In rarefied company with things like the Cy Young Award and Heisman Trophy, the Super Bowl MVP award is one of sports' most unquestionably prestigious honors.
Winning the trophy can make a man's career, putting him in an elite and exclusive fraternity among some of the NFL's all-time greats.
Naturally, and like most everything else on Super Bowl Sunday, the award is also something you can bet on if you're so inclined (and live in a place where it's legal). Not all bets are created equal, though, and only a few provide any semblance of actual value.
Here are three guys who could cash you a pretty penny by winning the award on Sunday.
*All lines via Sportsbook.ag
Torrey Smith: +1800
There's a notion that only Joe Flacco or Colin Kaepernick can win MVP of this game, simply by virtue of what viewers, on the whole, value in modern football. But the recent track record of Super Bowl MVP receivers is actually pretty impressive.
Deion Branch won in 2005, Hines Ward won in 2006 and Santonio Holmes won in 2009—that's three times in the last eight seasons.
As for Torrey Smith in particular, I like banking on a guy with big-play (and, more importantly, big-game) potential for a long-shot bet.
He probably would have been voted MVP of Baltimore's regular season victory over New England (127 yards and 2 TDs), and would have had a case in their divisional victory over Denver (98 yards and 2 TDs), too.
Up until last weekend, the 49ers defense looked infallible on the back end. But they were shredded by Julio Jones in the first half against Atlanta; had the Falcons won, and had an MVP trophy been awarded, he definitely would have won it, right? Matt Ryan has a good case too, but at the very least it's close.
Given the odds we're getting, I don't feel too intimidated betting against this secondary.
Patrick Willis +4000
As is the case with wide receivers, defensive players have surprisingly found a way to win a few MVP awards in modern Super Bowls. It hasn't happened since Dexter Jackson's two-interception performance in 2003, but he was the second defender to take home the hardware in three years.
The first of those two awards was won by Ray Lewis, who—at the time—was the undisputed best middle linebacker in football. How great of a torch-passing device would it be for Patrick Willis (the current best linebacker in football) to win the position's next MVP award in Ray Lewis' final career game? That's borderline poetry.
I like to think of it this way: Say you assume that the 49ers' odds of winning this game are 50/50 (which is false, but easier for the sake this explanation). That means in 40 games, the Niners are expected to win 20 times. Of those 20 wins, you honestly don't think Patrick Willis would be the single most dominant player on the field once?
If you think he would be, this bet immediately becomes a good value. And that's without even accounting for the fact that San Francisco is better than a 50/50 shot to win this game.
Take the talent.
Ray Rice +1000
Okay. Maybe I'm a hypocrite for using recent history to justify my first two picks, then suggesting a position that hasn't won since Terrell Davis in 1998. Sue me.
I still like Rice's value since, quite frankly, he might be the most talented offensive player on the field on Sunday. And regardless of what position he plays, by golly, I think that still needs to count for something.
Rice hasn't boasted quite the gaudy numbers we expected of him this year, but he hasn't been bad by any stretch of the imagination. And given the recent emergence of Baltimore's passing attack, it's likely that's where San Francisco will focus most of their attention—leaving Rice with more room than he would otherwise enjoy.
It makes sense for them to use Rice in the passing game—where he excels—too. Per Andy Benoit of Football Outsiders:
Baltimore's focal point needs to be Rice. He’s a very good route-runner out of the backfield. It makes sense to use him that way because if you keep him in as a help-blocker (an area in which he’s struggled a lot this year), you’re inviting Bowman to come on a green dog blitz, which is something he's quite good at. By sending him out, you’re forcing Bowman to react to your most dynamic ball-handler.
Against San Francisco, look for the Ravens to use Rice in more creative ways than they have all postseason. That could facilitate a massive game for the talented ball-carrier.