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NFL MVP 2020: Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers close the gap on Patrick Mahomes heading into Week 2

Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season is in the books!  And while our top five MVP candidates all won their first game of the season, only four of them cemented their status as legit contestants for the award, as Drew Brees (57.7 passing grade, -0.04 expected points added per play) was hardly the driving force behind the New Orleans Saints‘ 11-point win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

[Editor's Note: PFF's advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]

Speaking of the Buccaneers, Tom Brady lost his first game of the season, as did four other quarterbacks who made up the back half of our preseason top-10 MVP rankings. These individual performances weren’t necessarily all bad, but it still leaves the door open for other quarterbacks to enter the top 10; it also means that the top four — Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers — have already separated from the pack.

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Before we come to the rankings, here is a short overview of the methodology:

  • We trained a model to predict the winner of the MVP award at the conclusion of the regular season. The model is based on three regular-season parameters:
    1. The number of wins (and how that ranks across the league)
    2. Rank in the division
    3. Expected points added per play (and how that ranks across the league)
  • Since the model works with regular-season stats in hindsight, we need to simulate the remaining games of the season in order to 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 2020.
  • During the season, we update our beliefs on all quarterbacks with Bayesian Updating, incorporating up-to-date EPA per play and making adjustments based on both the PFF passing grade 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 QB wins his division is obtained from our weekly win-total simulations.

We are still showing the odds for all 32 starting quarterbacks — it is, after all, only Week 2 — but the length of the list should shrink very soon, as quite a few quarterbacks will most likely hit odds that are beyond 1000:1 very quickly.

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