It's Cam Newton and then everyone else when it comes to the 2016 Super Bowl MVP odds.
The Carolina Panthers quarterback went on a tear this year, allowing the team to lose just one game and make a mockery of the NFC in the postseason. Don't count an elite complementary defense against him, either—Newton has provided the latest dramatic evolution of the quarterback position at the pro level.
There are other candidates for the individual hardware, of course. Carolina has a few other serious contenders, while the Denver Broncos feature Peyton Manning and a host of others.
If one had to guess, it's a potentially retiring Manning who could halt Newton's amazing run and not only seize the Lombardi Trophy, but some individual hardware for himself.
When: Sunday, February 7, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Levi's Stadium; Santa Clara, California
Spread: Carolina (-6)
Las Vegas doesn't seem to think the idea of Manning pulling off the borderline unthinkable at this point is too likely.
Based on the odds, courtesy of Odds Shark, Manning finds himself sandwiched between a bevy of Panthers to win the award:
|Ted Ginn Jr.||+2200|
It only takes one amazing performance, of course. Manning hasn't looked out of this world since his return, though. Over his three games back since taking over the starting gig, including the brief appearance in Week 17, he's yet to complete even 57 percent of his passes in a game and has just two touchdowns.
Some might point out he bested Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game by throwing for two touchdowns, but he also completed just 53.1 percent of his passes on a 17-of-32 line. Missed opportunities aren't hard to find on film, and they're the sort of ones the Carolina defense can exploit.
That elite Panthers defense, which picked off a league-high 24 passes this year, has corner Josh Norman as a leader. He's adamant the unit won't get caught off guard, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer:
Joe Person @josephperson
Josh Norman says he doesn't buy talk that Peyton Manning has lost arm strength. "I'm not about to get beat over the top."2016-1-28 19:12:53
Again, Newton leading the way isn't a shock.
Recent games don't mean everything, but Newton has a full season of work showing the idea of his taking over this game with gaudy numbers wouldn't be a shock. He rushed for 10 scores and threw for 35 in the regular season, throwing two or more picks in a game just twice.
Newton saved his most dominant performance for the NFC Championship Game, too, where he scoffed at an elite Arizona Cardinals defense, totaling four touchdowns in a 49-15 rout.
One will notice when looking at the odds, though, that plenty of defenders get a mention in the MVP race. The data below shows why this isn't such a surprise:
Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly gets a mention even above sack monster Von Miller out of Denver.
Why not? Kuechly tallied 118 combined tackles this year, forced two fumbles and picked off four passes. As director of NFC Football Communications Randall Liu pointed out, the Boston College product has been quite disruptive as of late:
Randall Liu @RLiuNFL
Luke Kuechly is the 1st player in NFL history with an INT-TD in consecutive games in a single postseason https://t.co/aL35gyLqHJ2016-1-26 17:08:50
There are some other interesting MVP possibilities. Carolina's Ted Ginn turned into a No. 1 wideout this year with Kelvin Benjamin sidelined, bringing in 44 catches for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns, the highest mark on the team. Tight end Greg Olsen only had seven scores, but the idea of the big-bodied target inhaling a couple of scores in a close game against a tough defense isn't so outlandish.
As for the Broncos, Miller's name makes an appearance, and for good reason. He not only boasted 11 sacks in the regular season, he assaulted Brady time after time in the conference title game.
Running back C.J. Anderson posting a few major runs and securing the award seems plausible enough, too. He totaled 720 yards and five scores this year, but he has really come on as of late, posting runs of 30 or more yards in three of his last four outings, the long dashes coming at clutch moments to help decide games.
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One could probably guess this all comes back to Newton, though. He's not just the favorite for MVP—looking at prop bets via Odds Shark, Las Vegas felt it necessary to post lines for how many times the announcers would talk about Newton's "dabbing" and how many times he might do his patented Superman celebration.
Manning has a wealth of retirement odds.
Bettors should look at the Super Bowl as a passing-of-the-torch moment. Manning hasn't shown enough over his three games back, especially with an elite complementary defense propping him up, to inspire confidence.
It sounds odd, but when the game needs clutch throws and timely runs from a quarterback, they will come from Newton. He's been doing it all year, and there is no reason to turn away from it now.
Look for Newton to help the Panthers pull away in the second half and take home the MVP. And yes, take the over on dabbing and Superman—there's a new face of the NFL.
Prediction: Panthers 28, Broncos 20