Comeback Player of the Year odds, best bets: Could Joe Flacco possibly win this award over Damar Hamlin?

Last summer, we all thought the 2023 NFL Comeback Player of the Year was a foregone conclusion. Damar Hamlin, the Bills safety who died and came back to life on the field against the Bengals on national television, opened as a massive -350 favorite. His odds only strengthened as the season progressed, despite barely seeing the field, and as of Christmas he was a -450 favorite (which translates to an 81.8% win probability. However, as all football fans know, a lot can change in a short amount of time. 

Joe Flacco, signed to the Browns’ practice squad six weeks ago as an insurance policy for rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, has surged up the CPOY odds board on BetMGM like Apple stock in 1999. The 14-year veteran has not only looked like the best QB in Cleveland — he has looked like one of the best pocket passers in the entire NFL. And the Browns, with their fourth starter under center this season, look like legit Super Bowl contenders.

Naturally, the sportsbooks have taken notice and adjusted the odds to protect the rising liability Flacco presents on the Comeback Player market. The veteran, who sat at +400 on BetMGM last week, suddenly launched to +100 earlier this week — 2-to-1 odds. In turn, Hamlin — who has played 17 snaps all season — plummeted from -450 to -130. What once seemed like a runaway race suddenly looked like a coin-flip, at least on paper. 

Of course, between the morning of Jan. 2 and the afternoon of Jan. 3, Hamlin shortened back to -200 and Flacco dropped to +200 — a surefire sign that savvy sharps jumped all over Hamlin while he was such a cost-friendly -130. The winning payout on a $100 bet at -130 is $176.92, whereas the total winnings on a $100 bet at -200 is just $150. 

But is it possible that the real sharps right now are the Flacco bettors? Can the 38-year-old somehow parlay a five-game season into Comeback Player of the Year? Over the guy who died and came back to life in front of our eyes, then somehow returned to play the very next season?

Let’s dive into this fascinating story, take a look at the full odds board, and determine if Flacco or Hamlin yield value going into the final weekend of the 2023-24 NFL regular season. 

Comeback Player of the Year: Odds, best bets

Player Odds
Damar Hamlin, DB, Bills -200
Joe Flacco, QB, Browns +200
Baker Mayfield, QB, Buccaneers +1500
Matthew Stafford, QB, Rams +8000

Talk about an easy table to create — BetMGM literally has just four players listed for Comeback Player of the Year. Mayfield seems like an interesting dark-horse candidate at +1500, considering the 8-8 Bucs sit atop the NFC South and the sixth-year pro has enjoyed his best statistical season. Stafford is a long shot despite the Rams sitting at 9-6 — he has four fewer TDs than Mayfield, as well as one more interception. 

But, let’s face it — the books are right to have this as a two-man race. Hamlin remains one of the most fascinating stories in the history of the sport. He’s the first person tens of millions of Americans witnessed pass away on live television, then be resuscitated, then return to the field 10 months later to make a tackle in a pro football game. That’s probably why a whopping 52.5 percent of the CPOY handle (basically, all the money bet on the award) is on Hamlin.

Still, many believe it’s outrageous that Hamlin could even be considered for a full-season award when he hasn’t even logged 10 total defensive snaps in any game this year. It’s remarkable that he was even able to check in to a game — we can all admit that — but a ton of devil’s advocates say that he shouldn’t win Comeback Player if he never fully came back. 

That’s where Flacco comes in as the sneaky sleeper (he represents just over six percent of the CPOY betting handle). Flacco not only came back from a five-year stretch that saw him go 8-19 as a starter — he came back to go 4-1 and revitalize an entire city’s belief in their franchise’s chances to make its first Super Bowl. Yep, you read that right: in the 73-year rollercoaster ride Browns fans have endured, Cleveland has never even sniffed the Big Game… until now. 

Just look at the mesmerizing numbers Flacco has put up since becoming the Browns’ starting QB five games ago:

  • 1,616 yards in five games — good for 323.2 per contest, which leads the NFL by far (nearly 30 yards higher than Kirk Cousins’ 291.4 per game before his injury, and over 45 YPG higher than Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa)
  • 16 TDs — good for 2.6 per game, well ahead of Cousins (2.3), Dak Prescott (2.0), and Brock Purdy (1.9). Flacco’s TD rate (6.4%) sits second behind Purdy (7.0%), who has an embarrassment of Pro Bowl skill-position players.
  • 14 completions of 30-plus yards, just three shy of Josh Allen despite attempting 337 fewer passes. He also has nine completions of 40-plus, as many as MVP favorite Lamar Jackson despite playing 11 fewer games. 

However, the real argument for Flacco is (a) what he has come back from and (b) what he has meant for the Browns. This dude had a 1-3 record and a 75.2 QB rating with a pretty good Jets team last year, and now he’s 4-1 and leading the team with the second-best record in the AFC (11-5).

Flacco has made wideout Amari Cooper great again. He’s turned tight end David Njoku into a fringe All-Pro. He has thrived with one of the more banged-up backfields in the NFL. He has instilled hope and faith in the Dawg Pound, and made Nick Chubb’s injury, Deshaun Watson’s debacles, and P.J. Walker’s brain farts seem like distant memories. 

The only thing that could hurt Flacco’s chances: Cleveland is already locked into the fifth seed, the best record of any non-division winner in the NFL (Baltimore has already clinched the AFC North). That means the 14-year vet gets to sit this weekend, prohibiting him from any stat-padding in the final slate of the regular season.

But does that really matter? Hamlin’s surely not playing this weekend, either — he has only appeared in five games, his last one coming in Week 15 when he logged ONE defensive snap. Flacco’s five games have been astronomically more important to the Browns than anything Hamlin has done for Buffalo in his five games and 17 combined defensive snaps. Hamlin did log a bunch of special teams snaps in those games, but his impact has been minimal in that regard.

We’re going to come right out and say it: Flacco deserves Comeback Player of the Year and Hamlin deserves a brand-new award since he has provided the league with the most unique, unprecedented story in its history. Call it the “NFL Badge of Courage” award or something. We all know he’s getting something at the end of the season — the NFL won’t pass up on that PR opportunity, and he obviously deserves it for fighting to get back into game shape and for using his newfound celebrity to continue to play a big role in giving back to the community.

But if we’re choosing the winner of this award based on what we’ve seen on the field this season, Flacco takes the cake. He has improved from year-to-year far more than any other player in the league, and he has improved his team’s chances of contending for a championship more than anyone outside of the MVP race.

If there was a per-game MVP award, Flacco would win it — and we won’t be surprised in the least if he shocks the world, comes away with Comeback Player of the Year, and absolves BetMGM and all the other sportsbooks of their massive Damar Hamlin liabilities. Good luck coming back from that humdinger if it happens, Hamlin bettors.

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