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NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

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NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

With training camps getting started, hope once again springs eternal in the NFL.

Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are primed to defend their crown, but a pack of worthy challengers is frothing at the mouth for the chance to take down the king.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sits atop the NFL's other throne as The Shield's reigning league MVP. The dynamic signal-caller once again is viewed as the favorite to take home the hardware, and while the like of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers are viewed as the most likely to take the crown from Mahomes, the AFC has a few other young passers who are lying in wait.

When looking at possible MVP sleepers in the AFC, I made sure to look only at players that had odds at 80-to-1 or higher, as listed by Westgate Las Vegas. With the framework set, here are four potential MVP sleepers who reside in the AFC.

Derek Carr, QB, Raiders

The Case For: Carr has the arm talent and the leadership qualities to be an MVP. We saw that in 2016 when he led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before fracturing his fibula in Week 16. With a wealth of offensive talent around -- including Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, -- and a full year of Jon Gruden's system under his belt, it wouldn't be hard to see Carr returning to his MVP-caliber form in 2019. If he puts up big numbers while helping the Raiders navigate a tough early-season schedule, he should be in the mix.

The Case Against: There was little about the Raiders' offense in 2018 that would tell you a turn around is coming. The offensive line struggled and the running game was relatively non-existent. This is a make or break year for the Carr-Gruden relationship and there's a chance it just won't work.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans

The Case For: Despite a shaky offensive line, Watson completed 68.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 551 yards and five scores. If the Clemson product can get some protection, he could put up big numbers and lead the Texans to another AFC West title. The recipe for an MVP campaign is there for Watson.

The Case Against: The offensive line is atrocious. Watson might spend more time running for his life than looking downfield for the streaking DeAndre Hopkins. If the Texans can't keep Watson off his back, there will be no MVP delusions in Houston.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans

The Case For: When he's been healthy, Mariota has put up good numbers. That was with an offense designed for the 1940s with one offensive weapon. Mariota enters a make-or-break year for him with the Titans with two new wide receivers in rookie A.J. Brown and former Buccaneers Adam Humphries. If new offensive coordinator Arthur Humphries can tailor the offense to Mariota's strengths, the possibility for a breakout season is there.

The Case Against: Look, he hasn't been able to stay healthy. If Mariota can't stay on the field, then his chance at winning the MVP and the Titans' playoff hopes go in the trash can.

[RELATED: How Raiders' defense stacks up against AFC West rivals]

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens

The Case For: Jackson rushed for 556 yards in the seven games he started last season. If you extrapolate that over a 16-game season, it amounts to 1,271 yards. That would be more than the 1,039 yards Michael Vick rushed for in 2006. If Jackson has improved his passing and leads the Ravens to the playoffs, he could very well be an MVP sleeper.

The Case Against: As the Los Angeles Chargers showed in the AFC Wild Card Game, it's easy to stop Jackson if he's only able to move the chains with his legs. If the Louisville product hasn't made big strides with his accuracy and pocket presence then he won't be in the MVP conversation.

Raiders’ Senior Bowl experience was vital to excellent 2019 NFL draft

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Raiders’ Senior Bowl experience was vital to excellent 2019 NFL draft

The Raiders took their entire football operation down south this time last year to coach the Senior Bowl’s North squad.

That’s a luxury afforded to terrible teams from the previous season, and the 4-12 Raiders were certainly one. The provided an up-close look at some of the NFL draft’s finest prospects available throughout the selection process.

The Raiders got to see how players work in practice and pay attention in meetings, with an opportunity to swap squads – the 49ers coached the South – on the practice week’s final day.

Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock got a great evaluation of every Senior Bowl prospect.

That week in Mobile, Ala turned out to be an information gold mine. The learned to love a lot of those prospects and capitalized on opportunities to acquire them in the NFL draft or shortly after.

The Raiders drafted four Senior Bowl participants and signed three more after the amateur selection process.

“Coaching and being there really helped us a lot,” general manager Mike Mayock said after the NFL draft. “It really is a big deal to be involved in that game.”

The Raiders certainly hope this Senior Bowl week bears fruit, albeit with a lot less access to the prospects. They’ll send a slightly smaller contingent to this important evaluation week, though the Silver and Black will still canvas this group from stands over the sidelines. Practices start on Tuesday, beginning a three-day stretch that’s more important than the all-star game itself.

Last year’s close-up look ended up putting several participants in silver and black.

The Raiders got Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram in the first round, LSU tight end Foster Moreau and Houston cornerback Isaiah Johnson in the fourth and Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow in the fifth. Then they signed Wisconsin fullback Alec Ingold, Notre Dame linebacker Te’Von Coney and UC Davis receiver Keelan Doss as undrafted free agents.

Everyone save Coney spent most of the year on the 53-man roster and many of them made a major impact on the 2019 Raiders.

Those guys should be an even greater part of the 2020 squad, with Abram expected to rejoin the starting lineup after a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 1 and optimism high after what was essentially a lost season after Johnson suffered a preseason facial fracture.

Renfrow developed into a major player, and even Ingold became a reliable blocker and short yardage back. Moreau was a touchdown machine in his first season, forming a promising tight-end duo with breakout star Darren Waller.

The Raiders preferred Senior Bowl participants last year, and this practice week is something vital to pre-NFL draft evaluation. The Raiders have five selections in the top 92, broken down into two first-round picks and three more in the third down.

[RELATED: Raiders' Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock at East-West Shrine Bowl practice]

Last year the Raiders favored players from either championship college programs or Senior Bowl participants, with rare exception. There’s no telling if that’ll be the case again this year, but Senior Bowl game and practice film is a vital piece of the evaluation process.

“Everybody will tell you they look at the Senior Bowl practice tape, the Senior Bowl game film over and over and over,” Gruden said last year, when he was coaching the all-star game. “You watch the matchups over and over and over.

“I remember doing it with [late Raiders owner/GM Al Davis]. He would put the Senior Bowl on for the 44th time and I would say, ‘how many more times are we going to watch that game?’ There’s tremendous value in it. It’s a great tool and provides great matchups you would never see if you didn’t come here.”

Tom Brady says he's 'open-minded' about uncertain future with Patriots

Tom Brady says he's 'open-minded' about uncertain future with Patriots

When you think about the New England Patriots, you don't see Steve Grogan, you picture Tom Brady. Aside from six Super Bowl rings for Brady and a trophy case full of accolades and records, there could be one big difference between the two quarterbacks. 

Grogan was a late-round draft pick who spent his entire 16-year career as a Patriots QB. Brady famously was a late-round draft pick who has spent his entire 20-year career as a Pats QB. But that could change. 

With rumors swirling that Brady might move on from New England this offseason, the 42-year-old addressed his future in his weekly interview with Westwood One Sports Radio on Sunday. 

"It's only been a couple weeks and I've had a lot of time with my family the last couple weeks and just been decompressing from the season," Brady said. "I've said earlier I'm open-minded about the process, and at the same time I love playing football and I want to continue to play and do a great job. I'm looking forward to what's ahead.

"Whatever the future may bring, I'll embrace it with open arms."

Brady is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career on March 18. The Athletic's Jay Glazer recently called the Raiders going after Brady with their move to Las Vegas a "no-brainer." And Brady was spotted in Sin City on Saturday night talking to none other than Raiders owner Mark Davis at UFC 246. 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Adam Hill spoke with UFC president Dana White -- who's a friend of Brady -- Saturday night after the fights, and White said a Raiders-Brady pairing absolutely "has legs." 

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is set to make $18.9 million next season, but the Raiders would save $16.5 million and take a cap hit of just $5 million if they trade or release Carr prior to June 1. 

[RELATED: Brady offers Jimmy G advice before NFC Championship Game]

Brady wouldn't come cheap, even at his age, though he certainly would create an insane amount of buzz and sell boatloads of tickets in the Silver and Black's first season in Las Vegas. Raider fans might also finally have reason to forget about the Tuck Rule, 18 years after the fact. 

Buckle up, things could get interesting. This is Las Vegas, after all.