Football Team

Clubhouse Leader: Looking at the NFL award races after Week 4

Football Team

Throughout the 2021 NFL season, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux will follow all of the NFL's award races as part of the Leader in the Clubhouse series. Here, he looks where each award race stands after Week 4.

It's hard to believe, but the 2021 NFL season is nearly a quarter of the way through. Now, here's enough of a sample size to start separating the contenders from the pretenders.

The Arizona Cardinals are the last undefeated team remaining, something few probably thought was possible entering the year. The success in the desert is largely due to star quarterback Kyler Murray, who is the league's Most Valuable Player after four weeks after dominating a good Rams defense this past Sunday.

Elsewhere, Justin Herbert and the Chargers look legit, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints continue to slump. There could be a lot of new faces in the postseason come playoff time.

Still, though, there's plenty of football left to be played. However, it's not too early to take a deep dive into each of the NFL's annual award races.

Here are the betting favorites for each NFL award, the best bets for each honor and analysis for every award race (all odds are provided by NBC Sports partner, PointsBet USA). Without further ado...

Most Valuable Player

Betting favorite: Kyler Murray (+475)

Best bet: Patrick Mahomes (+550)

Keep an eye on: Dak Prescott (+800), Justin Herbert (+1000)

 

In a clash of two 3-0 teams, it was the Arizona Cardinals, not the LA Rams, that left SoFi Stadium on Sunday with a blowout victory. Much of that is a credit to star quarterback Kyler Murray, who was a problem all afternoon long for a Rams defense that is among the NFL's best in the league.

Murray led Arizona to 37 points on Sunday, throwing for 268 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 39 yards on the ground. The third-year quarterback is quickly becoming one of the NFL's most exciting players. At +475, his MVP odds are an intriguing play if you're buying into the hype.

But there's a reason Patrick Mahomes continues to be in the MVP conversation, even if the Chiefs aren't playing their best football right now. Mahomes has a switch that few, if any, quarterbacks in the league have. We saw that first-hand on Sunday when he torched Philadelphia's secondary for 42 points on five touchdown tosses.

By season's end, the Chiefs will likely be near the top of the AFC standings. Mahomes will likely have MVP-esque stats, too. And, at +550, this might be the best time to place an MVP bet on the Kansas City superstar.

Besides Mahomes and Murray, there are two other QBs to keep an eye on for this award: Dak Prescott (+800) and Justin Herbert (+1000). Both signal-callers have their respective teams at 3-1 through the first four weeks, with each QB being a major reason why. If the Cowboys and Chargers continue to play well all year, both Prescott and Herbert will certainly enter the MVP conversation.

Offensive Player of the Year

Betting favorite: Derrick Henry (+900)

Best bet: Henry (+900)

Keep an eye on: Kyler Murray (+1100)

Week in and week out, Derrick Henry continues to do things that no one has done before.

A prime candidate for regression following a 2,000-yard season, Henry has been the exact opposite thus far in 2021. He's already carried the ball 113 times this season and has over 500 yards on the ground through four games. If Henry can stay healthy all season, this award will be his for the second year in a row.

Recently, the Offensive Player of the Year award hasn't also been the MVP. But that's something Kyler Murray could accomplish this season, should he continue to ascend on his current pace. Murray is just as dangerous with his legs as his arm, which is why even the best defenses struggle to slow him. 

The Murray hype is extremely high after the Cardinals' big win in Los Angeles, but the third-year quarterback could truly win both of these awards. 

Defensive Player of the Year

Betting favorite: Myles Garrett (+250)

Best bet: Garrett (+250)

Keep an eye on: Aaron Donald (+650), Trevon Diggs (+1600)

After another big week, Browns star pass rusher Myles Garrett has begun to create some separation between him and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in what figures to be a two-man race for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

 

Garrett's six sacks on the season are currently the NFL's most. He's graded out as the NFL's third-best edge rusher this season, per Pro Football Focus, and has been solid in run defense as well. Cleveland's defense has been exceptional the past two weeks and Garrett is the No. 1 reason why.

However, Donald is far too good of a player to be counted out of this award race. There's a reason he's won Defensive Player of the Year three times in the past four years. While his numbers aren't what Garrett's are, no player impacts the game more than Donald on the defensive side of the football. He'll be in contention for this award the entire season, regardless of how well Garrett plays.

But perhaps no defensive player has had a better season this year than Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs. The DMV native has totaled five interceptions in four games, including two against Carolina this past week. In just his second season, Diggs has emerged as a lockdown cornerback and has an extremely bright future ahead of him.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Betting favorite: Mac Jones (+300)

Best bet: Mac Jones (+300)

Keep an eye on: Ja'Marr Chase (+550), Trey Lance (+650)

Last week, both Mac Jones and Ja'Marr Chase had the same odds for Offensive Rookie of the Year, despite the fact that the Bengals wideout had the much better season to date. Now, after one really good week from Jones, he's the clear betting favorite for OROY, even after Chase had a solid outing in Week 4, too.

That just goes to show how difficult it is for any non-quarterback to win this award. 

Even though Tampa Bay won, Jones shined on Sunday Night Football, outplaying Tom Brady in the GOAT's return to Foxboro. He threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns and came just inches away from leading the Patriots to their second win of the season. All it took was one good week from the rookie QB to become the clear favorite to win OROY.

However, don't count out Chase, either. If the rookie wideout continues to shine, he'll certainly make a compelling case for the award. Besides Tyler Boyd, Chase has been Joe Burrow's favorite target this season and he's also Cincinnati's best deep-ball receiver. 

It's also worth keeping an eye on Trey Lance. The No. 3 overall pick is getting his first chance to start this upcoming Sunday with Jimmy Garoppolo sidelined. If Lance shines -- and he has the talent and coaching around him to do so -- there's a good chance his odds become a lot higher to win this award, even as soon as by next week.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Betting favorite: Micah Parsons (+400)

Best bet: Parsons (+400)

Keep an eye on: Asante Samuel Jr. (+1100)

Through four weeks, Cowboys' first-round pick Micah Parsons has been as good as advertised. He's made a significant impact on what was one of the league's worst defenses a year ago and looks like a future Pro Bowler.

 

In fact, the Cowboys are so confident in Parsons' abilities moving forward they released veteran and former Pro Bowler Jaylon Smith this week. There's a good chance Parsons is on the field for 100% of Dallas' defensive snaps moving forward.

If there's one player who could challenge Parsons for Defensive Rookie of the Year, right now its' Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. The second-round pick is thriving under coach Joe Staley, as he's already notched two interceptions and five pass breakups. Samuel was named Defensive Rookie of the Month in September, too.

The odds might now show it, but right now this is a two-man race between Parsons and Samuel.

Comeback Player of the Year

Betting favorite: Dak Prescott (-165)

Best bet: Prescott (-165)

Keep an eye on: Joe Burrow (+650)

What Dak Prescott is doing on the field right now, less than one year removed from a significant, gruesome ankle fracture is simply incredible.

The Cowboys star continued his hot start in Week 4, throwing for four touchdowns and no interceptions against a very good Panthers defense en route to a 36-28 win. Dallas appears to be one of the NFC's best teams and Prescott is at the top of the list as to why.

If there's one player that could challenge Prescott, though, it's Bengals QB Joe Burrow. The former LSU star suffered an ACL and MCL tear last year as a rookie, but he's returned this year even better. The Bengals are a surprising 3-1 right now, as Burrow looks every bit of the franchise quarterback Cincinnati hoped he'd be when they chose him first overall in 2020.

In many other years, what Burrow is doing coming off a significant knee injury would be more than enough to earn him Comeback Player of the Year honors. The fact that Burrow -- who has the second-best odds for this award -- is an afterthought for the honor right now just shows just how impressive Prescott has been ar thus fthis season.

Coach of the Year

Betting favorite: Brandon Staley (+550)

Best bet: Staley (+550)

Keep an eye on: Kliff Kingsbury (+1200)

Last week, I mentioned Chargers head coach Brandon Staley as both my best bet and the betting favorite for this award. Los Angeles had just defeated the high-powered Chiefs on the road in what was Justin Herbert's biggest win to date. The momentum for Staley's Coach of the Year campaign was gaining a lot of speed.

One week later, Staley is currently the runaway favorite for 2021's Coach of the Year honor. In Week 4, his Chargers dominated the previously undefeated Las Vegas Raiders from start to finish, proving that the AFC West, at least for now, runs through Los Angeles. The Chargers look as good as anyone right now and the team's first-year head coach deserves a ton of credit for it.

There is only one undefeated team remaining, though, and that's the Arizona Cardinals -- a club many projected to finish last in the loaded NFC West. Arizona is off to a great start, and while Kyler Murray deserves a ton of credit, so does head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

 

In a huge Week 4 matchup against the Rams, Kingsbury both out-schemed and out-coached Sean McVay as the Cardinals routed the Rams, 37-20. Many felt the Rams were the NFL's best squad entering that game, proving just how good Arizona has been thus far this season.

Kingsbury entered the 2021 season with uncertain job security. He wasn't on the hot seat necessarily, but another disappointing year could have resulted in the Cardinals moving in a different direction. Now, it looks like he'll be the guy in Arizona for many years to come.