Before the season, the Eagles’ win total over/under was set at 9.5 at most sportsbooks. They finished 14-3, and that 4.5-win margin over their preseason expectations was higher than that of any team in the NFL.
Someone deserves credit for the team’s overwhelmingly successful regular season. At various points along the way, it seemed that credit was likely to manifest in the form of an MVP Award for quarterback Jalen Hurts, a Coach of the Year Award for Nick Sirianni, or both.
But now that the season is over, judging from the late movement in sports betting odds and the general media sentiment, it appears that 14-3 record will either be deemed a “team effort” or credited to GM Howie Roseman. If you’re holding a ticket on Sirianni for COY, it now clings to a fairly faint hope of cashing, while a bet slip on Hurts for MVP is just about worthless.
This loss Hurts
The MVP race is frustrating for Hurts bettors because there’s still a solid case to be made on his behalf.
Back in February 2022, a few weeks after the Eagles’ first-round playoff exit, Hurts was anywhere from 40/1 to 60/1 for MVP. His odds shrunk after the Birds acquired A.J. Brown in a draft-day trade, and by the start of the season, he was 25/1 at DraftKings.
As the Eagles piled up wins and Hurts racked up stats, he spent the middle portion of the season in a tight top three with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, and in mid-December, when his team improved to 12-1 with a thrashing of the Giants to clinch a playoff berth, Hurts became the minus-money favorite at every book.
A week later, he had an injured throwing shoulder and the sportsbooks were making Mahomes a prohibitive favorite.
Entering Week 18, Mahomes was -675 at DraftKings and Hurts was +1200, with Joe Burrow and Allen between them. None of Pennsylvania’s mobile sportsbooks have kept the market open for betting since the conclusion of the regular season, but general sentiment seems to suggest Hurts’ winning return to action in Week 18, which saw him put up mediocre numbers while playing through injury to help the Eagles lock up the NFC’s No. 1 seed, didn’t move the needle.
On the one hand, Mahomes had an exemplary season and there aren’t many holes to poke in his MVP candidacy. On the other hand, the last three weeks presented a potent argument in favor of Hurts’ value to his team.
The Eagles were 14-1 in games he started, 0-2 in games he didn’t. Backup Gardner Minshew played fairly well in Week 16 against the Cowboys but made some costly errors. He then played horribly in Week 17 against the Saints, and conventional wisdom says the Eagles probably win both of those games with a healthy Hurts. In 15 starts, Hurts led his team to as many victories as Mahomes did in 17 starts.
Mahomes’ passing numbers are superior, and it isn’t close. The Chiefs’ slinger racked up 5,250 yards to 3,701 for Hurts. Mahomes had far more touchdown tosses (41-22), a slightly better completion percentage (67.1%-66.5%), and a better QB rating (105.2-101.6), while they finished just about dead even in yards per pass attempt.
But Mahomes threw 12 interceptions to just 6 for Hurts. And Philly’s star QB crushes his K.C. counterpart in rushing stats. Hurts ran for 760 yards and 13 TDs compared to 358 yards and 4 TDs for Mahomes. Hurts was also an absolute sure thing on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 rushes (while Minshew failed in a crucial QB sneak spot against New Orleans, proving there’s more to that pile-pushing play than just the scheme).
In total, Hurts accounted for 35 TDs against 6 INTs, and Mahomes put up 45 and 12.
Does Jalen Hurts deserve the MVP award? Not necessarily. Does he deserve every voter’s careful consideration? Absolutely. He did everything the Eagles asked of him, and when they couldn’t clinch the bye in two tries without him, he came back at less than 100%, played well enough to stake them to a 16-0 lead, and, even if it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, got the job done.
To vote for Mahomes is entirely logical and valid. To see Hurts’ odds balloon as much as they did because he missed two games is perturbing. But the fact remains that money wagered on Hurts for MVP is almost assuredly money lost.
Who’s in the COY pond?
Respected ESPN football writer Bill Barnwell made both Hurts and Sirianni his runner-up picks for their respective potential awards. But Sirianni winning would be the less shocking upset.
The second-year coach became the COY betting favorite two weeks into the season and stayed there, his odds shrinking to nearly even money in October and as low as -380 when the team was 13-1 before the Hurts injury was revealed.
His odds went in the other direction after that, but he remained the betting favorite or co-favorite entering Week 18. DraftKings had Sirianni at +163, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan at +188, and Giants coach Brian Daboll at +300. FanDuel priced both Sirianni and Shanahan at +175.
Then Sirianni’s starters won what in its late stages became a close call against Daboll’s backups, while Shanahan’s team improved to 13-4 despite losing two starting quarterbacks, and the media appeared to make up its mind.
Sirianni was -200ish to win Coach of the Year about three weeks ago
Now I don’t think he will get a single 1st place vote
— Doug Kezirian (@DougESPN) January 9, 2023
There is some hint of sentimental groundswell for the Bills’ Sean McDermott and the Bengals’ Zac Taylor for the humanity and leadership they showed in the wake of the Damar Hamlin injury (while also guiding their teams to division titles), and former Eagles coach Doug Pederson could get votes for the turnaround he’s captained in Jacksonville.
But Shanahan seems the frontrunner. And no doubt, he deserves huge credit for keeping the team together after it lost Trey Lance to injury, then lost Jimmy Garoppolo to injury, and kept winning with rookie QB Brock Purdy.
Then again, Purdy has elite weapons all around him and a loaded defense to help out. The same argument people seem to be holding against Sirianni — that he won because Roseman assembled a magnificent roster — applies to Shanahan. And are we giving Sirianni no credit for designing an offense that makes the most of Hurts’ unique skill set, enabling the young QB to complete a massive leap in every facet from Year 2 to Year 3?
The Eagles had two bad losses all season — their first against the Commanders and their last against the Saints, the latter with Minshew. The Niners suffered losses against the Bears, Broncos, and Falcons, three basement dwellers with 12 total wins this season against teams other than San Francisco. But the Niners finished with a big winning streak. Sirianni apparently made the mistake of starting with one.
Again, there are perfectly fine cases to be made that Shanahan or, with a significantly inferior roster, Daboll, deserve the award over Sirianni. But if voters look at the totality of the season, how Sirianni developed Hurts, and how dominant his team was until the injuries began to pile up, then he should still be given a realistic shot at winning Coach of the Year.
Photo: Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY