Is Saints’ Winston the ‘dark horse’ in MVP race this year?

Jameis Winston is entering what could be a make-or-break season with the New Orleans Saints, as his opportunities to prove he’s a franchise quarterback in the NFL are dwindling.

Last season, Winston threw for 1,170 yards with 14 touchdowns through seven games en route to a 5-2 record before his tearing his ACL and injuring his MCL in a Halloween matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that selected him No. 1 overall in 2015.

The Saints lost five straight after Winston’s season-ending injury, finishing with a 9-8 record and out of the postseason for the first time since 2016. However, New Orleans re-signed the 28-year-old QB to a two-year, $28 million deal in March and named him their starter once again.

Winston appears to be taking all the right steps to start against NFC South foe Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 (1 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App). Earlier this month, he was seen practicing without the knee brace he had previously been sporting while participating in OTAs and mandatory minicamp this offseason.

In addition to being healthy again, Winston will have Pro Bowl WR Michael Thomas back in the fold, as well as veteran slot receiver Jarvis Landry and rookie speedster Chris Olave in his arsenal. 

That said, could Winston emerge as the “dark house” in the MVP race this season?

On “First Things First,” Nick Wright broke down why he isn’t convinced that Winston will be able to pull it off.

“Here are some facts about Jameis Winston’s ‘great’ year last year. After Week 1, he had nine touchdowns [and] three picks and a 91 quarterback rating. Over the entirety of his season there, he averaged 165 yards per game. Can you believe that we are having a conversation that involves Jameis Winston in a Dennis Allen-coached team … potentially being league MVP?”

Winston’s MVP odds for next season are currently +8000, per FOX Bet, while he currently has the eighth-best odds at throwing the most picks at +1500.

Winston was sacked 11 times for a loss of 69 yards last season. He picked up 166 yards on 32 carries and fumbled the ball twice, recovering just one of them.

Prior to starting the first seven games of the 2021-22 season, Winston hadn’t started an NFL game since 2019. Trevor Siemian, who also hadn’t started an NFL game since 2019, was at the helm for four games after Winston’s injury, going 0-4 in that time. 

Then, tight-end-turned-quarterback Taysom Hill took over, starting five games (4-1) after starting four games the season prior. Then-rookie Ian Book also started once (0-1).

Winston and Book are the only returning QBs on the Saints’ roster, with N.O. having shipped Siemian off to Chicago before bringing in Andy Dalton as Winston’s backup. Hill has reportedly returned to being a full-time TE.

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