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NFL MVP 2020: Russell Wilson takes the top spot, Aaron Rodgers is underrated

After two weeks of play, the four MVP front-runners are still undefeated and are yet to have a bad game, even if Patrick Mahomes needed some late-game heroics to keep his record untarnished and Russell Wilson — who played almost flawlessly again — came close to losing a game to Cam Newton's own late-game heroics. The question that remains: How did Week 2 shake up our estimated MVP odds?

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Before we get 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 should note that we made some minor adjustments to how we project EPA per play — we now don't hold the negative EPA from drops or fumbles after completions against a quarterback when projecting him going forward. Furthermore, we downweigh the effect of fumbles and fourth-down plays.

Fumbles are not very predictive, but their effect on a quarterback's EPA is huge. And while we are glad fourth-down attempts have become more frequent in today's game, they come with very high leverage from an EPA standpoint — there is an EPA swing of roughly five points between the average successful and unsuccessful fourth-down attempt; hence we will lower their effect for predictive purposes. We will refer to the adjusted version (which is used for the Bayesian Updating process) as adjusted EPA per play later on.

We lost two quarterbacks to injury in Week 2. Drew Lock and Jimmy Garoppolo will now both miss multiple games, which is usually a death sentence for their chances of earning the MVP award (but it's not as though their play was garnering MVP consideration anyway).

Of the remaining 30 starting quarterbacks — a group that apparently still contains Tyrod Taylor we focus on the top 16 in more detail and compare their odds to the implied betting odds from the DraftKings Sportsbook.

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