If you’re a Pennsylvania football fan who’s into making NFL futures bets as a way of looking ahead to life past the COVID-19 pandemic, look no further than the AP Comeback Player of the Year award.
Odds being offered at the state’s online sportsbooks for the year-end award are rife with intriguing possibilities tied to prominent members of the Steelers and Eagles (Ben Roethlisberger and DeSean Jackson) and past standouts on those teams (Antonio Brown and Nick Foles).
Roethlisberger, in fact, is listed by both FanDuel and FOX Bet as most likely to be the 2020 Comeback Player. He could be the first Steeler to win the award since, ironically, the quarterback he replaced as a rookie, Tommy Maddox, who won in 2002.
Michael Vick, meanwhile, was the last Eagle to win when quarterbacking Philadelphia in 2010.
Who does best at overcoming prior adversity?
First, a little information about the AP Comeback Player of the Year award, which has been handed out annually since 1998 after a three-decade hiatus before then.
As described on Wikipedia: “While the criteria for the award is imprecise, it is typically given to a player who has overcome adversity from the previous season — such as an injury or poor performance — and performed at a high level. The winner is selected by a nationwide panel of media personnel.”
And as with MVP awards, quarterbacks have an edge. Ryan Tannehill of the Titans won last year and the Colts’ Andrew Luck in 2018.
In the eight years before that, it was wide receivers Keenan Allen and Jordy Nelson, defensive back Eric Berry, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and QBs Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, and Vick.
The Lions’ Stafford, after an injury-shortened 2019, is hoping to become the second player ever with two of the awards. QB Chad Pennington won twice, with bounce-back seasons in 2006 for the Jets and 2008 for the Dolphins.
Here’s a rundown on some of the top 2020 contenders as viewed by the sportsbooks, with a heavy bias here in describing those with Pennsylvania connections:
Roethlisberger, widely viewed as a future Hall of Famer, is in the twilight of his Steelers career at age 38 but still performed at a high level in 2018, leading NFL quarterbacks with 5,129 passing yards.
But in the second game of his 16th season last September, an injury to his throwing elbow took him out of the game and he was sidelined the remainder of the year.
He and Steelers officials say he will be fully healed by the start of the 2020 season, whenever that is. The question is if the combination of injury and rest will help or hinder his performance.
The sportsbooks lean toward the former in terms of betting odds: FanDuel makes him +250 and FOX Bet +300 to be the Comeback Player of the Year, which are much shorter odds than they offer on anyone else. The state’s Kambi-driven sites such as DraftKings, Unibet, and BetRivers list Roethlisberger the same betting favorite as Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, at +400.
As with many awards, some of it could depend on how well Roethlisberger’s team does, in the way that Tannehill got a boost from the Titans’ 2019 playoff run (due in part to his own surprisingly sharp performance).
The Steelers have missed the playoffs the past two years, which is unusual for them. They are expected to have a stellar defense again but lack the type of offensive stars who have surrounded Roethlisberger throughout his long, successful career.
Foles, no longer with the Eagles after two stints but forever revered in Philadelphia for leading them to their 2017/18 Super Bowl victory, is an intriguing comeback candidate for multiple reasons.
For one, the 31-year-old QB is only getting odds from FanDuel, at +600, making him tied for third most likely to win the award there after Roethlisberger and Watt. The other Pennsylvania sites don’t list him at all under Comeback Player of the Year candidates, for whatever reason.
It is indeed uncertain just how much Foles will play this year.
After leaving Philadelphia in early 2019 to sign a big contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he broke his collarbone in their first game. The rest of his season was marred by both the injury and substandard performance in the four games in which he was healthy enough to appear.
The Jags traded Foles in March to the Chicago Bears, where he is in what has been deemed an open competition with the young and erratic Mitchell Trubisky to start the season behind center.
Foles, who spent both 2012-14 and 2017-18 with the Eagles, has often been a backup in eight seasons with four different franchises before the Bears. When given a chance, however — as in 2017 after Carson Wentz went down for the Eagles — he has often risen to the occasion.
His time in Chicago should be interesting, and perhaps even worth a wager.
Odds are longer on Jackson, the 33-year-old wide receiver drafted by the Eagles in 2008 and now in his second stint with them.
After a sensational start to 2019 — catching two 50-yard TD passes from Wentz among eight receptions for 154 yards in the team’s opener — Jackson went down with an abdominal core injury in the second game. He played 14 snaps the rest of the season.
Now the Kambi-connected sites have him at +2000 to be Comeback Player of the Year, while FanDuel lists him at +3300 and FOX Bet +3500.
Jackson hasn’t played a full 16 games in a season since 2013, but he says he is fully healthy now. In 2018 with Tampa Bay, he caught 41 passes for 774 yards and four receiving TDs.
“I’ll be back stronger than ever,” he vowed in a March interview. If his 2020 season is anything like the renewed promise he showed at the start of 2019, he becomes a strong comeback candidate.
In an award competition that by its very nature has a lot of question marks attached to players under consideration, no one has more questions surrounding him than Brown, the one-time Steelers receiving star.
A seven-time Pro Bowler who was one of four wide receivers named to the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team, the troubled Brown doesn’t even have a team for 2020 and no one knows if he will.
Yet, he is listed +700 by the Kambi sites to be Comeback Player of the Year. FanDuel has him lower at +2000, and FOX Bet doesn’t list him at all.
Brown played in just one game in 2019, for the New England Patriots, who released him once sexual assault allegations against him surfaced. That came after the Raiders released him for various types of insubordination without his ever appearing in a game for them. The Steelers had traded him to the Raiders for the same reason after a stellar nine-year career in Pittsburgh.
Brown could be unsignable for a team in 2020 considering NFL investigation of his off-field behavior that also includes a criminal battery/burglary case pending in Florida.
But if he’s available, he will still be just 32, has never had a subpar or injury-plagued season, and his obsessions have historically included a mad workout routine that should keep him in shape no matter how much time he’s had off.
While the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has no direct Pennsylvania connection, Pittsburghers no doubt find it interesting that the Texans lineman has two brothers playing for the Steelers.
Watt has been a force since entering the NFL in 2011, including a 2018 season with 16 sacks (second in the league), but he was limited by injury last year, as also occurred in 2016 and 2017.
He played eight games last year, with four sacks, before a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him the remainder of the regular season. He returned for the Texans’ two playoff games and should be fully healthy to start this season.
When healthy, there’s no question Watt — a unanimous pick to the NFL’s All-Decade Team — remains one of the league’s top defensive players.
That would explain why the Kambi sites have him +400 to win the comeback award, tied with Roethlisberger. FanDuel has him +500 and FOX Bet +550.
Green, 31, has been a standout receiver for the Bengals since entering the league as the fourth overall draft pick in 2011, but injuries have interfered with three of his past four seasons.
None of those interruptions was worse than the one last year, when Green suffered torn ankle ligaments on the opening day of training camp. He did not play in a game.
Green has played all 16 games in but four of his nine seasons.
When healthy — and even when missing a game here or there — there are few consistently better, as he made seven straight Pro Bowls from 2011-17. In his last full year in 2017, Green had 75 catches for 1,078 yards and eight TDs.
FanDuel and DraftKings, Unibet, BetRivers, etc. have pegged Green at +600 to be the NFL’s comeback player. FOX Bet likes him a little less, at +800, making it the site to use if you like his chances.
While the wideout is pronounced healthy again and is currently scheduled to play under a franchise tag for the Bengals, uncertainty surrounds who will be throwing to him. Longtime QB Andy Dalton is still with the team, for now, but there is speculation he could be replaced by rookie Joe Burrow, whom Cincinnati is expected to choose No. 1 overall in the upcoming draft.
As with Brown, Newton doesn’t have a team yet for 2020, but at the same time, he doesn’t carry Brown’s baggage for any team that may find a need for a one-time NFL MVP.
Newton, who turns 31 in May, has completed a nine-year tenure as quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. They released him in March after signing Teddy Bridgewater as their new signal-caller.
Newton will long be popular among Panthers fans as the outgoing star who took the team to the 2015 Super Bowl, but injuries have increasingly plagued him. He’s played one 16-game season out of the last four.
The nature of the injuries also raises doubts about the future of a player so dependent on athleticism and running ability as part of his impressive career.
Newton played just two games last year, due to a foot fracture. He was troubled by a nagging shoulder injury in an inconsistent 2018, although he did manage to complete a career-best 67.9% of his passes.
Now FOX Bet has him +500 to be the 2020 comeback player. FanDuel makes his price +750, and Kambi sites have Newton +1400.
He is an unrestricted free agent who could end up anywhere, although by now most teams have their quarterback plans set. Still, a lot can happen between now and the season’s start. Expect Newton to be on a roster somewhere.
The Lions signal-caller is the one other QB given a good chance of winning the award this year, considering 2019 was the first time a strong career was disrupted by injury since 2010.
Stafford, 32, had played in 136 straight regular season games — the sixth-longest such streak by an NFL quarterback — until a spinal fracture ended his season last November. He had been having one of his best seasons in the eight games before that occurred, with a 106.0 cumulative QB rating.
While relatively unsung due to the Lions’ overall lack of success in Stafford’s 11 years with the team — attributable largely to his lackluster supporting cast — he has had a number of league accomplishments, such as being the fastest to reach 15,000, 20,000, 25,000, 30,000, and 40,000 passing yards.
He also came back from a 2010 shoulder injury to win the AP Comeback Player of the Year award in 2011.
Could he be the second to do it twice? The sportsbooks don’t think it’s a crazy notion: The Kambi sites make him +500, and FanDuel and FOX Bet both have Stafford +750.
Photo by David Butler II / USA Today Sports