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Tom Brady on top; Josh Allen still worth a buy



As the calendar turns to December, the NFL MVP race is usually trimmed to a couple top candidates. Last year, it was Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers separating themselves from the pack. However, this year’s race still feels extremely wide open with a different candidate each week seemingly taking over the role of betting favorite. So how much more shifting will we see between now and the playoffs? It’s time to buy and sell the main candidates.

MVP watch

Tom Brady (+275)

Brady is understandably the favorite, but this is far from a runaway. He leads the NFL with 30 passing touchdowns and is just 11 passing yards behind that category’s leader. He has been so solid, and with an 8-3 record Tampa Bay is contending for the NFC’s top seed. Also, the Bucs have five of their final six games against teams currently with losing records. The other is a home showdown with the Bills, and perhaps that will determine the MVP. I do think Brady is likely to win this award, but I cannot recommend a wager at +250.

Aaron Rodgers (+550)

Finally we are seeing the betting market respond to the reigning MVP and even Green Bay in the futures market. It has been slow to react, but a convincing win over the Rams now has the Pack drawing some buzz. Green Bay is 9-3, and if 9-2 Arizona slips up, the Pack could land the one-seed, given their win over the Cardinals. I expect the Packers to win out, but I wouldn’t be shocked with losses at Baltimore, home to Cleveland or home to Minnesota. Given his offseason hoopla and the COVID-19 misrepresentation, Rodgers will probably lose some key votes. I am selling this because voters will find another elite QB.

Josh Allen (+550)

I think this is a live ticket. Allen and the Bills host the NFL’s hottest team on Monday Night Football next week, and I think it’s a good spot for Buffalo to win and cover. Allen then travels to Tampa Bay for an MVP showdown with Brady and the Bucs before hosting the Pats two weeks later. He will have the spotlight and he certainly has the skill. If you believe in the Bills, +550 is good value.

Patrick Mahomes (+800)

How do we feel about the Chiefs? Kansas City has won four straight and has a manageable remaining schedule. The Chiefs can certainly win out, but they’ve also laid some eggs, so how much can we trust them at the Chargers and Bengals? With Buffalo having a tough remaining schedule, Baltimore being shaky and Tennessee without Derrick Henry, the Chiefs might finish with the AFC’s top seed. The +800 is certainly enticing for a guy who can dominate games, but I am still not sold on the Chiefs. It just doesn’t feel right with K.C.

Dak Prescott (+1200)

He is in contention, but it would take a lot for him to land this award. Dallas would need to finish with one of the top two seeds, and that could certainly happen, but can the defense maintain its strong play long enough? Only one of the Cowboys’ remaining six games is against a team currently with a winning record. At 12-1, Prescott is viable but not something I would support.

Kyler Murray (+1200)

He was the betting favorite, but missing three games essentially prevents him from winning the award, particularly because Arizona went 2-1 in those games and Rodgers also outdueled him in a marquee prime time game. I need more than 12-1, but he is electric and Arizona has a good chance to land the NFC’s top seed.

Lamar Jackson (+1400)

This is a tough one. The narrative is there, and Baltimore could land the AFC’s top seed. With home games against the Packers, Rams and Steelers, in addition to road games against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati, the Ravens have too many landmines for an inconsistent team. If Jackson thrives and leads them to several wins, then maybe that does the trick. I just need more than 14-1 for him right now.

Joe Burrow (+4000)

I cannot blame anyone for a wager at 40-1. Burrow’s numbers are not overwhelming and his 12 interceptions are only one behind the leader, but Cincy has a chance to make a run. Burrow can win over voters with back-to-back home games against the Ravens and Chiefs, in addition to hosting the Chargers this weekend and traveling to Denver and Cleveland. If the Bengals win the competitive AFC North, Burrow could conceivably be the MVP. It’s not all that far-fetched.

Derek Carr (+7500)

I do not anticipate this ticket cashing, but 75-1 has my interest. Carr leads the NFL in passing and could gain steam if the Raiders make a legitimate playoff run and perhaps win the AFC West. It’s unlikely because they are so inconsistent, but it’s doable. Perhaps the narrative of a roller-coaster season strengthens his chances, but it would take quite a bit of things to break their way. I am not biting, but I at least thought about it.

MVP futures

Brady +275
Rodgers +550
Allen +550
Mahomes +800
Prescott +1200
Murray +1200
Jackson +1400
Matthew Stafford +1600
Jonathan Taylor +2000
Justin Herbert +2000

Other awards to watch

AFC champion

The Indianapolis Colts blew a double-digit lead Sunday, but I still believe in them. At 25-1 odds, Indy is worth a play to win the AFC. The defense is top notch and the offense is capable. It would be a difficult run, given they are currently out of the playoffs with a 6-6 record, but the AFC is wide open. At 25-1 to reach the postseason and win three playoff games? Sign me up.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is now +230 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is the favorite at -300. That feels off. Unlike the MVP, this award is not earmarked for quarterbacks. Chase is regarded as one of the league’s top wide receivers, and his stats are pretty impressive. If the Pats falter, then Chase will emerge. Also, even if the Pats continue this current run, Bill Belichick and the defense will command most of the credit. Jones has weak road numbers, and I do see a path for Chase.

NFL rushing TD leader

Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is -150 to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns. He is the current overall leader with 14, and James Connor has 12 with one more game than Taylor left on his schedule. Given their offenses, I think Taylor is a strong play. He still gets to face the Texans, Jaguars and Raiders. Connor faces the Bears, Colts, Rams, Cowboys and Seahawks. None of those defenses are pushovers, and I just trust Indy’s commitment to its running back more than I do Arizona’s.

Super Bowl odds

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +525
Kansas City Chiefs +700
Green Bay Packers +750
Buffalo Bills +800
Arizona Cardinals +900
Baltimore Ravens +1100
New England Patriots +1100
Los Angeles Rams +1200
Dallas Cowboys +1300
Tennessee Titans +2500

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Dallas Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy told he will return as head coach in 2022



Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has been told that he will return in 2022, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Ed Werder on Thursday.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has so far declined to commit to McCarthy’s return publicly after Dallas’ playoff exit with a wild-card round loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

USA Today Sports first reported that McCarthy had been told he will return.

On Jan. 17, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said in an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas that he was “very confident” McCarthy would return but just days later, Jerry Jones wouldn’t divulge his conversations with the coaching staff and their futures in an interview with the same radio station.

McCarthy has said that he wasn’t concerned about his future as head coach, saying in a new conference on Jan. 19 that he had positive conversations with Jerry Jones after the loss to the 49ers.

McCarthy has an 18-15 regular-season record in two seasons, which includes a 12-5 mark and NFC East title in 2021, buoyed by quarterback Dak Prescott‘s return to health and a revamped defense that led the NFL in takeaways (34) under new coordinator Dan Quinn.

Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini on Thursday that Quinn will return next season as defensive coordinator interviewed for the head-coaching vacancies of the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and New York Giants.

While the offense finished No. 1 in yards and points this season, they had no consistency, scoring 16 and 9 points in losses to the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs in a three-week span mixed around a 43-3 win against the Atlanta Falcons. They scored 56 and 51 points in two of their last three games, wins against the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles, but lost a key home game in Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals that effectively ended their chances for the No. 2 seed in the postseason.

In the playoff loss to the 49ers, they scored just 17 points and trailed by 16 points in the fourth quarter. A potential game-winning drive was thwarted when the clock ran out after a 17-yard run by Prescott when the ball was not set for play in time. It is one of several clock-management issues McCarthy has had in his two-year tenure.

Penalties also have been an issue. The Cowboys led the league in penalties with 127 for 1,103 yards. In the playoff loss to San Francisco, the Cowboys were flagged 14 times for 89 yards, tied for the most in a playoff game in team history (Eagles, 2009 wild card, which Dallas won.)

ESPN’s Todd Archer contributed to this report.

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Why Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill had to pivot this season



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Used to providing big plays and long touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs, Tyreek Hill sounded weary earlier in the season with his new role as more of a possession receiver.

“It’s hard, especially for me, because I’m used to going 80 [yards] every play,” Hill said after a Week 10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in which he caught two touchdown passes, one from 1 yard out and the other from 8.

“Coach [Andy] Reid, he’s just got to keep me calm on the sideline. I’m a head case, man. I’m used to going down the field. Now I’m running 12-yard ins. That’s not something I’m used to.”

Hill has had to adapt this season with so many teams using two deep safeties against the Chiefs. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown him shorter routes underneath the coverage rather than not getting him the ball at all. And it has worked.

Exhibit A: His 64-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter of last week’s divisional-round playoff win over the Buffalo Bills. Hill caught the pass around midfield for what would have been a modest gain, but he turned on the jets for one of several late scores that propelled the Chiefs into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals (3 p.m. ET, CBS).

“He’s excellent after the catch,” said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety. “You talk about catch-and-run ability, his is near the top of the league. That’s why you see Kansas City throw so many quicks, throw so many unders and use him on wide receivers screens. That allows him to play to his ability of attacking open grass.”

Hill (and his speed) is the reason for the Chiefs facing so many defensive looks with two deep safeties designed to take away his ability to get the big play. It’s a defensive concept the Chiefs have seen in the past but one that was proved especially effective by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their 31-9 victory over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. In the season that has followed that Super Bowl loss, the Chiefs faced two high safeties 54.8% of the time, according to ESPN Metrics and NFL Next Gen Stats. That was not only the highest percentage in the league this season — by nearly 5% — but the highest in at least the past five years.

“You have to respect the speed,” Bowen said. “It creates consistent conflict for opposing defenses. What you’re going to get is more two-high looks because defenses are threatened by his ability to get down the field.”

Those looks caused the Chiefs and Mahomes to sputter at times, especially early. But it wasn’t just Mahomes who had to adjust as opposing defenses worked to take away the many big plays that were the signature of the Chiefs’ offense.

Hill is another player who had to learn another way of doing things. He caught 13 passes this season of 20 yards or more, and 26 receivers around the NFL had more. As a comparison, Hill caught 27 passes of 20 or more yards in 2018 — most in the NFL. He averaged 11.2 yards per catch during the 2021 regular season, or fewer than tight end Travis Kelce, wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle and running back Derrick Gore. In 2018, he averaged 17 yards per catch to lead the Chiefs among their regulars.

Hill might not have loved his new role during the 2021 season, but he took to it nicely. His 111 catches broke Kelce’s year-old team record.

“That one is supposed to be held by a wide receiver. The tight end isn’t always the focal point in the offense,” Kelce said. “Tyreek has done an incredible job of taking his game to the next level. Sure enough, you see him breaking records … and he’s just going to keep taking off. It’s so fun to play with him.”

Speed and quickness are obvious assets for Hill, but he has always fought back on the notion that he’s not a complete receiver. Wide receivers coach Joe Bleymaier said Hill practices more than deep routes.

“He’s always asking to run different routes and more types of routes and more variety,” Bleymaier said. Then, noting Hill’s displeasure with not getting more big passes, he added, “At times, I just remind him, ‘You were asking for these routes back in the day when you were just running downfield.’

“It’s all an adjustment period for Tyreek. He’s made so many plays down the field and he loves doing that. We still ask him to do that, but [also other routes including] the 12-yard ins or the facing-the-quarterback, back-to-the-defense type of routes that are open for him.

“We always want to get Tyreek the ball. The more times it’s in his hands, the better for everybody.”

In the last three games of the regular season, Hill caught nine passes for 61 yards, or an average of less than seven yards per reception. His long catch was just 17 yards.

He busted out in the playoffs, though, catching a 31-yard touchdown pass in the wild-card-round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers before his 64-yarder against the Bills.

“Pretty much every coverage he has two people on him or two people kind of shadowing over the top of him, and he’s still getting himself open, making tough catches over the middle of the field,” Mahomes said after the Steelers game. “He’s really evolved his game, and at the end of the day, whenever he gets into those man coverage situations … you can always hit him over the top for touchdowns.”

This version of Hill is not what the Chiefs imagined when they drafted him in 2016. Hill played just one season of Division 1 football — at Oklahoma State in 2014 — rushing 102 times for 534 yards to go with 31 catches for 281 yards. Hill was dismissed from Oklahoma State after the 2014 season following charges of domestic assault and battery by strangulation on his then-20-year-old girlfriend. He pleaded guilty, received three years of probation and finished his career at West Alabama.

When the Chiefs drafted him in the fifth round — behind 16 other receivers — they saw the obvious speed and quickness but didn’t necessarily see him developing a wide range of talents like he showed this year.

“When he came here, he was raw,” Reid said. “He had been a running back [in college], so you could imagine. That’s a big change. They flexed him out and did all that stuff, but that’s kind of where he was. Every year he’s gotten better. Now, he’s refining all of those wide receiver skills that he’s learned here, and with his talent, he’s a tough one to stop.

“Normally, people have ways of trying to double him, which is a compliment to him and his ability, but he’s learned to work through it. He’s better in space, he’s more patient against man, setting things up, so my hat goes off to him. He’s worked very hard at that.”

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New Minnesota Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah focused on finding coach as first major task



EAGAN, Minn. — Not even a full day into his tenure as the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is already “deeply involved” in the team’s search for its next head coach, according to co-owner Mark Wilf.

Speaking at his introductory news conference Thursday, Adofo-Mensah reiterated that the conversations he has had regarding candidates are only in the beginning stages but that the direction the franchise wants to go in is clear.

“We know what we want to find,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We want leadership, we want somebody who is going to value the collective over the individual, we want somebody who has a vision, who can communicate, who has a solid football foundation, who understands how football is interconnected and what that means. That’s been our focus in these last few days honing in on what we want. In terms of specific names, we’re going to meet after this and talk about that further.”

The Vikings’ search has been narrowed down to six candidates after sources confirmed to ESPN that the Denver Broncos had hired Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as head coach and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn withdrew his name from head-coaching searches, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini.

Minnesota’s options now include San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Adofo-Mensah overlapped in San Francisco with Ryans and O’Connell when he worked in football research and development for the 49ers before being hired by the Cleveland Browns, where he spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons as the vice president of football operations.

Wilf said Jan. 10 that the next general manager would have “input” in choosing the Vikings’ coach. Adofo-Mensah did not specify whether he would have the final say on whom Minnesota hires and referred to the decision as “a collaborative process.”

Asked whether he would have full control over the 53-man roster, Adofo-Mensah again deferred to seeking a collaborative approach with the team’s next head coach on personnel decisions.

“I always say that with a coach, a coach that I would work with, I would work for,” Adofo-Mensah said. “It’s somebody that I would want to partner with. I wouldn’t care about that distinction because they understand about personnel and about living in today and living in tomorrow that would make us a great partnership. I guess I know what the specifics of my contract say, but I don’t think it really matters to speak in this forum.”

Minnesota conducted interviews with eight general manager candidates before interviewing Adofo-Mensah for a second time Tuesday and announcing his hiring Wednesday. His was the only second-round interview the Vikings conducted after former Kansas City Chiefs executive director Ryan Poles was hired by the Chicago Bears as general manager before he was set to interview in Minnesota.

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