The NFL regular season officially kicks off on Thursday when Green Bay travels to Seattle to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Shutdown Corner will be previewing everything to come all week, capped off by our awards and Super Bowl predictions on Thursday.
The preseason picks you’ll see this week for the NFL season will be mostly the same. Maybe you pick Peyton Manning to win MVP, or maybe it's Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, and odds are one of those picks will be right. They’re the favorites to win for a reason.
But how many times have we seen something entirely unpredictable happen? Nobody thought Adrian Peterson was going to win the 2012 NFL MVP less than a year removed from ACL surgery.
So why not try to figure out some real long shots to win the major awards and the key statistical leaders? The self-imposed rule for this exercise is the picks have to have at least 25-to-1 odds to qualify. All of the odds come from OddsShark.com, using the Bovada lines (and the full odds are linked in the header for each category, if you wish to play along at home):
With Oakland's Derek Carr as the only Week 1 rookie starting quarterback, the field is a bit more wide open. San Francisco running back Carlos Hyde jumps off the page at 25-to-1, because with one injury to Frank Gore he’d be the focal point of a 49ers offense that likes to run the ball. But since Gore is indestructible, let’s go with Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill at 33-to-1. Hill looks set for the BenJarvus Green-Ellis role alongside Giovani Bernard (BJGE did have 220 carries last season). If Hill compiles enough touchdowns in that role, and Bernard goes down for a few games, Hill could really put up some nice numbers.
The long-shot pick: Hill 33-to-1
Pickings are a lot slimmer here, but Calvin Pryor at 25-to-1 looks solid. The Jets’ safety has starred in practices and has made plays in the preseason, and he’s in a defense that will encourage him to be aggressive and make big plays. The first-round pick has the ability to cash in on that opportunity, too.
The long-shot pick: Pryor 25-to-1
There’s no great option at 25-to-1 or beyond (maybe Nick Foles?), so let’s cheat a bit. Jay Cutler, at 20-to-1, might never be able to shake the mistakes that have plagued him. But he has Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte to throw to, and it’s possible the defense is so bad he’s throwing the ball a ton all year. If he doesn’t pile up a bunch of yards, something is really wrong.
The long-shot pick: Cutler 20-to-1
Montee Ball and DeMarco Murray are good players getting 25-to-1 odds, but their teams will pass too much. Rashad Jennings of the Giants at 75-to-1 is intriguing, but we’ll play it safer and go with Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller at 33-to-1. Even with a high ankle sprain last year he averaged 4.6 yards per carry. He has a 5.1-yard average in his career. He also was the only back to put up 100 yards on Carolina’s great front seven last year. Fred Jackson is getting older. If Spiller can just stay healthy enough to get 250 or so carries …
The long-shot pick: Spiller 33-to-1
Alshon Jeffery of the Bears would have been an easy pick, but he missed the cut at 20-to-1. Jimmy Graham and Vincent Jackson at 40-to-1 are intriguing, as is Keenan Allen at 50-to-1. But we’ll go with Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson at 28-to-1. Nelson had 49 catches for 810 yards in the eight games Aaron Rodgers started and finished last season. That’s a 1,620-yard pace. Josh Gordon led the NFL last year with 1,646 receiving yards and nobody else broke 1,500 yards.
The long-shot pick: Nelson 28-to-1
Considering the last time someone other than a quarterback or running back won the award was 1990 (because, of course, the best player in the NFL has come exclusively from one of those two positions for 23 straight seasons), you might as well eliminate everyone else. And, since six of the last seven MVPs have gone to quarterbacks, might as well eliminate running backs too. Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford are either 25-to-1 or 33-to-1, but I’m going even deeper to take Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger at 50-to-1. To win MVP you need team success and good numbers. The Steelers could have a fine season. They finished last season on a 6-2 run and both losses were very close. And while Roethlisberger has never had a truly amazing statistical season (4,328 yards and 32 touchdowns are his career bests), he has always been very efficient. He played 16 games for the second time in his career last year, as the Steelers did a better job protecting him. With just a small uptick in numbers and a double-digit win total for the Steelers, Roethlisberger might become a trendy MVP pick.
The long-shot pick: Roethlisberger 50-to-1