the 16th game.
  • Hill’s 1,014 receiving yards are the fourth most through 8 games in NFL history, and the players above him all played before the Super Bowl existed: Charley Hennigan (1,122 yards, 1961 Oilers), Elroy Hirsch (1,058 yards, 1951 Rams), and Don Hutson (1,032 yards, 1942 Packers).
  • Hill’s speed allows Tua Tagovailoa to have the fastest release time of any quarterback as Hill can get open quicker than anyone.
  • Jaylen Waddle’s yards per game are down a full 11 yards from last year, and his yards per target are down 2.5 yards from 2022, so Hill’s value is even greater as he is picking up the slack for a team that has not done much to establish a No. 3 target.
  • Hill’s 215 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Chargers in Week 1 was one of the best performances by any player this season in leading the Dolphins to a 36-34 shootout win.

While the 49ers are on their bye week, you know Hill is going to have something special planned for his first game against the Chiefs this week in Germany. This might be the last time you can get Hill at +140 odds for this award. Unless he falls well short of 2,000 receiving yards, it is hard to see him not winning this one for the Dolphins.

Pick: Offensive Player of the Year – Tyreek Hill (+140 at FanDuel)

Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Micah Parsons, Cowboys (+200)
  • Myles Garrett, Browns (+200)
  • T.J. Watt, Steelers (+250)
  • Aidan Hutchinson, Lions (+3000)

Aidan Hutchinson was a great dark horse pick in the preseason, but while he’s outlasting the competition like Nick Bosa, Aaron Donald, and Sauce Gardner, his odds are almost the same now as they were in August. That’s because this has turned into a three-way race between some of the most elite edge rushers in the game today in a season where the sack rate is at its highest in 25 years.

  • Micah Parsons (DAL): 6.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 14 QB hits, 18 pressures
  • Myles Garrett (CLE): 8.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 17 QB hits, 21 pressures, 1 blocked field goal
  • T.J. Watt (PIT): 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumbles recovered (1 TD), 16 QB hits, 22 pressures, 1 interception

Parsons has consistently been ahead in the odds, and that may have some “Dallas is a better team than Cleveland and Pittsburgh and more likely to make the playoffs” cooked into it. The DPOY award usually goes to a playoff team and a highly-ranked defense. We only add this because Parsons has not filled the stat sheet as impressively as Garrett and Watt to this point.

Garrett had that monster game against the Colts where he did everything he could to help his team win. The Browns also had a historically great defense early in the season, but things have chilled on that front once they started playing some better offensive teams. The same could be said about the Cowboys after they stopped playing the Giants, Jets, and Patriots.

Watt has some huge takeaways to help the Steelers win games against the Browns and Rams. He also had a fumble recovery and a 4th-down sack of Lamar Jackson in another upset win over Baltimore. He has as many sacks as Garrett, and he could have a big game this Thursday against rookie quarterback Will Levis.

Watt won the award in 2021 while Parsons and Garrett still seek their first. Parsons has been a distant runner-up for DPOY in both 2021 and 2022. Keep that in mind for the voters who may want to see someone different win it.

This race is likely going the distance. But if you had to lean on which player is most likely to continue his hot play in the second half of the season and wreck games the best, how can you go against Watt? He just impacts the game in so many ways, and the Steelers have the worst offense of the three that needs the most help from the defense.

Pick: Defensive Player of the Year – T.J. Watt (+250 at FanDuel)

Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • C.J. Stroud, Texans (-145)
  • Puka Nacua, Rams (+380)
  • Jahmyr Gibbs, Lions (+1300)
  • Jordan Addison, Vikings (+1400)
  • Bijan Robinson, Falcons (+1400)

Remember when Bijan Robinson had a big edge over the field going into the season? He might be only the No. 3 running back for this award had De’Von Achane not been injured in Miami. Robinson has absolutely had some highlight-reel plays for Atlanta that were expected of him, but the overall package has not been as good as advertised. He’s scored 3 touchdowns in 8 games and averages 5.6 yards per touch, which isn’t that much better than what Cordarrelle Patterson (5.0) and Tyler Allgeier (5.2) did last year for the Falcons.

But these candidates are all looking up to Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud, who has the highest odds of anyone in these 7 award races. We’ll get back to him in a second, but let’s look at why these other candidates are not likely to challenge him going forward:

Jordan Addison has been very solid for the Vikings, but he’s also taken advantage of Justin Jefferson’s hamstring injury catapulting him the last few weeks, and he is going to suffer from Kirk Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury as Joshua Dobbs will likely be the quarterback the rest of the way in Minnesota. There goes the volume, and Jefferson will be back soon.

Jahmyr Gibbs had a monster game against the Raiders on Monday night, but don’t be surprised when the Lions go back to David Montgomery as the bell-cow when he returns soon. You would hope the team that used a No. 12 pick on Gibbs would switch their roles after the burst they’ve seen from the rookie, but this is a team that featured Jamaal Williams over D’Andre Swift last year, so just saying you shouldn’t be rushing to make tickets on Gibbs.

Puka Nacua is another case of injury and opportunity this year. He was incredible in rewriting the record books for how many catches and yards he had in the first month of his career, but this was also due to a Cooper Kupp hamstring injury giving him an opportunity. Kupp returned 3 games ago, and while Nacua still had a monster game against the Steelers, he was quiet against the Cowboys and the Los Angeles offense looks to be trending downwards after an injury to Matthew Stafford’s hand.

This season already lost a rookie quarterback early with Anthony Richardson going down to shoulder surgery in Indianapolis, and No. 1 pick Bryce Young just hasn’t done much to impress yet. If Stroud stays healthy in Houston, he is going to win this award as the quarterback position gets a big boost as it is the hardest to master for young players.

Stroud’s numbers may not be blowing people away, but 9 touchdowns and only 1 interception will stand out to voters even if that interception rate increases as the season goes on. But he has a very respectable 257.1 passing yards per game, the Texans do not have a great line or running game supporting him, and he is developing alongside young receivers like Tank Dell and Nico Collins.

Unless you did a parlay with some of these other awards, you’ve probably missed the boat on getting good value for this market. But Stroud would be my pick.

Pick: Offensive Rookie of the Year – C.J. Stroud (-145 at FanDuel)

Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Jalen Carter, Eagles (-115)
  • Devon Witherspoon, Seahawks (+130)
  • Brian Branch, Lions (+1000)
  • Will Anderson, Texans (+1300)

This has turned into an amusing two-horse race that will be sure to get fans of the Seahawks and Eagles bickering at each other on social media. Jalen Carter was the highly touted prospect that many thought was the best defender in this draft class, but some off-field issues and character concerns dropped him to Philadelphia with the No. 9 pick.

Seattle held the No. 5 pick and was the first real viable landing spot for Carter, but the Seahawks passed him up for corner Devon Witherspoon. Right now, I think you have to say both teams are happy with the way things turned out.

Witherspoon has notched 2.0 sacks himself from a defensive back position, and his coverage stats have been elite as he only allows 50% of targets to be completed with 4.5 yards per target allowed.

Carter leads his draft class with 3.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position, and he has forced 2 fumbles. He only plays about 46% of the defensive snaps but he has 13 pressures in 7 games, which is in line with Fletcher Cox (12) and Aaron Donald (15) this year.

Witherspoon absolutely has a chance to take this one, but if you placed a Carter bet before the season, you should still have confidence. This has been a very difficult award for corners to win, and Carter still has a lot of high-profile games left (Chiefs, Cowboys twice, Bills, 49ers, and Seahawks) to shine.

Pick: Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jalen Carter (-115 at FanDuel)

Comeback Player of the Year

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Damar Hamlin, Bills (+100)
  • Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins (+200)
  • Lamar Jackson, Ravens (+700)
  • Breece Hall, Jets (+900)
  • T.J. Watt, Steelers (+2000)

The NFL’s hardest-to-define award is sure to cause some fervor this year. Damar Hamlin was a heavy favorite this summer with odds in the -350 range at sportsbooks while no one else was better than +2000.

But I always felt one of last year’s injured quarterbacks, Tua Tagovailoa or Lamar Jackson, had great value for this award since they are going to actually play this season. That was the big question mark for Hamlin. Would he even play on defense with the Bills getting healthy and more depth at safety after injuries last year forced Hamlin to start in the first place.

The idea that “he just has to play a game to win the award” never made sense to me, and I’m not downplaying what he went through. It was traumatic for all football fans to see that event unfold last January, and thankfully he came out of it alive and well enough to return to action this year.

But for an award that has gone to players who excelled after injury or shook off a lousy year to return to peak performance, what exactly is the argument to give it to someone who doesn’t really play?

Hamlin has been a healthy scratch in all but one game this season, and that was against the Dolphins when he played 18 snaps on special teams and none on defense. That remains his only game appearance almost halfway through the season.

It is great he’s back with his teammates, but I cannot vote for someone who played 18 defensive snaps in a season. This award should go to Tagovailoa, especially if his MVP campaign falters as voters may be unlikely to double up for him.

Miami’s mishandling of Tua’s concussions last year almost ended his career as he contemplated retirement. But he has been healthy so far, and he leads the NFL in many categories for the top-ranked offense.

Each week you can see Tagovailoa gain on Hamlin in the odds, and he is only +100 behind right now. That could even change to a tie after this weekend at the rate things are going. In the end, some people will vote for Hamlin because he’s a fantastic story, but if you are going to give an award to someone playing well after overcoming adversity, it needs to be someone like Tua this year.

Pick: Comeback Player of the Year – Tua Tagovailoa (+200 at FanDuel)

Coach of the Year

The leaders in odds from BetMGM:

  • Dan Campbell, Lions (+300)
  • Mike McDaniel, Dolphins (+325)
  • DeMeco Ryans, Texans (+750)
  • Kyle Shanahan, 49ers (+900)
  • Robert Saleh, Jets (+1200)
  • John Harbaugh, Ravens (+1400)

Last but not least, this is one of the most interesting NFL award races of them all. This award so often goes to a coach who comes in and has immediate success in turning a team around. Think Sean McVay (2017 Rams), Matt Nagy (2018 Bears), Kevin Stefanski (2020 Browns), and Brian Daboll (2022 Giants). All those teams went from laughingstocks to playoffs in the coach’s first year.

From these leading candidates, that can only happen with DeMeco Ryans in Houston, and that looks very unlikely as the Texans sit at 3-4 and No. 10 in the AFC. Also, Kyle Shanahan’s 3-game losing streak in San Francisco with the most talented roster in football is likely going to have voters overlooking him.

This one looks like a 3-way race between Dan Campbell, Mike McDaniel, and Robert Saleh.

Campbell is a fan favorite as he has been dropping gems in the media (“bite their kneecaps”) since he took the job in 2021. The team has steadily improved, he has Jared Goff leading one of the best offenses in the league, and the team’s heavily questioned draft class is stepping up so far. The Lions (6-2) are meeting expectations and should win the NFC North and could have a very high seed in the playoffs. Did we mention he’s doing this with the Detroit Lions, who have had one playoff win since the 1960s?

McDaniel did not receive a single vote in 2022 in leading the Dolphins to a 9-8 record and wild card berth. Expectations were higher this year, and as we’ve already seen above, the Dolphins have leading candidates for MVP, OPOY, and Comeback Player of the Year, and they might have the OROY too if running back De’Von Achane did not get injured.

With McDaniel, you have a bit of a chicken or egg situation. Are these players all having great years because of him, or does their world-class speed make his scheme look even better? It’s not like the defense has been thriving in Miami. But McDaniel is also going to have to start winning some of these big games like the Kansas City game this week, or else padding the stats only against the league’s little sisters of the poor is going to be used against him come voting time.

I think Robert Saleh is a fascinating dark horse choice here with the Jets. If that team can get to a winning record in a stacked division after losing Aaron Rodgers 4 snaps into the season, then that would be a huge accomplishment and one of the best jobs at overcoming adversity. Not to mention the Jets have faced a loaded schedule, things are getting easier now, and they are doing this with Zach Wilson at quarterback. But the Jets were also 7-4 last year before losing out, so the same problems on offense could catch up to them again.

My prediction is the Dolphins do not finish the season well due to the late-season schedule, and the Lions should be favored in every game the rest of the way except for in Dallas in Week 17. I think the Lions can get to 12 wins, which if you knew anything about the history of the Lions, you know should almost automatically give the award to Campbell.

Pick: NFL Coach of the Year – Dan Campbell (+300 at BetMGM)

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