Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis are unquestionably the players most likely to win the Super Bowl XLVII MVP trophy on Sunday night. All three play integral positions for their teams and have wonderful personal interest stories that help spur their campaigns.
However, the oddsmakers know this and have made all three men heavy favorites to win the award. According to Bovada's current odds, Kaepernick leads all candidates at 8/5 odds, with Flacco (11/4) and Lewis (15/2) nipping at his heels.
Though none of those odds are particularly enticing on the surface, smart money remains on one of those three hoisting the trophy. That's especially true when considering that it's been a decade-and-a-half since a running back has won the award, essentially ruling out Frank Gore and Ray Rice.
But what about those bettors simply looking to throw $100 and hoping to strike it rich? Well, there are a few underdogs who stick out above the rest as worthwhile fliers.
With that in mind, here is a look at a few underrated candidates for Super Bowl XLVII MVP.
Michael Crabtree (WR, San Francisco 49ers)
MVP Odds: 14/1
The 49ers will look back on Jim Harbaugh benching Alex Smith for Kaepernick as the moment that changed their season. Michael Crabtree may look back on Kaepernick's ascent to the starting lineup as the moment that changed his career.
Ever since Kaepernick took over as quarterback, Crabtree has been a completely different player. He was simply a possession-first cog in the offense while Smith was at the helm, seemingly on his way to yet another ho-hum 70-catch, 900-yard season.
However, the 49ers' past seven games have proved just how brilliant Crabtree could be. Those contests have seen the former Texas Tech star put up an average 7.1 receptions and 102 yards per game. Prorated over a 16-game schedule, that stretch would equate to about 114 receptions, 1,632 yards and 14 touchdowns.
In other words, Crabtree went from the human shoulder shrug to one of the NFL's best receivers with one change under center. Thus far in the postseason, Crabtree has made 15 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns and has 10 more targets than any other San Francisco wideout.
Now, could Crabtree have a big enough game to win MVP without being overshadowed by Kaepernick? It would be tough. He would need to play an utterly brilliant four quarters and come up with a big play that's singularly of his doing.
While that seems like a daunting task, remember that Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and Deion Branch have all done it over the past eight years.
Torrey Smith (WR, Baltimore Ravens)
MVP Odds: 20/1
Smith's candidacy obviously faces the same problems as Crabtree's. Flacco has been utterly fantastic throughout the postseason, and Smith's effectiveness is directly correlated to that of his quarterback.
Even if he's able to have a huge game, it will be exceedingly difficult for Smith to overshadow the man throwing him the ball.
The Ravens deep threat also faces a problem Crabtree doesn't: competition for targets. Anquan Boldin has been far more involved with the Ravens passing game all season long, and was more consistently productive in the playoffs as well. The veteran wideout had five receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns in the AFC Championship Game and leads all playoff wideouts with 276 yards.
On the surface, that would make some think Boldin is a better "sleeper" choice. But a quick look at the matchups shows that Smith could be in store for a huge game on Sunday.
Particularly, it's Smith's penchant for the deep bomb that makes him an interesting choice. It's been a weakness that's cropped up multiple times for San Francisco during the season, and was even on display a couple of times during the playoffs.
In the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers secondary struggled mightily to cover Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. He torched cornerback Tarell Brown underneath all game long, and burned All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson twice on bombs down the field.
Though I'm of the belief that football games are mostly played in a vacuum, especially ones like the Super Bowl, it's an unalienable fact that Baltimore does not win without creating big plays. Flacco's yards per attempt average dips about 2.5 yards between wins and losses, an astounding rate for someone five years into his NFL career.
That wild variance carries over to Smith in a big way. Just take a look at his splits between wins and losses during the regular season:
Wins: 38 REC, 695 YDS, 8 TDs
Losses: 11 REC, 160 YDS, 0 TDs
In victories, Smith is an 1,100-plus-yard receiver and one of he biggest deep threats in the NFL. In losses, he's utterly useless. While one certainly wouldn't put his odds above Flacco, he may well be the most important player on the field for Baltimore on Sunday.
Aldon Smith (LB, San Francisco 49ers)
MVP Odds: 50/1
If you pretty much want to ignore recent trends and take a wild stab in the dark, there is no better value on the board than Aldon Smith.
The 23-year-old All-Pro linebacker defied just about everyone's wildest expectations for most of the 2012 season. With 19.5 sacks and three weeks remaining in the regular season, Smith had many thinking he would break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record (22.5).
Five sack-less games later and Smith's drought has become something of an endemic. Though most initially chalked Smith's ineffectiveness up to Justin Smith's absence, it has continued even after the All-Pro defensive lineman returned.
Aldon Smith even acknowledged his frustration about the drought to Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy.
"Of course, I'm frustrated," Smith told Sports Illustrated. "I was on a pace to get a lot of sacks." At the same time, he says, "I wasn't frustrated because we were winning."
Luckily, there is a very good chance Smith's drought ends on Sunday. Bryant McKinnie has done an admirable job since taking over full-time as the Ravens' left tackle in Week 17, but let's not kid ourselves. He spent much the 2012 season on the bench and in John Harbaugh's doghouse for a reason.
McKinnie isn't the player he once was and will be vulnerable against a speed-rusher like Smith. And with Smith's odds being arguably the most inexplicable of any, he's a perfect bet for someone looking to strike it rich.
Aldon Smith and Alex Smith have the same likelihood of winning the MVP, according to the oddsmakers. I know that Aldon Smith has struggled of late, but he only way Alex wins the MVP is if Kaepernick gets hurt or if he bludgeons someone with his clipboard (I kid).
On the other hand, it's totally within the realm of possibilities that Aldon Smith beats McKinnie off the edge a few times and comes up with a huge play. A couple of sacks and a created turnover later, and who knows? Those 50/1 odds may wind up paying off after all.
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