Super Bowl season is upon us and one of the most fun prop bets to make is the winner of Super Bowl MVP. Sure, it’s really simple to just take the favorite, land on a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes (+115 DraftKings), and make your decision easy but who doesn’t like taking a stab at a longshot? As great as Mahomes is, a quarterback is not a guaranteed winner. Plenty of potential sure-thing Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Tom Brady last season, Russell Wilson in 2014, Ben Roethlisberger in 2009, John Elway in 1998, and Brett Favre in 1997 did not win the MVP while their teams won the Super Bowl. In order to narrow down potential long-shot candidates, let’s see if we can use Super Bowl history as any sort of guide.
Historical Super Bowl MVP Winners Breakdown
There have been 54 MVP winners or co-winners. There has been only one occasion where the award was shared, in SB XII, when Dallas Cowboys defensive linemen Harvey Martin and Randy White both won it. The MVP has come from the winning team in every year except 1971, when Dallas LB Chuck Howley won the award in a losing effort. Not surprisingly, QBs lead the way with 29 of the 54 MVPs, or 54% of the total winners. RBs and WRs are tied for second with seven award winners. On defense, four LBs, three DBs and three DL/DE have won the award. The lone “specialist” to win the award was Desmond Howard with the Packers in SB XXXI. No RB has won the award since Terrell Davis in 1998. If you isolate just the last 15 winners, there have been four WRs to win the award, including Julian Edelman last season. There have also been two LBs and nine QBs in this stretch.
The San Francisco 49ers are currently the No. 2 rated team in Football Outsiders’ DVOA defensive ratings. Since the Baltimore Ravens won the SB in 2001, there have been seven teams that have won the Super Bowl while being ranked either #1 or #2 in DVOA total defense. Out of those seven Super Bowl winners, four defensive players won the MVP award from those teams. Ray Lewis in 2001, Dexter Jackson in 2003, Malcolm Smith in 2014, and Von Miller in 2016 were all defensive players who played for a top 2 rated DVOA defense and won the MVP.
The other three winners were QBs Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and WR Santonio Holmes. It should be noted the recent defensive MVP winners have come in Super Bowls where that team has defeated the regular season MVP winner at QB. In 2003, Jackson’s MVP performance was against regular season MVP Rich Gannon, in 2014 Smith defeated regular season MVP Peyton Manning, and in 2016 Miller defeated regular season MVP Cam Newton. These were not instances where a great defense feasted on an overmatched QB.
Potential MVP Longshots from Kansas City
If the Chiefs win, I think there are a couple of offensive players to consider as longshot candidates. Three Chiefs with the best odds include Mahomes, Tyreek Hill (20-1 DraftKings), and Travis Kelce (20-1 DraftKings). Outside of those three, the best available longshot, in my opinion, would be Damien Williams (25-1 DraftKings). I like Williams since many of his opportunities will be independent of Mahomes’s success. Williams has eight rushing TDs and three receiving TDs in 13 total games this season. In the final regular season game of 2019, Mahomes struggled against the Chargers, only throwing for 174 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. In that game, Williams rushed for 124 yards, caught 7 for 30 yards and scored 2 rushing TDs. That’s probably the type of performance he would need.
To win the award it also helps to create splashy and explosive plays. Williams has shown that ability this year with 17 10+ yard rushes and receptions on the season. This includes two runs that went for 84- and 91-yard TDs, in the last two months of the season alone. The Niners rank 11th in DVOA run defense and if the Chiefs decide to increase Williams’s carries, against the No. 2 ranked pass defense in the NFL, the opportunity could very well be there for Williams to produce big numbers.
The only other skill guy who I think could be a decent longshot candidate would be Mecole Hardman (80-1 DraftKings). Scenarios where Hardman could win it over Mahomes would be if he were able to score multiple TDs on receptions as well as on a reverse and/or kick return. Hardman does have seven total receiving and kick return TDs this season. He only has four rush attempts on the season but don’t put it past Andy Reid to incorporate him in this game out of the backfield a bit more. The goal for any longshot receiver to win from the Chiefs over Mahomes would be to find other ways to score a TD and Hardman has that chance.
Potential MVP Longshots from San Francisco
Offensively, if we are only looking at the longshots, I want to find a good matchup against a KC defense where a fringe player can excel. The Chiefs pass defense has allowed the fourth-fewest yards per game to No. 1 WRs and have allowed the second-lowest to No. 2 WRs. The Chiefs rank in the top 7 in DVOA against both #1 and #2 WRs. However, against all other WRs, the Chiefs rank 21st in DVOA.
The main culprit has been CB Kendall Fuller, who has allowed the highest QB rating in the NFL to slot WRs at 138.7. Since Safety Juan Thornhill went out with a season-ending injury to end the season, Fuller has been moved to the safety position to take his place. In Fuller’s place, the new slot CB has been Rashad Fenton, who started getting more snaps in Week 7. The Chiefs haven’t faced many good slot WRs in the second half of the season, however, in only eight snaps last week, Adam Humphries caught 4 passes and in Week 17, Keenan Allen played more than 50% of his snaps in the slot and caught 9 of 10 targets for 82 yards and a TD.
For the Niners, Kyle Shanahan does a tremendous job moving his receivers around the line but since Week 14, Kendrick Bourne (200-1 DraftKings) has lined up in the slot on 58.9% of his snaps. Bourne has been targeted the second-most among all Niners WRs from the slot, receiving 8 targets with 6 receptions and 1 TD. Bourne actually leads the Niners with 6 receiving TDs this season and has caught all of them since Week 9. If Shanahan thinks he has a good matchup in the slot and if the Chiefs defense is pre-occupied stopping the run and doubling up on George Kittle, don’t be surprised if Bourne can find some lanes in one-on-one matchups.
As noted above, the Niners come in with the No. 2 rated DVOA defense on the season and have allowed the second-lowest percentage of explosive pass plays in the NFL. In order to win this Super Bowl against the juggernaut offense of the Chiefs, the Niners defense will most likely have to step up and slow down Mahomes. The Niners come in with a vaunted defensive line that has put pressure on QBs all season. They rank second in the NFL in pressure rate and have done so while blitzing at the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL. The key to slowing down Mahomes is to get pressure on him without having to send extra defenders. Mahomes has faced five teams that blitzed him at a rate per drop back of 13% or lower in their matchup with the Chiefs. The Chargers did it twice along with the Raiders, Lions, and Patriots once. It could be total coincidence but Mahomes’s five lowest QB ratings on the season occurred in those games. In those five games, Mahomes produced a 46% success rate, which would rank 15th in the NFL. Outside of those five games, Mahomes’ success rate was 52%, which would be No. 2 in the NFL. If the Niners are going to win, it isn’t crazy to think someone on their defense can step up and win this MVP award.
Von Miller was able to win the MVP in 2016 by sacking Cam Newton 2.5 times and forcing two fumbles. Malcolm Smith won the MVP in 2014 by recovering a fumble and returning an INT for a TD off Peyton Manning. Deter Jackson won the MVP with 2 INTs. In order for a Niners defensive player to win this award, he’d have to either sack Mahomes multiple times and cause at least one fumble or they’d have to intercept Mahomes at least once and potentially return an INT for a TD. The latter is much harder to predict so I’m focusing on a pass rusher.
All season we have seen Niner DE Dee Ford (150-1 FanDuel) harass QBs with a team-leading 3.7% sack rate on 215 pass rushes. This compares to Nick Bosa (35-1 FanDuel) and Arik Armstead’s (125-1 DraftKings) 2.3% rate.
Bosa is first on the Niners in total pressure rate at 16.2% but Ford comes in second at 13%. Heading into the playoffs, the Niners pass rush was night and day better with Ford on the field. According to Next Gen Stats, the Niners pressure rate jumps from 22% to 36% and sack rate triples from 5% to 16% when Ford is on the field.
When it comes to the Super Bowl MVP, writers who vote on this award love good narratives. I can see voters totally soaking up the “revenge game” angle with Ford. After costing the Chiefs a SB trip last season, when he jumped offsides against the Patriots, Ford was traded from Kansas City to the Niners. If he can produce multiple sacks and help the Niners win this SB, I can see voters get swayed towards the Ford narrative. Of all the defensive longshots for the Niners, I believe Ford is the best bet.