Clubhouse Leader: Watching the NFL awards races after the Week 6 first appearance on NBC Sports Washington
* Throughout the 2021 NFL season, Ethan Gifts of NBC Sports Washington will follow all NFL Awards races as part of the Leader in the Clubhouse series. Here he looks at where each reward run is after week 6.
Week 6 of the NFL season is on the books, which means the 2021 campaign is officially a third over. Now there is a sample size large enough to start separating suitors from suitors.
Last weekend’s slate didn’t have as many exciting games as it did last week. The Ravens outscored the Chargers, 34-6, in a previously 4-1 team clash. Arizona blew up Cleveland to remain undefeated. The best game of Week 6 came on Monday Night Football, as the Titans upset the Bills in a thriller, 34-31.
With 11 weeks left to play, there is plenty of football to play and time for the stories to change. But, it’s not too early to watch each of the NFL’s annual awards races.
Here are the betting favorites for each NFL award, the top bets for each honor, and an analysis for each award race (all odds provided by partner NBC Sports, PointsBet United States). Without delay…
Most Valuable Player
The betting favorite: Kyler Murray (+350)
Best bet: Kyler Murray (+350)
Keep an eye on: Dak Prescott (+500), Lamar Jackson (+1000)
It’s time to stop doubting Kyler Murray.
The Cardinals are 6-0 after a resounding dominant victory over the Cleveland Browns. Yes, Cleveland was missing several starters, but the Cardinals were without their head coach and still went to First Energy Stadium and dominated. Much of the credit goes to Murray, who had four touchdowns in the win.
Murray is on track for a better career season. His team are 6-0, the last undefeated club in the league. If the season ended today, he would be the runaway MVP. We’ll see if anyone can stop Murray, but for now he has that award under lock and key.
One name that has continued to climb the MVP rankings is Cowboys passer Dak Prescott. He’s led Dallas to five-game winning streak after a Week 1 loss to Tampa and the Cowboys look like a real contender for the first time in at least five years.
In six weeks, Prescott threw for 1,813 yards, 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. In terms of sheer value, there are only a handful of quarterbacks that matter more to their respective team than Dak.
Offensive player of the year
The betting favorite: Derrick Henri (+300)
Best bet: Derrick Henri (+300)
Keep an eye on: It does not matter
In the six weeks of the season, there is no one else to mention for Offensive Player of the Year other than Titans running back Derrick Henry.
Henry is the overwhelming favorite at +300, the chances of continuing to evolve as the season progresses. Henry has run over 100 yards and three touchdowns in two straight games, his latest performance leading Tennessee to a surprise 4-1 victory over the Bills previously.
Henry leads all running backs in runs (162), yards (783) and touchdowns (10) by a substantial margin. Aside from quarterbacks, there is no offensive player who can influence a game like Henry can. He’s been on the pace for back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons, something that has never been done before.
Forget King Henry. He is Emperor Henry now.
Defensive player of the year
The betting favorite: Trevon Diggs (+300)
Best bet: Diggs (+300), Myles Garrett (+350)
Keep an eye on: Aaron Donald (+800)
Two weeks ago I told you to keep an eye out for Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs. Last week I said he was the best bet for defensive player of the year. Now he is the favorite in betting for the price.
Diggs recorded his seventh interception of the season on Sunday, a crucial six pick that put the Cowboys ahead of New England late in the fourth quarter. His touchdown didn’t seal the game – as Diggs and safety Damontae Kazee allowed for a long touchdown on the next disc – but again, Diggs was important to the Dallas defense when they needed it.
Diggs has allowed plenty of yards this season, but he also has the best ball skills of any cornerback in the NFL. If it continues to collect interceptions at this historic rate, it will be difficult for the DPOY price to head elsewhere.
Two names to watch for this award are Browns pass thrower Myles Garrett and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The two defensive linemen are the most disruptive defensive players in football and have a significant impact on games every week. For a prize that has gone to a defensive lineman more than any other position, don’t count either player yet.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
The betting favorite: Ja’Marr Chase (+250)
Best bet: Ja’Marr Chase (+250)
Keep an eye on: Trevor Lawrence (+600)
The award has been given almost exclusively to quarterbacks lately, but Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is currently the favorite for offensive rookie of the year.
Chase currently has the fourth-most receiving yards of any NFL player this season and is poised to break former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson’s rookie yardage record he set last season. He has become Joe Burrow’s favorite target and is already one of the best deep threats in the entire league.
If there’s a quarterback who could challenge Chase from now on, it’s 2021 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars flagman picked up his first win of the season last week and looked very solid as well. Despite all the turmoil in Jacksonville this offseason, Lawrence has objectively looked the best of any rookie QB this year.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
The betting favorite: Micah Parsons (+225)
Best bet: Micah Parsons (+225)
Keep an eye on: Asante Samuel Jr. (+1000)
What was until now a three-man race quickly turned into a two-man battle between Micah Parsons and Asante linebacker Samuel Jr. Browns Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, which has had a lot of impact this year, has been placed in the casualty reserve for what the team is expecting several weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Parsons is the overwhelming favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and for good reason. Its impact is evident when comparing the Cowboys’ defense of 2021 to the Dallas team last year. While Parsons ‘impact doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, he’s certainly one of the main reasons the Cowboys’ defense has been exponentially better this season.
Samuel Jr. has had a good start to the rookie season, but has calmed down lately. He still remains Parsons’ biggest challenger for the price, but the gap between the two seems to be widening week by week.
Returning Player of the Year
The betting favorite: Dak Prescott (-350)
Best bet: Dak Prescott (-350)
Keep an eye on: Joe Burrow (+800)
This race for rewards is almost over. Dak Prescott will be named the NFL Returning Player of the Year, barring another serious injury.
Prescott led Dallas to a 5-1 record on his return from a horrific broken ankle that sidelined him for 11 games last year. Not only is Prescott healthy, he’s playing the best football of his career. He threw 16 touchdowns for just four interceptions. And, as I mentioned earlier, he’s also firmly in the MVP race.
It’s worth mentioning that Prescott injured his calf in the final game of Sunday’s win over the Patriots, but the Cowboys QB believes he’ll be ready to go after the team’s week off.
The fact that Prescott will likely win the Returning Player of the Year award, however, is not an indictment of what Joe Burrow has done this year. Burrow has been formidable and his Bengals are at 4-2 as one of the NFL’s most surprising teams. In many more years, Burrow would win this award. He’s just facing some serious competition this season.
Coach of the Year
The betting favorite: Kliff Kingsbury (+400), Brandon Staley (+400)
Best bet: Kliff Kingsbury (+400), Brandon Staley (+400)
Keep an eye on: John Harbaugh (+900)
In the six weeks of the 2021 season, the Coach of the Year award could easily go to two selected coaches: Chargers boss Brandon Staley or Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Let’s start with Kingsbury, who has Arizona 6-0 this season, the league’s last unbeaten team. The Cardinals’ offense is packed with talent and is virtually impossible to plan, while the defense has plenty of young stars and a few veterans linked to Canton. Playing in the dreaded NFC West, what Kingsbury has done this season has been exceptional so far.
For Staley, his coach of the year bid took a hit last weekend when the Chargers were routed by Baltimore, 34-6. That game alone shouldn’t take away what Staley has been doing this season, though, as he turned the Chargers from a talented young team into a true contender. He will also have a much better chance of proving his worth for this price.
What John Harbaugh has done in Baltimore this season deserves to be recognized, however. The Ravens have arguably been bitten by the injury bug more than any other team, but Baltimore is 5-1 over six weeks with wins over the Chiefs and Chargers to his name. Harbaugh is just as worthy as any coach for this price right now.