NFL 2023 Three-Quarters Review: MVP and Other NFL Award Races

By Scott Kacsmar

We have reached that point in the NFL’s 2023 regular season where the bye weeks are over, and everyone has four games left before the playoffs. It has been a long time since we have seen a season where so many teams are still in contention, and that is why the NFL award races are still so up in the air as well.

Who is the MVP? What about Defensive Player of the Year? We take a look at these and more with three-quarters of the season in the books. Week 15 should be another integral piece of this puzzle with a big game brewing between the Cowboys and Bills in Buffalo.

Most Valuable Player (MVP)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Dak Prescott, Cowboys (+155)
  • Brock Purdy, 49ers (+165)
  • Lamar Jackson, Ravens (+550)
  • Jalen Hurts, Eagles (+1000)
  • Josh Allen, Bills (+1400)
  • Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs (+1600)
  • Tyreek Hill, Dolphins (+2000)

This MVP race has been such a volatile mess this season that none of the top three candidates from Week 9 (Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa) are in the top three odds going into Week 15.

Maybe more shocking is that the front-runners, Dak Prescott and Brock Purdy, were not among the top seven candidates with odds better than +2200 back in Week 9. The good news is the race looks to be stabilizing itself with a quarterback with great statistics on a great team likely to win it again.

We can probably put the Jalen Hurts’ MVP case to rest after back-to-back losses of 20 points to the 49ers and Cowboys. No quarterback has ever won MVP in a season where they lost back-to-back games by 20 points, and Hurts does not have the numbers this year (ranked 13th in passing success rate and 8th in QBR).

Likewise, Lamar Jackson is having a fine season for the top-seeded Ravens, but the numbers are not quite there for an MVP season like he had in 2019. Josh Allen could also be a darkhorse if these other quarterbacks falter and he finishes hot to lead Buffalo to the playoffs, but his turnovers earlier in the season are likely going to do him in for both the narrative and the record itself should Buffalo not rally.

The repeat MVP for Patrick Mahomes likely ended with the back-to-back losses to the Packers and Bills as seemingly every Kansas City loss this year ends with Mahomes throwing incomplete on 4th-and-forever. Also, the Chiefs are barely hanging onto No. 8 in offensive points per drive, and every MVP winner since 1994 played on an offense that ranked at least No. 5 in that category.

The Cowboys and 49ers are on top in points per drive this year, and not surprisingly it is Purdy (74.7) barely edging out Prescott (74.6) for the lead in QBR. Eleven of the 15 quarterbacks to win MVP since 2007 finished No. 1 in QBR.

But choosing between Purdy and Prescott is going to spark a lot of heated debate. Yeah, here we go…

For my money, Prescott is the more deserving candidate going into Week 15. He is more responsible for his offense’s success as Purdy has feasted on play-action looks and YAC from his receivers in Kyle Shanahan’s system. Purdy ranks No. 1 in YAC/completion (6.9) while Prescott is No. 25 (4.8), so there is no denying which quarterback benefits more from his receivers doing great things after the catch with the way Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, and George Kittle operate.

Prescott’s only major blemish this year was the 42-10 loss in San Francisco when he threw 3 interceptions while Purdy looked like a stud, which complicates the race here for Dak. But since that game, Prescott has been on fire with 23 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and we are no longer talking about the Cowboys struggling in the red zone as Dak has been money in this new offense called by coach Mike McCarthy.

Purdy’s blemish is the 3-game losing streak where the 49ers scored 17 points every week in games where Deebo and left tackle Trent Williams were mostly absent from with injuries. That looks bad for Purdy (and Kyle Shanahan) in that he couldn’t overcome an injury to one of his weapons and best lineman, though you could argue he did enough to win the Cleveland game only to see a rookie kicker miss a 41-yard game-winning field goal. Purdy also had a concussion in the Minnesota loss, then his defense was a letdown in the 31-17 loss to the Bengals where he had a few more interceptions.

But Purdy has no doubt had some amazing highs this year with 8 touchdown passes in the dominant wins over the Cowboys and Eagles. He was 20-of-21 passing in a nearly perfect game against Arizona. He had a perfect 158.3 passer rating against Tampa Bay. He threw for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns in Jacksonville, another win over a winning team (something Dallas has in short supply this year).

Purdy leads the NFL in QBR (74.7), passer rating (116.9), adjusted net yards per attempt (9.33), completion percentage (70.2%), touchdown pass percentage (7.0%), yards per attempt (9.9, a staggering number), and yards per completion (14.1). That would be an incredible season for any quarterback, let alone one in his second season at 24 years old.

Yet there seems to be a strong backlash against Purdy from the people who view Kyle Shanahan as a demigod, who has helped Matt Ryan to an MVP (2016 Falcons), and Jimmy Garoppolo often had nice numbers in San Francisco. Garoppolo was benched by the Raiders earlier this year for Aidan O’Connell.

But this fascination with Shanahan’s system to the point of belittling Purdy, especially from people who would hype up the way late-round picks Tom Brady and Joe Montana played quarterback, seems a bit contradictory. You don’t have to think Purdy is the best quarterback or even vote him for MVP, but the idea that any quarterback could put together a season like this or not give him any credit for orchestrating this attack so well is foolish.

I respect Purdy’s season. I just believe Prescott is achieving similar highs in a way that is more about his play and value than what Purdy is doing in San Francisco. If these quarterbacks continue playing the way they have, Prescott will deserve it more since the Cowboys are on the road next against Buffalo and Miami before hosting Detroit and going to Washington. Winning a couple of road games against quality teams will help Prescott’s case since people have pointed out the Cowboys’ lack of wins over good teams.

But those difficult games coming up are why Purdy has a real shot to pull this off should Prescott falter. The 49ers have the Cardinals, Ravens, Commanders, and Rams left. That game with Baltimore is at home and should still be a tough one for Purdy where he could either slip up in prime time (it’s a Monday night game on Christmas) or take a commanding lead in MVP with a big performance against a top-ranked defense and current No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Judging this race right now is how you predict Dak will do in Buffalo and Miami the next two weeks, and how Purdy will perform at home against Baltimore. Maybe you think they’ll be great in each game, to which you should still believe Prescott, who leads the NFL with 28 touchdown passes, will ultimately take home the award, one that no Dallas quarterback has ever won before.

If you think both quarterbacks falter in these big matchups, then that could open the door for Tyreek Hill (+2000) to win it as a wide receiver as he pursues 2,000 yards and is having an amazing year. We have more on Hill in the next section, but the odds still say that is a longshot. This is a quarterback-dominated award, but it would not be surprising to see Hill finish as a close runner-up.

In my view, Prescott should not have to win out to win this award. If he plays very well in Buffalo and Miami and they end up losing one of those games because the other quarterback, who is also an MVP candidate, has an outstanding game too, then that should not disqualify what Prescott is doing for Dallas.

But what Dak absolutely cannot do is have a poor game like he had against the 49ers in Week 5. If he does that once, he’s likely done for with MVP this year. But I think we are seeing Prescott at his peak, and the stigma against Purdy under Shanahan is strong enough that enough people will vote Prescott over him in the end for MVP.

Pick: Most Valuable Player – Dak Prescott (+155 at FanDuel)

Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Tyreek Hill, Dolphins (-200)
  • Christian McCaffrey, 49ers (+150)
  • CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys (+1600)
  • A.J. Brown, Eagles (+4000)

Props to the Cowboys for getting CeeDee Lamb heavily involved after a slow start to the season, but this continues to be a 2-man race between Tyreek Hill and Christian McCaffrey, who have also received MVP consideration.

Things nearly took a big turn Monday night when Tyreek Hill was down and grabbed his knee early in the game against Tennessee. He was able to return, but he finished with 5 targets (tied for a season-low) and he played 47% of the snaps, only his second game under 50% this year.

The good news is it looks like Hill avoided any serious injury and is considered day-to-day with an ankle injury. The bad news is it will make his pursuit of the first 2,000-yard receiving season more difficult as he must have 458 yards in his final 4 games to get there. That’s an average of 114.5 yards per game, or just below his season average of 118.6 yards per game. But that leaves Hill with less margin for error as one dud of a game going forward against this tough schedule, and he could fall short.

But does Hill really need 2,000 yards to win this award? Leading the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns like he is doing would be good enough for most years.

McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing yards (1,177) and yards from scrimmage (1,614). He also leads in touches (278), so he is a workhorse for this offense, which he has scored 17 touchdowns for. But it’s not like we haven’t seen this version of McCaffrey before. He led the NFL in 2019 with Carolina in touches, scrimmage yards, and touchdowns. His 54.0% rushing success rate would only be the third-best season of his career.

As with Purdy, the whole machine may just be greater than the sum of the parts in San Francisco.

The Dolphins rely more heavily on Hill and his unique speed for their offense’s success than the 49ers do with McCaffrey, who plays a position that is easier to replace. Unless Hill is going to start missing games here, this should be his award to lose this year.

Pick: Offensive Player of the Year – Tyreek Hill (-200 at FanDuel)

Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Micah Parsons, Cowboys (-125)
  • Myles Garrett, Browns (+200)
  • T.J. Watt, Steelers (+500)
  • DaRon Bland, Cowboys (+1600)

The 3-man race is largely shaping up as a 2-man race with T.J. Watt falling off in recent weeks with 4 pressures in his last three games. He also had a concussion last week against the Patriots that looks to be controversial after he returned to play the rest of the game.

But the numbers are still very close among this elite trio of edge rushers:

  • Micah Parsons (DAL): 12.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 27 QB hits, 34 pressures
  • Myles Garrett (CLE): 13.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 26 QB hits, 32 pressures, 1 blocked field goal
  • T.J. Watt (PIT): 14.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumbles recovered (1 TD), 27 QB hits, 37 pressures, 1 interception

It is hard to say what voters are going to value this year as none of these players are running away with the lead in sacks or pressures. In fact, they are 3-of-8 players with at least 12.5 sacks this season. They are 3-of-9 players with over 30 pressures this season according to Pro Football Reference.

Parsons has maybe been more consistent than the others, and he plays for the best team and defense of the three. But should that be used against him as he has another candidate like DaRon Bland with a record five interceptions returned for touchdowns on his resume? That helps a pass rusher.

The Cowboys have those huge games coming up against top offenses, so that is a chance for Parsons to either shine against quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa, or it is a chance for him to get little on the stat sheet as those guys get rid of the ball well.

Watt has a favorable remaining schedule if he clears the concussion protocol this week, and a big finish for him that saves the playoffs for the Steelers could be a huge benefit to his case.

Garrett may have the easiest schedule of anyone left (Bears, Texans, Jets, and Bengals), and he could also have that huge finish to catapult the Browns to the playoffs.

It feels like Parsons is someone who has been close in recent years and voters just want to push him over the edge. But Garrett has never won the award despite pleading for it almost as if he’s the Joel Embiid of the NFL. My pick is going to be Garrett today as I think he gets the big numbers against Chicago and the Jets to get it done and finish with more sacks than Parsons and Watt.

Pick: Defensive Player of the Year – Myles Garrett, Browns (+200 at FanDuel)

Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • C.J. Stroud, Texans (-20000)
  • Puka Nacua, Rams (+2500)
  • Jahmyr Gibbs, Lions (+4000)
  • Bijan Robinson, Falcons (+5000)

C.J. Stroud just had his worst game of the season against the Jets, passing for 91 yards in a 30-6 loss that saw him leave concussed. His status for Week 15 is not looking good. But Stroud could probably miss the remainder of the regular season and still win this award with ease.

His season has been that good as he was leading the league in passing yards going into Week 14. Injuries to his receivers (Tank Dell and Nico Collins) late in the year could hurt him going forward, but he’s already done so much in lifting Houston to as many wins in 2023 as it had in 2021-22 combined. He has been impressive at keeping turnovers down and making big plays with his unproven cast of receivers.

Puka Nacua had a hot start when Cooper Kupp was injured, but he cooled down in the second half of the season. Still a great story and a chance to finish with one of the best rookie wide receiver seasons ever.

But Stroud still has a shot to come back and make his case for the best rookie quarterback season ever. He is a lock for this award.

Pick: Offensive Rookie of the Year – C.J. Stroud (-20000 at FanDuel)

Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY)

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Jalen Carter, Eagles (-500)
  • Devon Witherspoon, Seahawks (+700)
  • Will Anderson, Texans (+700)

Back in Week 9, this was very close with Jalen Carter (-115) barely edging out Devon Witherspoon (+130). Since then, Will Anderson has also stepped his game up in Houston, but things have gone well in favor of Carter after his fumble return for a touchdown in Week 14 in Dallas.

Since Week 9, Witherspoon’s coverage stats have tanked, he only has 1.0 sack and no picks in that time, and the Seahawks are also fading fast from playoff contention.

Carter has also seen his production drop, but in what has been an underwhelming defensive rookie class, he is likely going to take home this award by a big margin.

Pick: Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jalen Carter (-500 at FanDuel)

Comeback Player of the Year

The leaders in odds from FanDuel:

  • Damar Hamlin, Bills (-700)
  • Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins (+1200)
  • Lamar Jackson, Ravens (+1200)
  • Matthew Stafford, Rams (+1200)
  • Russell Wilson, Broncos (+2000)
  • Joe Flacco, Browns (+2000)

This award has always been a bit odd, but the race this year is weirder than ever. We didn’t even list Aaron Rodgers floating out there with +4000 odds as he continues to spark rumors that he will return from a torn Achilles before the season ends despite the Jets standing at 5-8.

That would certainly be a miraculous comeback, but what would the point be if the Jets aren’t going to the playoffs? Joe Flacco coming off the couch to possibly lead the Browns into the playoffs is another cool story, but most of the injured quarterbacks from last year are in a distant tie for second place with +1200 odds.

Despite only playing 9 snaps on defense this season, Damar Hamlin has seen his odds go from +100 in Week 9 to -700 going into Week 15. He has been a healthy scratch for Buffalo in 10-of-13 games, and the Denver loss was the only game where he logged any defensive snaps at safety. He has played 58 snaps on special teams in his three appearances this year.

Hamlin was inactive in the upset win over the Chiefs, and yet his odds dramatically increased again while Tua Tagovailoa dropped from the +400 range to +1200 after Miami’s collapse Monday night against the Titans.

It just feels like people had their minds made up on this one before the season started, and performance, even from a player who literally doesn’t play, never mattered. It just doesn’t make sense how you could justify voting for a player who doesn’t play.

Hamlin will probably win, but my vote would still go to the player who earned it on the field. In a season where 7 starting quarterbacks have been lost to season-ending injuries and several more had injuries that led to missed games, I would go with Lamar Jackson, who is leading the team with the best record in the AFC and having his finest season since 2019 when he was MVP.

If we cannot give Lamar an MVP for this year, then he deserves some kind of award for his performance, and this is the most appropriate one – assuming he gets through the year healthy and secures a No. 1 seed for the Ravens.

Pick: Comeback Player of the Year – Lamar Jackson (+1200 at FanDuel)

Coach of the Year

The leaders in odds from BetMGM:

  • Dan Campbell, Lions (+250)
  • Mike McDaniel, Dolphins (+300)
  • DeMeco Ryans, Texans (+300)
  • Shane Steichen, Colts (+800)
  • Kyle Shanahan, 49ers (+1400)
  • Sean Payton, Broncos (+1600)

This one has gotten rough since the top four candidates all lost in Week 14.

  • The Lions have allowed the second-most points since Week 7 and are struggling with turnovers right now. Losing the division to Minnesota (two matchups still to come) is not out of the realm of possibility for Dan Campbell’s bunch.
  • The Dolphins just had an epic blown lead of 14 points in the final minutes to the Titans, and that jeopardizes everything from the top seed to the AFC East for Miami, which was also bullied in wire-to-wire losses to the Bills, Chiefs, and Eagles.
  • Ryans has done a good job with the Texans, who have as many wins (7) as the previous two seasons combined, but injuries are starting to mount up, and that 30-6 loss to Zach Wilson and the Jets was downright ugly.
  • Shane Steichen had the Colts on a 4-game winning streak, and they were scoring at a good pace despite starting several backups, but they hit a roadblock in Cincinnati in a 34-14 loss.

This one will seemingly go down to the wire as someone like Kevin Stefanski of the Browns (+3000 at BetMGM) deserves serious consideration if the Browns make the playoffs despite starting four different quarterbacks in multiple games each.

In fact, I’m not sure why Stefanski isn’t much closer to the top. Someone like Kyle Shanahan has obviously done a great job in San Francisco, but he also has the most talented roster in the league. He had a better case last year when he went 13-4 despite starting three quarterbacks, including the unknown rookie version of Brock Purdy. This team finishing 14-3 would just be meeting expectations.

Our midseason pick was Dan Campbell, but the Lions just feel like a team ready to spiral and finish 10-7 at best. Doing that in Year 3 shouldn’t be enough to get the award, especially when the defense has fallen off this much.

Steichen is a solid pick if the Colts rebound and make the playoffs, but they are one of many 7-6 teams in the conference and may also be on the decline. Same for Ryans and Houston, which lost Tank Dell for the season, Nico Collins exited Sunday’s game injured, and C.J. Stroud had a concussion too. The Texans still have to play the Colts and Browns, and you can never count out the Titans, who just upset Miami as a 13.5-point road underdog. The Texans are hardly a lock for the playoffs.

We haven’t even mentioned Sean McVay possibly getting the Rams back to the playoffs with a winning record given the remaining schedule. That was almost a huge upset in Baltimore before the team lost to a punt return touchdown in overtime. Matthew Stafford is dealing the last month, and Puka Nacua has been an outstanding rookie. Expectations were so low for a team that looked like 3 stars and 50 duds coming into the season. Don’t count out McVay if the Rams finish 9-8 or 10-7.

Imagine if the Vikings win out and steal the NFC North from Detroit with a 10-7 record despite losing Kirk Cousins for the year, Justin Jefferson for a huge stretch, and starting four quarterbacks with Nick Mullens taking over this week.

Again, there are so many candidates with no clear choice. My gut is reverting back to our preseason picks when I had Sean Payton winning Coach of the Year for Denver.

  • Payton has improved Denver from the worst offense in the league to something passable in 2023.
  • The defense was embarrassing early in the season, including that 70-point game in Miami, but it has made a huge turnaround and has forced so many takeaways to upset teams like the Chiefs and Bills.
  • He has won games against other playoff hopefuls like the Vikings, Bills, and Browns.
  • Payton can win as a 5-point underdog in Detroit this Saturday night, a solid argument for putting him ahead of Campbell.
  • The Broncos get home games with the Patriots (no quarterback) and Chargers (Easton Stick is projected starter with Justin Herbert out), then they close in Vegas (Aidan O’Connell).

A win over Detroit this week could be huge for Payton to make the turnaround from 1-5 to 11-6, and that should be enough for the playoffs, if not a division title should the Chiefs fully collapse. Payton has the built-in reputation to get respect from the voters to reward this turnaround should be pulled off.

Right now, I like Payton and Stefanski as the best value picks for this one, but it could go so many ways. That’s just the kind of season it has been in the NFL. Only the rookie awards look like legitimate runaways with a quarter of the season to go.

Pick: NFL Coach of the Year – Sean Payton, Broncos (+1600 at BetMGM)

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