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NFL MVP odds: Who can challenge Peyton Manning in 2014's race?

Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Aaron Rodgers (left) could surpass Peyton Manning in the MVP race with a bounceback year, while Eddie Lacy remains a dark horse among running backs.

The only drama surrounding last season's MVP vote was whether or not Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning would secure all 50 votes. He fell one shy, with Tom Brady robbing Manning of the unanimous victory.

No surprise, then, that Manning is the early frontrunner for this season's MVP awards, according to the lines released by Bovada on Tuesday. Manning landed at 3/1 odds to take home the trophy for the second straight season, with the Saints' Drew Brees (9/2 odds) -- not Brady (9/1) -- as his closest competitor. There may be some MVP value in a few of the NFL's other top talents, however, including these six players:

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: 15/2

Those odds land Rodgers a very respectable third on this particular list of MVP favorites, behind only Manning and Brees. (And for those who don't know, "15/2" odds mean that a person would win $15 on a $2 bet should Rodgers take home the MVP.) Even there, Rodgers could be a bargain assuming he gets through a full 16-game slate again after missing seven contests last year.

Rodgers already has an MVP under his belt from 2011, when he threw for 45 touchdowns against just six interceptions as the Packers posted a 15-1 regular-season record. Those numbers may be tough to match -- he tossed six picks in nine games last season -- but there are few players, and even fewer quarterbacks, who can kick it to the level that Rodgers can when he's on his game. Add in a little extra motivation due to his 2013 frustration and Rodgers could be primed for a huge bounce-back year.

LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles: 25/1

The argument against a bet on McCoy? He led the league in rushing last season with 1,607 yards and in yards from scrimmage at 2,146 ... and didn't even sniff MVP candidacy because Manning cruised to a near-unanimous victory. So it stands to reason that McCoy would have to top that 2013 performance to really get into the mix.

The scary thought here: He might be capable of doing it. This will be year two for McCoy in Chip Kelly's offense, with a more settled situation under center with Nick Foles, who has plenty of help around him. McCoy finished nine touchdowns off his career-best mark, set back in 2011, and he was held to 55 yards or less in six of Philadelphia's games. Eliminating a few of those clunkers might give McCoy a shot at joining the prestigious 2,000-yard club -- Adrian Peterson gained membership in 2012 and took home the MVP as a result.

Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: 50/1

Expectations for the Cowboys have tumbled into the early-2000s, Dave Campo range. Dallas' roster was mangled by the salary cap, especially along a defense that allowed more yards than any other in the NFL last season. Pulling off a fourth consecutive 8-8 season would be a bit of an accomplishment. But what if the Cowboys soar over that bar? Chances are it will be Romo leading the charge through the air.

Cutting right to the heart of it, if Dallas makes the playoffs in 2014, Romo likely will reemerge as a Pro Bowler, All-Pro and potential MVP challenger. He is now a few years removed from his best run of seasons, 2006-09, in which he took Dallas to the playoffs three times. He also has not been nearly as bad as his reputation might imply, particularly last season -- he completed nearly 64 percent of his passes with 31 touchdowns to 10 INTs in 15 games.

The accuracy of using wins as a measure of a quarterback's worth is debatable. In this case, though, if the Cowboys are among the NFL's surprises, Romo will get his due.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints and Brandon Marshall, WR, Bears: 66/1

The 66/1 grouping might be the sweet spot for sleeper MVP picks. Bunched together there with Graham and Marshall are Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Julio Jones, all capable of throwing down some eye-popping numbers in the upcoming season.

Graham has been plucked out because he enters the 2014 season as the top player at his position. (The closest competitor, Rob Gronkowski, goes off at 100/1 MVP odds, with his inability to stay healthy the past two years hindering his cause.) The 27-year-old Graham may only now be entering his prime, coming off an 86-catch, 16-touchdown campaign in 2013. Depending on how his ongoing contract tiff with the Saints works out, he may find himself in a contract year too.

Marshall, meanwhile, excelled for a second straight season with the Bears -- the 2013 showing coming under first-year head coach Marc Trestman and with Jay Cutler and Josh McCown splitting QB duties. Assuming Cutler holds onto his post for the entirety of 2014, Marshall should challenge and possibly surpass his 100 catches for 1,295 yards and 14 touchdowns from last season. For what it's worth, Cutler landed at 20/1 odds. Those folks in Vegas feeling a little lucky will hone in on the 66/1 pack in hopes of finding someone to pay off big.

Arian Foster, RB, Texans: 100/1

A couple other intriguing names at 100/1, besides Foster and the aforementioned Gronkowski: Browns QB Johnny Manziel and Packers RB Eddie Lacy. The latter just scratched the surface as a rookie with 1,435 yards and 11 touchdowns; the former, well, if he can win the Heisman as a redshirt freshman ...

Foster, meanwhile, probably has a better chance at winning Comeback Player of the Year than he does MVP seeing as how he missed half of the 2013 season and saw his numbers drop off a cliff. But he is an outside contender for the league's top honor due to a few factors: 1) He's produced incredible stats before, like his 2,220 yards from scrimmage in 2010 or his league-leading 17 touchdowns in 2012; 2) New Texans head coach Bill O'Brien will commit rather heavily to establishing the run, in part because ... 3) The Texans' QB situation is a mess, meaning they'll have to lean on Foster.

As with McCoy, the only way for Foster to climb the MVP charts is by challenging 2,000 yards and scoring with frequency. That is a lot to ask from a back who topped out at 1,616 yards rushing over his first five seasons, but it's not an impossible scenario.

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