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


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.

Antonio Brown's Raiders helmet issue elicits epic rant from Rich Eisen

Antonio Brown's Raiders helmet issue elicits epic rant from Rich Eisen

Through two preseason games, the Antonio Brown saga surges with each passing day. His feet are healthy, but his equipment remains an issue. 

Brown reportedly filed his second grievance against the NFL on Monday in an attempt to wear his preferred Schutt AiR Advantage helmet, which has been discontinued and has not been certified by the NOCSAE. The continued antics of the Raiders' star receiver caused an epic rant from Rich Eisen on Monday, too.

"You got a Hall of Fame career here, and it's not because of your helmet," Eisen said on "The Rich Eisen Show." "I know so many players are so superstitious. It's not because of your helmet, it's because you're a superior talent. 

"Go find that kid who didn't get any offers essentially out of South Florida, had to go to Central Michigan, showed up in Pittsburgh as a late-round draft pick and beat out Mike frickin' Wallace for a fat contract. The whole Steelers Nation fell in love with that kid because of his passion for the game and his desire to be great. Find that guy, put him in a new helmet and take the top of the offense off for Gruden!" 

Brown famously wasn't recruited out of high school. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds out of Miami, he wound up at Central Michigan where he starred for three years. Even though he fell to the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Brown became perhaps the best receiver in the NFL during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Instead of his talent, though, all anyone can bring up when talking about Brown right now is his feet or refusal to wear a helmet approved by the NFL.

Brown is expected to practice with the Raiders on Tuesday after missing Sunday's practice and having a stern message sent by general manager Mike Mayock regarding Brown's absence. 

"From our perspective, it's time for him to be all-in or all-out," Mayock said as part of a strong statement. 

[RELATED: AB discusses feet issue, helmet drama in 'Hard Knocks' clip]

What's it going to be, AB? Are you in or out? Soon, everyone should find out. 

Don't hold your breath.

Raiders 'Hard Knocks' live stream: How to watch third episode online

Raiders 'Hard Knocks' live stream: How to watch third episode online

Nobody is happier about the Raiders' drama with star receiver Antonio Brown than HBO's "Hard Knocks" crew. While AB has been absent from the Raiders' practice facility, he'll have the spotlight Tuesday night in the show's third episode this season. 

Just watch the trailer. 

The show surely will have plenty of footage of Brown running routes prior to the Raiders' preseason game in Arizona, but that won't be the biggest storyline. That should belong to general manager Mike Mayock, who sent a strong message that Brown needs to be at practice while the four-time All-Pro continues to fight the NFL over not being able to wear his preferred helmet.

This isn't TNT, but HBO loves drama just as much. So far, this preseason is full of the dreaded d-word with the Silver and Black. 

We should be in for a treat. 

Here's how to watch the third episode of "Hard Knocks" online:

When: Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 10 p.m. PT
Live Stream: HBOGO