While winning the Lombardi Trophy is, of course, the ultimate goal of every NFL player, the MVP award also plays a significant role during the upcoming 2021 NFL season, and that’s especially true for fan discussion as well as the betting market.
Last year, we created a model to forecast the MVP race by simulating each quarterback’s season and using the simulated end-of-season stats to accurately predict the MVP voting.
By forecasting rather than looking at the current situation, we were able to get things right last year when the MVP race was largely between Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers throughout the season. We hope to give you the correct insights again this year. The methodology is the same as last year. Nevertheless, here is a quick reminder:
- We trained a model to predict the winner of the MVP award based on only three regular-season parameters after Week 17 has concluded:
- The number of wins (and how that ranks across the league)
- Rank in the own division
- Expected points added (EPA) per play (and how that ranks across the league)
- Since the model works with the regular-season stats in hindsight, we need to simulate the remaining games of the season to have results with which we can feed the model. We invoke our weekly win total simulations as well as a Bayesian updating method to simulate each quarterback’s EPA per play in 2021.
- During the season, we update our beliefs on all quarterbacks with Bayesian updating, incorporating EPA per play and making adjustments based on the PFF passing grade, our charting data — which can identify plays with bad results that aren't the quarterback's fault — and the quality of defense faced.
- Using these updated beliefs, we can simulate the EPA per play for the remainder of the season for each quarterback.
- The number of wins and whether a quarterback wins his division is obtained from our win total simulations.
Using this methodology, we land at an estimated MVP probability for each starting quarterback. And we can then compare it to the respective implied probability stemming from the MVP odds at DraftKings.
We don’t list the quarterbacks for the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers because it’s highly unlikely that Andy Dalton and Jimmy Garoppolo, respectively, will start the whole season. If Justin Fields and Trey Lance start early enough to be theoretically eligible for the award, we will add those two during the season. Furthermore, we will adjust for defenses that a quarterback faced and will face when we compute the odds during the season. Given the general volatility of defense, looking at defensive schedules right now is not very fruitful, which is why defensive opponents don’t play a role in these projections.